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Saturday morning quotes 8.5: Nouvelles oeuvres

November 14, 2020

“The miserable have no other medicine / But only hope.”

– Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, III:i

“These are times that try men’s souls” wrote Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809) in his pamphlet, The American Crisis (1776), but we resist the urge to mine Paine’s ideas further inasmuch they may or may not pertain to our current crisis. We are now firmly in the grip of a natural phenomenon made much worse by opportunistic political posturing, and our leadership has done virtually nothing to inspire us to come together to overcome the problem. But enough of that.

The challenge is for us all is to find ways to overcome the divisiveness that has been imposed on citizens of the world as a remedy to the pandemic, and find ways to maintain our connections to one another, in spite of the pervasive delusion that human connections can be maintained online. Face it, Zoom and Skype are a little better than tin cans with bits of string, but they are still complete crap. And the quality of any online presentation is determined by factors that are entirely out of our control; factors like variable bandwidth, latency, completely undependable audio transmission, the ineluctable and only choice to appear to other viewers as tinted either red or green no matter how stupendous your lighting.

Musicians are delusional if they think performances can be dependably live-streamed. Replacing an actual concert season with a series of videos and charging normal ticket prices may make us feel a little better about the situation, but it is no replacement for live music and we all know this to be true. We must bide our time and prepare to resume live concerts as soon as practicable.

But rather than succumb to nonspecific despair and the accustomed gnashing of teeth, we have been busy. The one constant that enables us to maintain a connection with our audiences is audio recordings that can be heard on quality audio equipment time and again. We have used our time these past few months to create three new CDs that showcase different facets of our musical activities: 1) Heart-Songs, a new recording of our folk music alter-ego (normally kept well-concealed from Mignarda fans, but you just knew something funny was up with us), 2) Mater Dolorosa, a recording of live ensemble tracks from our annual concert of sacred historical music, and 3) our much-anticipated recording of English lute songs, entitled, Unquiet Thoughts.

Heart-Songs, released November 4, 2020

Here is your chance to hear what we do when we’re off-the-clock.

Pre-Mignarda Donna was mainly a happy chorister, reveling in the lush arrangements and intricate polyphony of the likes of Ralph Vaughn Williams, only now and again stepping out of the chorus for the occasional Scottish or Irish folk song.

Ron is the real deal: a seasoned veteran of several old-time and bluegrass bands, a founding member of the Portland Folklore Society, and a driving force behind Portland, Oregon’s now burgeoning square dance scene as early as 1977. Renowned as an old-time fiddle and banjo player, tapes of his playing with legendary fiddler Jonathan Bekoff have circulated underground for many years, serving as a standard resource of fiddle-banjo repertory for countless folk musicians.

Our middle ground is something special. Over the years, reviewers of Mignarda’s  music have often praised Ron’s gift for merging lute with voice “into a virtuoso rhythmic unity”, saying “when he plays a galliard or an almain you can dance the steps to it.”. Thirty years of playing for actual dancers makes for an almost uncanny sense of pulse and tempo, a vital element of early music. Likewise, reviewers have likened Donna’s heartfelt, “elegiac” interpretations to sean nos singing. The way we see it, people have been telling each other stories through song for as long as there’s been language, and genre is irrelevant to the craft of breathing life into these stories and moving us to tears or laughter.

Music on our new album draws from the well of parlor songs and ballads that were sung at home around the turn of the 20th century. Some of the ballads are much older and at least one song dates from the last time we had a Great Depression. The term Heart-Songs is inspired by a collection of songs by that title published in 1909, representing the most popular songs of the day. The book’s editor described the collection as “Songs that have entertained thousands from childhood to the grave and have voiced the pleasure and pain, the love and longing, the despair and delight, the sorrow and resignation, and the consolation of the plain people…”

“Well, I’m a sucker for this stuff. Put me down in advance for an album…”
– Rob MacKillop, February 18, 2012

(We won’t hold you to it, Rob, since the statute of limitations has run out.)

We first intimated that we might record this album several years ago when we released the song “When you and I were young, Maggie” on this blog. You can find out more about this aspect of our lives on our Eulalie website.

Mater Dolorosa, released November 11, 2020

The 130-year-old sanctuary of Immaculate Conception Church in Cleveland provides a perfect setting for Mignarda’s annual concert commemorating the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The programs vary, as do the wonderful artists who join us each year in mid-September to explore with voices, lutes, harp, or viol the rich repertory of Marian music, including polyphonic masses and motets and an ample offering of Gregorian chant.

Our concert entitled Mater Dolorosa is built upon the little-understood intersection of sacred and secular music of the late 15th century, a theme inspired in part by ideas that are distilled in The Flower of Paradise: Marian Devotion and Secular Song in Medieval and Renaissance Music, by David J. Rothenberg.

Mater Dolorosa is a compilation of live recordings from our program of the same name featuring Mignarda and our guest artists, all recorded live between 2016 – 2019 at Immaculate Conception Church, and includes two settings of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa, together with seemingly secular chansons from the late 15th century which reveal themselves to have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Ron & Donna first met at “the Mac”, singing together in the schola cantorum for the Latin Mass, and it seems fitting this year, when live concerts are so rare, for us to be able to share a taste of this evocative program in the glorious acoustic that suits our music so well. You can sample music from the recording or order CDs here.

Unquiet Thoughts, release date November 30, 2020

English lute songs are the foundational repertory of music for solo voice and lute, and most lutenists and singers who dabble in this music first wet their whistle on well-known songs by John Dowland. Perpetual iconoclasts, our duo began by surveying the correspondingly ample selection of French airs de cour for solo voice and lute as our initial repertory, but we soon formed a vocal quartet and explored the part-song versions of Dowland’s essential music.

Returning to the iconic collection of historical English lute songs after 17 years of performing as a duo, we are struck by the depth of both poetry and music and the sensitivity of the settings of such stellar texts, and we have worked perseveringly to give the songs the deep interpretations they deserve. While Dowland stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries as a songwriter, we add ayres by Thomas Campion, John Danyel, Robert Jones, and Anonymous, all selected for the high quality of both poetry and music.

As always, we pitch these songs in a range that best communicates the poetry, as we are certain was done when the songs were new. Employing a bass lute in D and a tenor lute in F, we offer interpretations that are the result of many years of singing thoughtfully balanced polyphony with a recorded sound that is intentionally warm and intimate. Added to the program are lute solos, all collected from a single manuscript source, that add context and variety to the songs. We are very pleased with this new recording and look forward to sharing it in a matter of weeks from now. Meanwhile, you can sample the title track, also the name of our blog, here.

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