Saturday morning quotes 6.23: Orthodoxy
This post ought rightfully to be titled “Alt-early music IV”, but our readers may have gotten the point by now. The point being we have from the beginning of our duo consciously taken a different path from the more orthodox approach to early music. “Hang on”, you may very well say, “Isn’t early music meant to be an alternative to the more orthodox world of classical music?” Yes, it started out that way.
But just as we saw the once esteemed Mother Earth News morph from a mimeographed “how-to” newsletter into a slick mag loaded with outrageous adverts and scams; and just as we saw our food coops evolve from community buying clubs into sprawling superstores; and just as we saw a small tech firm that began in someone’s garage whose motto was “don’t be evil”, grow into an unfeeling, if user-friendly, corporate behemoth of a search engine, controlling and selling personal information without personal consent; the grassroots early music community has grown to become a corporate orthodoxy in and of itself.
The goal of a corporate entity is monopoly, control of supply and demand, and exclusion of competition, and, at least in the US, local control over early music events has been given over to the national organization which acts as a clearinghouse for academic connections, artist representatives, record labels, (some) syndicated radio programs, and regional music festivals. We accept this as a reality and we congratulate the corporate entity on its success. But we still believe in the uniqueness of individual insight, and we respectfully reject what has become an orthodoxy in its approach to early music.
It’s no secret that I (RA) spent many years performing different music before turning my focus to early music. Having experienced the honesty and directness of traditional folk music, it’s a bit much to witness a performance where the paper-trained musician—let’s say a lutenist—sits on a stage and stares at a sheaf of paper on a stand, bobbles his head meaningfully, and plays a fanciful but distinctly undanceable galliard by Dowland, and then the audience politely applauds. In traditional music, the standard of interpretation is measured by whether the performance is honest, engaged and convincing.
But that is not to say traditional folk music has not acquired its own orthodoxy. There are just as many people involved, mostly academics from large northern cities, who like to decide upon what is authentic and what is not. We offer them the same raspberries and quote the venerable Norman Blake, who aptly describes his own polite rejection of the chafing orthodoxy one finds in traditional folk music.
“It’s old-time music. We’ve done a lot of original things though, and sometimes people don’t think that qualifies you for strictly this or that, but I’ve always believed that you can add your own dimension to anything that you did, and writing a lot of instrumental tunes and songs has been something I’ve done over the years. I’ve also tried to do a lot of traditional material. Not to do it like some old record that I might have heard of it. I mean I love the way that the tunes are on the old phonograph records, and really, you know, nobody does it quite like the old guys from the 20’s and 30’s and those old records that were made in warehouses and hotel rooms and things like that.”
“But you can give something of yourself to it, you know, that doesn’t make it a direct copy of their performance…You can put your own self or soul into it and try not to take away too far but try to give it something that might bring it on across a little bit into today’s world without sacrificing the real heart and soul of it.”