The 7,000-mile conversation
We left our home in the woods of upstate NY on September 6th for a road trip that took us to Oregon and back. Oddly enough, although we had taken a stack of CDs to listen to for inspiration and source material, we ended up listening to exactly one and one-half of them. This initial post is the first installment in a series of thoughts and musings inspired by the conversations during the trip, about our approach to our music and the sometimes very satisfying, sometimes thought-provoking dilemma of presenting it to modern audiences. We’re taking the time to do this because of our firm belief that music of the 16th century is not only relevant but essential in today’s world.
Our first post, a summary of the trip, will be followed by some of our sometimes surprising discoveries of what moves an audience, how ‘Early Music’ has evolved as a relevant medium for 21st-century audiences and why looking backwards prepares us for the future. We hope you will enjoy it as much as we do.
Home at last
We have finally returned from a very successful tour, with a concert in Reno, Nevada, a brief visit to San Francisco, five appearances in five days in Ashland, Oregon, a lecture-recital in Hastings, Nebraska, a performance at the National Music Museum in South Dakota, and a concert that both concluded our tour and an international conference for the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at SUNY Binghamton, New York. This was an exhausting but gratifying trip that left us with many new fans of our headier brand of 16th century music.
Our appearance at the Washoe County Library’s Downtown Reno Library was sponsored by the Friends of the Library, who turned out in satisfying numbers for a Sunday afternoon concert. Reno is not exactly known as a hub of the arts but we found a very pleasant and informed audience of refined, kind and appreciative people.
The very rapid descent from c. 7,000 feet to 61 feet above sea level brought us and our protesting sinuses to San Francisco,where we enjoyed an all-too-brief visit with luthier Mel Wong, who had made some adjustments to one of the lutes in the fleet. Mel proved to be a generous and hospitable host who regaled us with all the dirt on the Bay Area lutenists, the true story behind his fine Chinese-made lutes being sold at ridiculously low prices, and who wouldn’t let us leave without making us a gift of a nifty peg turning device to spare Ron’s aching fingers from those tiny recalcitrant, humidity reactive lute pegs.
Making our way north past seemingly endless olive groves, we were treated to glimpses of both the breathtaking Mount Shasta and Donna’s favorite Mount Lassen. Very soon the landscape began to look familiar – dry, dusty, scrub oak, madrone, and poison oak which comprise the forests of the Siskiyou Mountains, where we lived for a time, caretaking a log cabin in a remote wilderness. It certainly was wonderful to get out at Shasta Lake for a few minutes and breathe the pungent sage-scented air, which smells indescribably unlike anywhere else, even so close to I-5.
Ashland, Oregon is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where one can take in some of the world’s finest performances of plays by Shakespeare and more recent playwrights. This year, Ashland was host to the sixth annual joint authorship conference of the Shakespeare Fellowship and the Shakespeare-Oxford Society. We were privileged to open the conference as headliners, with a lecture-presentation of music from Shakespeare’s Lute Book, our latest performance edition. As featured entertainment for the duration of the conference, we performed four more sets, and learned a valuable lesson from this experience: don’t be afraid to close a concert with a downer! In darkness let me dwell was received with an uproarious standing ovation.
After a too-brief detour around Crater Lake and a restorative stop at the Rogue River (shortened still more, alas, by a rather fierce sleet storm), we departed Oregon and headed east for our next appearance, another lecture-presentation on “Shakespeare’s Lute Book” for the music and English literature departments at Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska. We found the very large audience attentive, perceptive, and inquisitive, with Donna fielding several excellent questions on style, ornamentation and effective interpretation of the text.
Visiting the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, was a rare and wonderful experience. This magnificent collection, housed in a spectacular Carnegie library building in a tiny, off-the-beaten-path location, showcases not only violins by Amati and Stradivarius, but also a number of surviving lutes, one five-course lute dating from the early 16th century. After our performance, again very well-attended by an appreciative audience, we were treated to a private tour of the basement vault, where Ron handled an English cittern dating from 1579. Our hosts were very gracious and we intend to schedule a return engagement in Vermillion at the earliest possible date.
Professional musicians are notoriously delusional about travel times and we are no exception.
The day after performing in South Dakota, we scheduled a concert to close “Negotiating Trade”, an interdisciplinary conference exploring institutions that facilitated and accommodated long-distance trade and the globalizing of capital in the medieval and early modern world, hosted by Binghamton University’s Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies (CEMERS). After an all-night drive, we rolled out of the car to perform a concert program of music by Bartolomeo Tromboncino and Joan Ambrosio Dalza to close the conference. Our appreciative hosts sent us home with dinner and a bottle of wine to enjoy – which we did exactly one hour and eleven minutes later when we finally returned home.