Skip to content

Saturday morning quotes 6.21: Alt-Early Music II

October 8, 2016

stilllifewithsockmonkeyrosesEntia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (“Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”)

– “Ockham’s Razor”,  William of Ockham (c. 1287 – 1347)

Following up on last week’s post, we clarify our theme, building upon our earlier overview that included mention of Christopher Hogwood (1941 – 2014), touching upon a few compelling reasons for individuals to shoulder the responsibility to lead the way, and ultimately provide a summation of sorts describing our lute-centric philosophical approach and performance style and how both fit the term we have coined – Alt-early music.

But first we justify the quote from William of Ockham.  In terms of multiplying entities, our last post discussed the current state of early music: What began as an alternative to the rather formalized and stultifying strictures of the symphony hall—and modern interpretations of ancient music—has finally become a formalized and exclusive world unto itself.  We feel the need to draw attention to the fact that there is another way that is ultimately more direct and attempts to honor what we see as the original aesthetic of the music we perform by consciously identifying and circumventing the modern aesthetics that interfere with the music’s message.

What is Alt-Early Music? In a nutshell, Alt-early music promotes all of the academic rigor and all of the seriousness of purpose of conventional early music, but adds a musician’s perspective that transcends the exclusionary barriers and increases accessibility to the music with none of the attitude.

Over the past dozen years that we’ve been performing early music as Duo Mignarda, we have consciously worked to create and refine our own unique sound.  Essentially, we began performing what we heard in our individual mind’s ears; cultivating our interpretive approach based upon our own thorough and diligent research into the historical sources of music melded with our own collaborative artistic vision.  The most significant and compelling thread we followed in our research led us to discover the important details that emerge when examining the context in which historical music was performed.  A contextual understanding reveals the subtle hints of humanity just beneath the surface of the texts; the heartbeat-like pulse that established tempo, the breath-like contours of phrasing, and the rhythmic elegance. Likewise, a contextual understanding reveals that a natural vocal production for our repertory allows what was always considered domestic music to be heard, felt and understood by an audience.

Beyond these more conceptual layers that define our approach, the nuts and bolts aspects of our rehearsal process results in performances that are secure and improvisatory.  We have collectively absorbed the mechanical details of historical interpretation and allow ourselves, as one colleague put it, to “become the music” in performance.  Our goal is to internalize each piece so that we can perform it with a sense that it is being composed on the spot.  This is a significant departure from the detached re-creative ethic one expects in performances of early music, and an approach we feel is vital if we are to demonstrate the communicative power.  We recognize that in the sixteenth century, music books were very costly and that those fortunate enough to own them played the contents again and again.  It is through this repetitive process that the important details hidden in the cracks and crevices of the music reveal themselves.

We initiated our performing career with kind encouragement from stalwart fans and with an earnest desire to share our approach with a broad listening audience, perhaps in the naive hope that the music that so moved our hearts would touch others as well.  We appear to have successfully gained a following without organizational or academic affiliations, without artist representation, and with a promotional budget of absolute zero.

Throughout our performing career, we have deliberately attempted to present an alternative approach to what we saw as an increasingly standardized and homegenous early music rather aggressively promoted by academic institutions, formal advocacy organizations and record companies.  Artists-academia-organizational-commerical links largely control the public face of early music in the US, effectively shutting out those who are not connected much the same way that corporate-banking interests collude with the mainstream press— and even with social media like Facebook and Google—to exclude the alternative voice and steer the public to the information that serves their own interests.  We have seen ample evidence of this in action over our current presidential election cycle.  From the beginning, information about Bernie Sanders was excluded from major news outlets or slanted to marginalize his message: The same dynamic continues with the mainstream news outlets completely ignoring and sidelining Jill Stein’s campaign.

Monopolies are as unhealthy in the music world just as they are in the brutal and unforgiving ugliness that is the economy, and that an exclusive and tightly-controlled organizational message that permeates festivals, workshops, the concert stage and radio airplay is eventually revealed as contrived to a broad audience of individual listeners and practitioners who see and understand.  That is why we offer an alternative voice.

Our next post will offer examples of our alternative approach with scores and audio.


  1. Your term Alt-early music is so strikingly fitting. I don’t know if this was intended, but there’s an ambiguity that paradoxically makes its meaning clearer. Sure, on the one hand “alt” stands for alternative. On the other hand there’s a language in which early music is called Alte Musik. This doubling of words featuring the connotation “ancient” could be interpreted as labeling the real and historically correct early music as it was originally conceived to be. I think that puts it fairly well. And actually, that’s the way I understood it when I first read your heading last week.

    • Thank you, J. It’s certainly no surprise that you would notice the appropriate double meaning—so much of the early music revival has been focused on the mechanical aspects of performance, employing modern means of presentation without embracing the original context and just what the music meant to die alten Musiker.

  2. Timothy Swain permalink

    Thank you! Your weekly blog (even if read a week late) is magnificent! Who would have ever guessed that strands of such thought, such disciplined order would be forthcoming? (From the Ron that I knew casually years ago.) Keep it up! The “current presidential election cycle” (which I’ve been spending too much time listening to) has kept truly serious thought out–or maybe that’s my–our–fault. Anyway–keep it up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: