Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738):  Lord Inchiquin – Variations for recorder by Laura Osterlund (published in the January 2015 issue of Dutch magazine “Blokfluitist“)

My arrangement of Turlough O’Carolan’s tune Lord Inchiquin draws upon oral traditions in Irish music as well as baroque music from the continent. The two seemingly alien musical cultures both feature great amounts of improvisation and extemporization: for example, a popular tune in the 17th and 18th centuries would have been performed by heart and subjected to different degrees of variation, depending on the player. The art of embellishment was cultivated in both Ireland and continental Europe, derived from centuries-old traditions of extemporaneous performance and composition; thus, it would have been natural for skilled musicians to “improve” a melody through a repertoire of trills and grace notes, as well as by inventing variations of often impressive virtuosity.

Turlough O’Carolan himself would not have read from a part or score, nor did the blind harper transcribe his own compositions. As an itinerant musician, it is likely that each new tune was taken down at different stops along the road; other musicians who encountered Carolan during his travels may very well have learned tunes by rote and translated them into their own idiomatic styles of performing. Carolan made his living in part through the support of wealthy patrons. It is for these that he popularized or perhaps even invented a type of song known as the “planxty.” Planxties were songs offered as a tribute to hosts and supporters and bore the name of each, including Lord Inchiquin. For his service, Carolan received bed and board, as well as an excellent reputation that spread throughout Ireland.

It should be noted that the variations I have composed in the spirit of Carolan’s day are idiomatic to the recorder; you can see evidence of this in my choice of chordal (or modal) embellishments as well as consideration of the instrument’s range. Recorder players or other instrumentalists should feel free to substitute pitches according to their level of playing ability and the type of instrument they decide to perform on. Additionally, I have chosen to order my variations on Lord Inchiquin in increasing speed and intensity. Any performance of this lively and engaging tune would welcome alterations to suit new performers’ tastes: variations can be rearranged, omitted, or substituted with your own.

Ensemble Musica Humana – Ordo Virtutum (Friday, April 4th, 2014; Saturday, April 5th, 2014; and Sunday, April 6th, 2014)

Ensemble Musica Humana welcomes you to the Ordo Virtutum. This earliest surviving medieval morality play features a celestial battle between Devil and Virtues for a single human soul. A harrowing tale of the soul’s choices is highlighted by the music of 12th-century abbess Hildegard von Bingen . . . with diabolical shouting and laughter when the Devil shows his face.

The Ordo Virtutum (“Order of the Virtues”) tells the story of Anima in transit between the apparent pleasures and hidden perils of earthly existence and the everlasting rewards of an unblemished, virtuous life. Temptation of the flesh is personified by the Devil. The ancient seducer uses all power to compel Anima, while the Virtues eagerly invite her along a higher path. Anima falls, but in the end returns to the Virtues, who bind the Devil and celebrate both moral and physical victory.

A thematic “sketch” of the Ordo survives in the third and final part of Hildegard’s Scivias (c. 1151-2). Although Hildegard’s vision is sadly unaccompanied by either staging instructions or set designs, vivid depictions of the Virtues, including dress, are shown. Music for the Ordo appears as a series of plainchant melodies in the Riesenkodex, whose transcription is believed to have been supervised by Hildegard herself circa 1175-9. At the end of her life, the then-venerated abbess likely envisioned the importance of preserving her work for future generations.  In addition to writings on varied topics such as theology, botany, and medicine, we can glean rich biographical information about Hildegard from daily correspondence. Some 390 letters survive from her lifetime: a testament to the high esteem held for Hildegard by persons from all walks of life.

