The Canadian Renaissance Music Summer School

Course Description

The information on this page is mainly based on the proposed 2020 version of the course, before it was cancelled. With it is mixed some information about our ambitions for the course in 2021, but we unfortunately can't confirm any of these details for certain right now.

Everything will be planned for CRMSS 2021 in full knowledge of the public health situation. We will of course put the safety of everyone involved first.

Applications for CRMSS 2021 are now open and if you would like more information, please get in touch.


Back to top

CRMSS 2021 Theme

The theme of CRMSS 2021 is Josquin 500: Beyond the Ordinary.

'Beyond the ordinary' is a poetic translation of the opening line of 'Praeter rerum seriem', a medieval plainsong hymn. In the pre-Tridentine rite, this hymn was sung at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Josquin des Prez, who many consider to be the father of Renaissance polyphony and who died 500 years ago this year, wrote a wonderful six-voice setting of this text, using the Gregorian melody as a cantus firmus. The piece became hugely famous in his own lifetime.

Two of Josquin's leading successors, Cipriano de Rore and Orlande de Lassus, found inspiration in this motet and honoured it in their own writing using so-called 'parody' technique, the practice of borrowing melodies, textures, or moods from one piece to provide the framework for another - 'riffing', essentially. Lassus wrote a Magnificat setting in this way based on Josquin's motet. Rore wrote an entire Missa Praeter rerum seriem, considered a monumental achievement of the entire 16th century, for seven voices.

At CRMSS 2021, we will perform all three of these magnetic, captivating, powerful, and mysterious pieces. This theme also allows us the opportunity of exploring the music of Josquin's contemporaries, those who influenced him, and the generations of later composers upon whom he had such an impact. Broadly speaking, we will open out from just looking at Josquin, Rore, and Lassus, and explore as much of the Franco-Flemish musical style as we can, though these three men were among its leading standard bearers for more than 150 years. As always, we will cover as much of the varied music written over the vast era we call 'The Renaissance' as we can, focussing ourselves on music connected with the Low Countries and northern France. This area, the 'cradle of polyphony' offers us so much.

Beyond the Ordinary also speaks of the wider ambitions of our expeirence together at CRMSS. We explore the unusual, the powerful, the challenging, and we seek out the intensity of Renaissance polyphonic music in all its richness. This music is not 'ordinary' or 'normal' or even 'comfortable'. It is fascinating, enthralling, and - very literally - extraordinary! We hope you will come away from CRMSS with an understanding of this music as being alive, vivid, and powerful, and well 'beyond the ordinary'.

What types of singing happens at CRMSS?


A major focus of the week's work will be singing together as one chamber-choir sized ensemble, exploring larger scale, mainly sacred a capella music of the Renaissance. The specific repertoire chosen will depend on the distribution of voices amongst the course participants, and the repertoire selections will conform with the theme of this year's course.

We will also divide the participants into two smaller chamber groups which will work separately, as well as the tutti singing we will do together.


While the majority of our time will be spent preparing ensemble music in choral and small group contexts, good solo vocal technique is of course essential for good singing. This applies to music written in any style and from any time period. While Greg will conduct the full group in choral sessions each day, Emily Atkinson and Andrew Pickett will provide solo singing tuition for all the course participants as well.

Participants are enthusiastically encouraged to bring their own solo repertoire, and we suggest works written before 1650.

Consort singing: one and two per part vocal chamber music

Any serious amount of time spent getting to know the music of the Renaissance must include small-ensemble singing. The tutors will choose groups and assign them repertoire before the week begins, sending out scores and reference recordings so participants can prepare and come with at least one or two pieces already learned. Over the course of the week, it is hoped that other groups will form ad hoc to explore this wonderful secular and domestic devotional repertoire, sometimes forgotten when thinking of vocal music from the Renaissance. It is of particular importance that the secular music of this period be covered, as it provides such a vivid picture of the sorts of musical lives the musicians of the time actually lived, be they composers or singers or both.

As with solo repertoire, there will be opportunties to work on small ensemble music you might bring yourself.

