Saturday morning quotes 6.1: Fantasy
As we begin our sixth year of Saturday morning quotations, we revisit some of the primary goals of our enterprise as we stated at the outset: How performing historical music for voice and lute “affects our lives, how it appears to be received by the individuals who make up our listening audiences, and why we believe early music is not only relevant but offers a much-needed source of solace in these fractious times.”
While we consider our music to be an essential antidote to the technologically-obsessed present, the elegant and subtle aesthetic qualities of the historical lute fit not so well in our modern times without serious committment and without establishing a context. We have pointed out that those individuals who are attracted to the instrument today, professional and amateur, become involved for a variety of reasons and with various levels of committment. And we have stated like a broken record that, while many have made significant inroads, we are of the opinion that historical music for the lute and technology is not a happy combination.
Needless to say that while we have managed to reach many appreciative listeners, taking such a stance does very little for our popularity among impatient consumers who can’t seem to trouser their phones for more than a minute or two. While we would like to offer these distracted souls a moment of respite from their self-imposed hellish nightmares, we find that quiet, intricate music is inaudible to ears that have been ravaged by modern sounds. And we used the label “consumers” above intentionally because that is how people are now characterized.
“I couldn’t write about now, I felt, because it was so slippery. Until I thought I knew – what was very definitive about now is that it’s so powerfully self-reverential. Selfies, look at me, novels about me, stories about me …
The complexity of the so-called individual that’s been praised for decades in America somehow has narrowed itself to the ‘me’. When I was a young girl we were called citizens – American citizens. We were second-class citizens, but that was the word. In the 50s and 60s they started calling us consumers. So we did – consume. Now they don’t use those words any more – it’s the American taxpayer and those are different attitudes.”
– Toni Morrison, On the selfishness of the modern era
But the fact remains that we live in these modern times and we as thinking persons and as musicians are committed to integrating what we know to be the aesthetics of historical music with our 21st-century context. The alternative for others who may be involved in early music is to dwell in a fantasy world of lutes and unicorns, trotting out the music and the funny hats occasionally while blithely ignoring the vital message the instrument whispers in our ears; compartmentalizing their lives and turning a deaf ear to the lessons of history.
We would like to take this opportunity thank our many loyal readers and listeners, and we urge those who are capable of appreciating historical music to perhaps appreciate the fantasy for what it is, but listen closely to the message of the music and embrace an integrated life that acknowledges all things are connected.
CHAPTER XIV: Of The Enthusiasms And Ravishments Of The Lute
When old age has made us incapable to relish the pleasure of this life, so that everybody loathes our company because of our infirmities, when the sight fails us for reading of books, the legs for walking, and the teeth for discoursing, the fingers and the ears remain still in a capacity to play on the lute and to charm melodiously as the swans the assault and apprehensions of death.
For it is an admirable thing, and much experimented, that the gout never seizes upon the fingers of those that play the lute. And this wholesome harmony dissipates and subtilizes so well the gross humours that are the cause of deafness, that one never becomes deaf as long as the body is in health and able to touch the lute. Those admirable effects make men so much in love with the lute that when those that play of it do hear a lesson that they like, they are never quiet till they have it, and think no money better bestowed than in purchasing this precious acquisition.
– from Miss Mary Burwell’s Instruction Book for the Lute, c. 1668