Event—Public Programming

Spirituality in Song

—Mexican Choirbooks of the Newberry Library

In this multidisciplinary event, we’ll look at—and hear music from—17th- and 18th-century Mexican choirbooks in the Newberry collection.

Mexican choirbook, volume 4, ca. 1600/1799. Call number: VAULT oversize Case MS 5148

This program will be held in-person at the Newberry and livestreamed on Zoom. The online version of this event will be live captioned. Please register below.

Join us for an in-depth look at the Newberry’s rich holdings of choirbooks from colonial Mexico, which combined European forms with Indigenous traditions to produce new spiritual music.

This roundtable discussion will examine the books and music from three diverse perspectives: music historian Ireri Chávez-Bárcenas will illuminate the cultural context of the music, art historian Claudia Brittenham will consider the material aspects of the Newberry’s large-scale books, and renowned early music vocalist Ellen Hargis will share the experience of researching and performing the music today. Clips of recordings of music from these historic books will serve as the soundtrack for the conversation.

This event is cosponsored by the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.


Claudia Brittenham, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago, studies the art of ancient Mesoamerica, with particular attention to the materiality of art and the politics of style.

Ireri Chávez-Bárcenas is Assistant Professor of Music at Bowdoin College. Her current research focuses on the function, meaning, and transmission of the vernacular song tradition in the Spanish empire.

Ellen Hargis, one of America’s premier early music singers, is also a leading voice teacher and lecturer on historical performance practice. She served as Artistic Co-Director of the Newberry Consort from 2008 to 2022 and is a 2022 recipient of the Howard Mayer Brown Award for Lifetime Achievement in Early Music. Her ongoing study of the Newberry choir books since 2011 has led to numerous performances and recordings.

Cost and Registration

This program is free and open to all. Advance registration required.

In-Person Registration

Related Partner Program

Shift: Music, Meaning, Context explores how music changes in form and interpretation as it moves across time, bodies, and place. The exhibition is produced in collaboration between Goethe-Institut Chicago and The Museum of Contemporary Photography, held on-site at the museum, and is on view from April 13 – August 8, 2023.

For more information, please visit: Shift: Music, Meaning, Context – MoCP

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Past Public Programs

Check out video recordings of past Newberry public programs on our YouTube channel.


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