Saturday morning quotes 2.19: Back on track
We’re rather late but back on track today, after a diversion dealing with the annoyance of online shenanigans perpetrated by spammers.
The brief distraction had its positive side. As we wrestled with the advantages and disadvantages of maintaining this dialogue with kindred spirits out there, we had a bit of time to reflect upon our motivations for making the effort. In the end, we find that we are actually making a bit of difference in the way people perceive early music, and we would like to thank our regular readers who commented here and also contacted us privately, encouraging us to stick with our Saturday quotes series. Look for more in-depth discussions of how we attempt to approach our repertory by stepping further back in time and looking forward, with a focus on singing in spite of modern training and playing the lute from the non-guitarist perspective.
One of our overarching themes is the disquieting disconnect between the purposeful artistic mindset required to perform historical music in a way that conveys the intricacy and the emotional depth that lies beneath the surface, and the dissonance wrought by engaging in modern-day marketing efforts necessary to effectively reach audiences. The uneasy collision of the artistic-commercial world becomes something of a ménage à trois when one considers the overlap of the academic world, which today probably maintains a closer relationship with hard-cash commercial interests than with speculative artistic pursuits.
As musicians, we embrace the alliance of scholarship and interpretive art. We gladly pass through the doors to the past that were prised open by several of the notable scholars we quote in this series. When researching repertory, we make it a point to travel a little further back in time so we can turn around and view the music from a forward-looking aspect. We attempt to understand the context and reception of the music when it was something quite new; inhabiting the role of living, breathing artists performing for listeners who would understand the poetry, the complex phrasing and rhythms, the recognizable snippets of sacred chant and secular melody.
As for the other leg of the triangle, we reject the slick contrived imagery used to sell early music. Yes, there is a certain amount of splash necessary to gain the notice and eventual interest of consumers. But we stop short of pretending to conjure a fantasy world of knights and dragons and posturing courtiers who looked that way because perspective in painting had yet to be invented.
We are probably excessive in subjecting our interpretations to our own stringent scholarly analysis as we turn notes into music. Since almost all of our repertory is polyphonic, every note is thoughtfully placed in its proper context. However, we consider our music to be just as effective as any acoustic pop music music available today — but there is a great deal more than the three-chord trick going on for those who care to listen.
Interestingly, we have made a concerted effort to target non-early music audiences with our music both through concerts and with airplay, an effort that seems to be paying off if we are to believe our sales tracking info and the many comments we receive from individuals. It’s not a little amusing that we are probably effectively reaching a wider range of new audiences with early music than the larger organizations.
In closing this unintended polemic, we make a rather abrupt but relevant turn and quote from a favorite author, Umberto Eco, from his book, Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition.
Marco Polo and the Unicorn
Often, when faced with an unknown phenomenon, we react by approximation: we seek that scrap of content, already present in our encyclopedia, which for better or worse seems to account for the new fact. A classic example of this process is to be found in Marco Polo, who saw what we now realize were rhinoceroses on Java. Although he had never seen such animals before, by analogy with other known animals he was able to distinguish the body, the four feet, and the horn. Since his culture provided him with the notion of a unicorn—a quadruped with a horn on its forehead, to be precise—he designated those animals as unicorns.
While it may be more commercially viable to evoke the familiar fantasy and describe the mythical unicorn, we choose the fascinating truth of authentic music that was played by real people.