We know that Hildegard was the tenth child of Rhenish nobleman Hildebert of Bermersheim and his wife Mechthild. At the age of fourteen, Hildegard accompanied her older sister to become a religious recluse at the Benedictine monastery of Disibod and took her vows on All Saints Day, November 1st, 1112. The monastery then was relatively young and undergoing major renovation. Located on a hilltop south of Sponheim, Disibod housed both male and female members of the Benedictine community. Archeological excavations uncovered at least a dozen foundations for religious buildings, including the dormitory where Hildegard slept and the chapel where she and her sister worshipped. After her appointment as magistra in 1136, Hildegard received a vision to establish a new convent on Rupertsberg across from Bingen. To finance this move was no easy matter: Hildegard, reliant on her nuns’ endowments and family charities, could only accept novices from well-off nobility. At the new convent, Hildegard and her virgins gained notoriety for their dress on feast days. Wearing gold rings, crowns of gold filigree, and white silk veils that touched the floor, they sang psalms in clear violation of convent rule. To this controversy, Hildegard spoke that her nuns, unlike married women, were subject to no man, and could thus celebrate their chastity with ornament and unbound hair.

For our Ordo, we worked with a Latin text and translation based on definitive editions by Peter Dronke. Dronke’s chapter, “Hildegard of Bingen as Poetess and Dramatist,” ushered a wave of interest in the Ordo among English-speaking scholars and has encouraged numerous musical realizations in past decades. The Ordo has been performed at such prestigious locations as the Washington National Cathedral and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In 2012, Hildegard was made a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI, a modern-day honor that punctuated a centuries-long canonization beginning in the 13th century. It is with this knowledge that EMH proudly brings Hildegard von Bingen’s story to today’s stage. We hope to continue a legacy undoubtedly deserving of honor and cast a fresh vision to match Hildegard’s own.

The Broken Consort – “The Three Ms:  Muses, Modes, and Magic!”

The Broken Consort and The Dance Project welcome you to “Muses, Modes, and Magic!,” a music and dance extravaganza.

During the Middle Ages and renaissance, ancient myth featured prominently in new works of art and music. A revival of Classical literature provided musicians with a treasure-trove of narratives and characters to draw upon for inspiration. According to Greek mythology, the union of the god Zeus and the titaness Mnemosyne produced the nine goddesses called the Muses. Each divine daughter embodied her own branch of the arts.

Polyhymnia, the Muse of sacred hymns and dance, was considered a serious and meditative figure. In visual depictions, she is often shown wearing her symbol, the veil, and resting her elbow on a pillar. The first Muse on our program is commemorated by a movement from Patricia Van Ness’s composition for female voices, The Nine Order of the Angels. Terpsichore, whose name means “delight in dancing” reigned over sacred chorus. Terpsichore is widely depicted with a lyre, a plucked string instrument played widely during the Middle Ages and Antiquity. This Muse is accompanied by Istanpitta Isabella, a wild musical foray from 14th-century Italy.
Melpomenu, commonly known as the Muse of Tragedy, appears garbed in an imposing mask and boots worn by Greek tragic actors. Originally a Muse of singing, her name derives from the Greek verb melpô meaning “to celebrate with dance and song.” An appropriately tragic song by composer and lutenist John Dowland speaks to our Muse’s nature. “Weep you no more, sad fountains” entreats sad eyes to cease weeping and seek solace in sleep.
is the Muse of lyric poetry, particularly poetry of an amorous or erotic nature. Beginning in the Middle Ages, she was shown with a wreath of myrtle and roses. She holds a kithara, an instrument in the lyre family, that later became synonymous with the small renaissance guitar. A suitably erotic chanson by famed renaissance composer Josquin des Prez honors Erato’s legacy. Its lyric’s state: “Soothe me, dark little beauty. Just below the navel. Soothe away all my pains. Your beauty makes me amorous, just below the navel.”
, the Muse of history,carries with her a roll of parchment or a set of tablets. Our tribute to Clio features a two-voice vocal improvisation in the hypodorian mode using text from the medieval Carmina Burana. This and the Nibelungenlid in honor of the Muse Calliope point at similarities between musicians and poets in our culture and those in medieval culture.
Calliope, meaning “beautiful-voiced,” was the favored Muse of the poet Homer. Her domain has always been epic poetry. Along with music for Clio, our interpretations serve as examples of how we believe well-known texts might have been sung during the Middle Ages.
Euterpe, the muse of music and lyric poetry, was held in special regard by composers. Euterpe is often depicted playing a flute, and she is believed by some to have invented the aulos, a wind instrument with two windways and one mouthpiece. To celebrate this Muse, we’ll hear Non è di gentil corefrom Claudio Monteverdi’s seventh book of madrigals, followed by the anonymous Scottish folksong “If I were a blackbird.” Two time-removed pieces both speak on the tireless subject of love. Monteverdi’s madrigal pronounces, “he has not a gentle heart who does not burn for love,” and in “If I were a blackbird,” a lover longs to assume the shape of a blackbird to reunite with his faraway beloved.
Our last Muse, Urania, is the Muse of astronomy. Her name refers to the heavenly bodies, at which men wondered for centurues. Urania wears a robe embroidered with stars, her gaze fixed on the mysterious heavens. She often holds a celestial globe.