In a change from CRMSS 2019, the pre-formed small groups will all be at least two-per-part. Everyone will be allocated into one of these small groups. There will be more time set aside for even smaller, one-per-part consorts to form and experiment with other repertoire, both on an ad hoc basis and also under the direction of the tutors.


Back to top

Final course concert

The work we do over the course of the week will lead us to a major public concert performance. Arrangements for this concert are in the planning stages, but it will take place on the evening of Friday, September 3rd.

Choral Vespers at St Peter's Seminary

At CRMSS 2019, a definite highlight for everyone was the special privilege of singing a Choral Vespers service in one of London Ontario's truly magnificent and rarely enjoyed liturgical spaces - the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel at St Peter's Seminary. Plans to repeat this in 2021 are ongoing, and we hope to have some exciting news regarding this event soon.

Informal 'sharing' concert for CRMSS participants and invited guests

In a major change from our 2018 and 2019 courses, everyone who participates at CRMSS in 2021 will have a chance to perform any of the music they work on over the week that they wish to, be it in their preformed smaller groups or in groups they form themselves or their solo repertoire they've worked on or music they bring themselves... or anything else! On the evening of Thursday, September 2nd, we will hold a major performance event as a culmination of our week together, to be attended by the course as a whole and some specially invited guests. This event will also be catered such that we hope it will gradually turn into a party, as food and drink are consumed and performances become more light-hearted, tutors are encouraged to do silly things on stage, etc.

While the public concert on Friday the 3rd will focus on our tutti core course repertoire as an offering for the wider public, as well as showcase a bit of the rest of what we do on the course, we won't be able to fit in everything. This event on the Thursday evening will be open ended and for everyone. We can't wait to see what you all come up with!

A Typical Day

Back to top

In a response to feedback from participants from our 2018 and 2019 courses, the schedule in 2021 will be overhauled. There will be much more time to eat, rest, form small ad hoc groups, practice on your own, etc. Here's the shape of how 'a typical' day will look.

Full course choral rehearsal - 2 hours, including a 10 minute tea break
12 noon
Small group work and/or solo sessions
Lecture / Symposium / Round Table
Continued small group work, ad hoc, or solo sessions
Full course choral rehearsal - 2 hours, including a 10 minute tea break
Evening Service rehearsal (approx. 45 min)
Evening Service (approx. 30-45 min)
Pub / Home / Sleep / Late night singing!

Soft launch

New for CRMSS 2021 will be a 'soft launch' to the week. The course will begin on the afternoon of Thursday, August 26th with a longer registration period and time for you to find your feet in our venues. The singing that day will only consist of a tutti rehearsal, followed by wine and nibbles (that might perhaps extend into the evening!). More information on this 'soft launch' will be available soon.

A more relaxed pace

Attendance at Compline will not be compulsory, but is greatly encouraged! The feedback we've received from those who did attend every night in previous years has been that it is a wonderful way to bring each day to a close, but we also understand that some of you may need your sleep!

Attendance at the talks will also not be compulsory, but encouraged - if for no other reason than to give your voice a break and get your brain thinking about something other than all that sight reading.

We are also planning on using our venues more efficiently and factoring in more time to move between sessions so travel time is minimised and less singing time is wasted!

... and an afternoon off!

In another change from 2018 and 2019, we will plan an entire afternoon off during the week once things have got going. This will allow the course as a whole to go somewhere off campus and do something non-musical together - to have some fun as a group and get to know one another! We are looking at minigolf or laser tag or even just a picnic in the park. Those plans are not finalised, and we'll update you once the final course scheduling has been completed in the summer. The idea will be to relax for an afternoon and recharge for the rest of the week's intense singing.

We have heard your feedback about the pace of the week and are determined to find a good balance.

Lectures, Symposia, and Round Table discussions

Back to top

The course will include some sessions in which we - don't - sing! These discussions will provide context for the practical music making which is the focus of the course, and highlight the importance of scholarship in performance, and, crucially, visa versa.

So far at CRMSS, the following talks have taken place:

For CRMSS 2021 we are still finalising our programme of talks and lectures. As these become finalised, we will post more information here.