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Saturday morning quotes 4.3: Going dark

May 30, 2014

We live in disquieting times with the muses gone mute and new reasons for general alarm sounding daily. As the economy continues to tank and times grow tougher for everyone – at least in our clammy, cluttered corner of the world – it seems the result is that the population becomes more fractious and peevish, greedy and grasping, dyspeptic and disappointed. Everyone wants to know why his or her standard of living is slipping, and just who is responsible?

Interest in the early music scene fades as the music biz tanks along with the rest of the economy, and we find there are more performers dreaming up gimmicks for shows bearing the labels “New” and “Improved,” and expanding way beyond convincing competence as they calculate new angles that will corner new audiences. Our friends and colleagues tell us that where once there flowed a corporate fount of funds for the arts, there now only oozes muck from the malarial mire of vacant board rooms.

Meanwhile, it seems that fewer specialist performers are willing to make the significant but necessary sacrifices to learn about the depth and substance of early music, and fewer still offer up performances of the real thing without the added dog and pony show.

“In an ideal world one would take a work and ask, ‘What does this music require?’ Instead – and this is true of so much performance of pre-Baroque music – we start with a ready-made ensemble or choir and ask, ‘What will we sing or record next?’ When there is little room for flexibility, there is always the possibility for compromise. This cannot be the way forward.”

– John Milsom, “Byrd on record: an anniversary survey,” Early Music, vol. XXI, no.3, August, 1993, p. 448.

Our reaction as committed performers is to further divest ourselves from the trappings of our modern age by metaphorically “going dark.” Our gimmick is living with the literature and languishing with the lute, but from this moment forward even further off the grid. You can expect to see and hear the fruits of our labors this year as we continue our series of recordings. You can also expect to see our forthcoming book on the many joys and sorrows of performing historical music in this modern age.


  1. David Lamb permalink

    Yes, the music biz is in terrible shape and not likely to improve anytime soon. But it is not just Early Music that suffers. People don’t pay attention to the music I write either. My response is to continue making music with real melodic content supported by a harmonic structure derived from melody and rhythms based on dance and the natural sound of speech. This is not what we hear from contemporary composers in the concert hall. But what can one do? You can either go on doing your best at what you believe in, or you can attempt to put on the style. As for me, I know I would instantly fail as a charlatan, and so there is really not much choice. I try to keep in mind Ecclesiates 9:9. Do what you know you do best, because in the end, you would be ashamed if you did not.

    • Thanks for your insights, David. A pattern persists throughout history where a creative generation laments the loss of quality and the slipping of standards on the part of the new torch-bearers. It was certainly a theme that cropped up in the introductory remarks to composer John Dowland’s last published book, A Pilgrimes Solace (1612).

      “…Yet I must tell you, as I have been a stranger, so have I again found strange entertainment since my return; especially by the opposition of two sorts of people that shroud themselves under the title of Musicians. The first are some simple Cantors, or vocal singers, who though they seem excellent in their blind Division-making, are merely ignorant, even in the first elements of Music, and also in the true order of the mutation of the Hexachord in the System, (which hath been approved by all the learned and skillful men of Christendome [these] 800 years) yet do these fellows give their verdict of me behind my back, and say, what I do is after the old manner: But I will speak openly to them, and would have them know that the proudest Cantor of them, dares not oppose himself face to face against me.”

      But today, we live in times where authentic human qualities, including an appreciation for things like beauty and proportion, are constantly ridiculed by blaring media in favor of plastic products, and software, and the speed of electronic devices. It’s almost as though we are experiencing an intentional “cattle drive” approach by corporate entities steering us away from authentic human experiences and an education that develops critical thinking, and instead towards conditioning us to be nothing more than passive consumers.

      I am biased based on a very pleasant introduction to your music through our mutual friend, but I experience your compositions as a more direct link to a past tradition when music was functional and meant to mobilize the feet, charm the ears, provoke thought, or soothe the soul. The music business now either promotes insipid pablum that inspires us to shop, or noises that shock and startle the listener into flight, fear or aggressive behavior.

      Despite the unfortunate norms of our Brave New World, some of us believe that failure as a charlatan is a most admirable quality.


  2. Chris Castle permalink

    Reblogged this on MUSIC • TECHNOLOGY • POLICY.

  3. The art that is created is a product of the times in which it is created.

    Sorry guys, we f****d-up.

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