To conclude our program, we perform In hydraulis, a four-voice motet by Antoine Busnois that pays homage to his esteemed contemporary Johannes Ockeghem. Throughout our program, instrumental interludes and improvisations weave through and introduce new musical sets. These are drawn from Vincenzo Galilei’s lute songs for the nine Muses.

Ensemble Musica Humana – “Turlough O’Carolan:  A Life in Song” (June 10th, 2013; July 23rd, 2013; July 24th, 2013; July 25th, 2013; June 24th, 2014)

Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738) lived and played at a crossroads in Irish musical history. From the last decades of the 17th century into the first half of the 18th century, styles and genres from continental Europe were transported to countries and colonies abroad. It is perhaps for this reason that pieces by the legendary harper have remained popular examples of Irish traditional music and are still played widely in sessions to this day. In Carolan’s music, High Baroque forms and harmonies make their presence felt in works such as Carolan’s Concerto and Mrs. Judge. Others, such as Eleanor Plunket and Bridget Cruise, harken back to earlier musical traditions and tonalities. Upon close inspection, we see that many of the tunes attributed to the composer are, in fact, older traditional melodies that the composer lengthened, embellished, and “improved.”

ROOK – “The Heritage of San Marco”

Today, Rook delves into a rich collection of works for instruments and voices by composers active during the 16th and 17th centuries. Those showcased on our program represent the pinnacle of composition, performance, and improvisation in their time. Many were celebrated as preeminent virtuosi who, through a working combination of practical talent and intellectual prowess, won choice musical positions within prominent chapels and powerful courts. Many are still recognized as galvanizing musical forces behind artistic developments throughout the seicento.

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) was elected as organist for the Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano’s Cappella Guilia in 1608. A legend forwarded by author Antonio Libanori states that Frescobaldi’s first appearance for the Cappella drew over 3,000 listeners. Works such as Frescobaldi’s Canzon quarta and Toccata prima demonstrate a command of traditional Francoflemish contrapuntal style, plus interplays of musical ideas ranging from madrigalian chromaticism to metrical hallmarks of the seconda pratica. Vocalist Costanzo Festa (c. 1485-1545) was long considered the premier Northern Italian contrapuntist during the 15th and 16thcenturies. From 1517 till his death, Festa sang as a member of the Cappella Sistina. His three-voice setting of Ingiustissimo amor . . . from Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso is but one of nearly a hundred extant madrigals. Festa’s numerous secular compositions accompany a comparable wealth of Masses, Mass movements, Magnificats, Lamentations, and hymns written for the Roman Liturgy. Violinist AntonioBertali (1605-1669) also contributed greatly to to the life of the liturgy, following his appointment as Kapellmeister to the Viennese imperial court in 1649. In addition to music for the worship service, he frequently crafted musical compositions for solemn and festive occasions. These compositions include contrapuntal works, such as his Sonata quarta, as well as large, multi-sectional pieces for trumpets, cornetts, strings, and continuo. Dario Castello (c.1590-1658) worked as a wind player at the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco from 1621 onward. In the Sonata quarta, drawn from Castello’s first collection of instrumental compositions, one hears rapid successions of contrasting affects and sharp shifts from one section to the next. Such patterning and pathos became emblematic of the then-nascent stile moderno. The number of reprints Castello’s sonatas enjoyed in the years subsequent to their original publication suggests relatively wide dissemination and points at the popularity of the new compositional style. Another wind player, Giovanni Bassano, (c. 1558-1617) was appointed one of the six pifferi del doge (or “pipers of the Doge”) while still in his teens. From there, he went on to serve as leader of the Basilica of St. Mark’s instrumental ensemble, wherein much of his work called for improvisation. Elements of Bassano’s technique for improvising divisions on polyphonic vocal lines survive in his treatise Ricercate, passagi et cadentie . . . (1585). The technique could easily have been applied in Bassano’s Fantasia; and a similar style of composition (or recorded improvisation) fills Susana Pasegiata Basso Solo by the Spanish bassoonist Bartolome de Selma y Salaverde(c. 1595-1638). Once again, divisions pervade variations on the popular Lachrime Pavan by lutenist, cornettist, trombonist, and violinist Johann Schop (c. 1590-1667). Schop attracted both an engagement as a musician for the Wolfenbüttel Hofkapelle and a position as musician to Christian IV of Denmark in Copenhagen in 1615. Still to come was work as a municipal violinist for the city Hamburg, an opportunity that afforded Schop freedom to venture from his employ for performances at foreign courts. Marco Antonio Ferro (d. 1662) worked intermittently as a composer and lutenist in the Vienna Hofkapelle between 1642 and 1662. A single collection of twelve compositions, to which his Sonata quinta belongs, features skilled writing for different string ensembles. Such sonatas have also been scored to include the usage of cornetts, bassoon, trombone, and theorbo. Not least on our program is a setting of Psalm 150: Laudate Dominum by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). A product of a skilled composer in all then-prevalent instrumental and vocal genres, Monteverdi’s oeuvre embraces the majority, if not the entirety, of music styles heard in his day. Works by Monteverdi still tend to be cast as dichotomies of prima and seconda pratica aesthetics. But the influences from which Monteverdi—and, indeed, most of his contemporaries–drew inspiration from are far more numerous and nuanced than we might be led to think.

