"There is something profound about these cultures interacting, and we really want to explain the effect of the interaction on the culture in Spain."
To do that, the ensemble of five Indiana University graduate students has spent the last eight months researching the different groups that lived in Spain during the 11th and 12th centuries, looking at manuscripts, pictures and stories.
They have even studied the modern folk songs of the three cultures to see what has lasted.
"What we do as an ensemble is more than just trying to find out what notes people played," said Smith, a doctoral candidate in Musicology. "We will focus in on one area and try to evoke a sense of what it was like to be in the place at the time."
Altramar hopes that by playing in small settings such as local churches, it will increase the accuracy of the musical presentation.
"We have to think, 'What was it like for someone to sit in the hall of a castle and listen to El Cid?' " Smith said.
Smith said the music should become less an academic exercise in music history and more a performance for popular enjoyment.
"People who are not familiar with medieval music are often surprised by how appealing it is," he said.
"At the time these songs were popular, this is what people did for an evening."
Some of the songs the group performs are religious. Others are ceremonial or are excerpts from epic stories of the Golden Age of Spain.
One of the songs is in praise of the Virgin Mary. Though the story of the virgin's struggle with the devil over the soul of an adulterous monk sounds religious, Smith emphasizes that the monk's visits to brothels and other locations are insightful for what they convey about life during the Golden Age.
"It's a story that tells you a lot about the people of the time," Smith said. "It was a great way to instruct people about religion, but it also made a great story.
"The ideal Altramar program presents people with things they've never heard before," Smith said. "It picks them up and transfers them to some place they have never been able to go before."
IF YOU GO
WHERE: Altramar will perform at Trinity Episcopal Church at North Chester Road and College Avenue in Swarthmore.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
COST: Tickets are $10.
PHONE: For more information, call 610-544-2297.