Saturday morning quotes 6.21: Alt-Early Music II
Entia 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.