Exposition: Countertenor Nathan Medley Traces Evolution Of Western Music Through Shakespearean Texts

Sep 27, 2019

Whether you’re familiar with the inner workings of a choir or not, you probably know the four main voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, bass.... but there are several lesser known parts in between. One of those ranges, a male range, is called “countertenor,” and comfortably sits where many female voices sit. 

World-renowned vocalist Nathan Medley is a countertenor, and he’ll be at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jackson this weekend to deliver a performance and a program which will look at original music from Shakespearean plays in baroque, classical, romantic, and 20th century settings. 

St. Paul music director Matt Palisch says the countertenor voice part is somewhat antiquated, in the sense that it’s not a timbre of voice that we hear very often anymore. Medley added that it’s hard to know for certain if there was a time when it was incredibly popular to begin with, but more of a “time and a place.”

“Even if you were in colonial America you may not have heard that many,” says Medley. “But certainly there have been places where they‘ve thrived throughout the years.”



According to Medley’s research, when massive Shakespearean productions were presented over the course of history, mainly in royal theatres across Europe, a completely new set of music was composed each time.

In Sunday’s performance, Medley will be grouping songs by play to compare and contrast different settings. 

“For example, Thomas Arne has a nice setting of ‘Blow, blow, thou winter wind,’ and we contrast that with Quilter’s setting,” says Medley. “So there we have 120 to 130 years apart in composition, but we have the same fundamental text.”

The concert will take place at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jackson on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 3 p.m. 

Credit Lindsey Grojean/KRCU

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