La Camaraderie – “Antico è Nuovo:  di Stile Moderno” (November 14th, 2010)

Our program offers a sampling of musical innovation from 16th- and 17th-century Italy.  Although the list of composers and pieces presented this afternoon is by no means thoroughly representative of that time period’s musical wealth, we may envision the common threads that connect the relatively old and the relatively new.  While it might be convenient, for the sake of ease in this present age of consumer categorization, to drive a wedge between these and other centuries, the historical landscape of 16th- and 17th-century Italy, and that of all Europe at this time, rightfully resists the modern imposition of firm boundaries.

Let us then recall the Catholic Counter-Reformation, for which Vincenzo Ruffo was an influential figure, as well as the Council of Trent, which, in the realm of music, secured for set texts a position beyond that of the polyphonic texture and allowed for an elevation of words and their meaning.  Let us also recall the “northern heritage”:  the tides of Franco-Flemish musical tradition that washed over the Italian peninsula, and the Oltremontani, such as Ciprano de Rore, who, in the filed of secular composition, were swift to adapt and forward the indigenous Italian frottola and ballata.  Let us place among these and other vernacular forms the madrigal, noting its development from an unaccompanied, polyphonic genre through levels of greater sophistication, to Claudio Monteverdi’s vehicle of drama and declamation.  In doing so, we must, of course, heed the significance of humanistic thought and the cradle formed of converging actions and ideas:  Petrarch and the careful exemplification of his work, the invention of the printing press, of movable type, and the subsequent spread of compositions en vogue.  In the intermeddii for La Pellegrina, for which Emilio de’ Cavalieri and Cristofano Malvezzi composed, exist marriages of conjugal bliss with exaggeration of myth, of pageantry and pomp, of tradition and experimentation, of travail and spectacular triumph.  At last, in the sonatas written by Dario Castello, a collection of the earliest violin-family-specific compositions, we witness yet another development–this time, within an instrumental realm–of the canzona, or instrumental chanson, into the sonata.

What all of this will underscore is that 16th- and 17th-century acts of musical creation cannot be categorized with free conscience unless we understand that compositions were subject to myriad mandates, milieus, and tastes.  Furthermore, few seemingly crystalized genres can be well represented without taking into account their respective metamorphoses.  With this understand, even in an era far removed from renaissance Italy, we may delight in musical compositions extraordinarily varied in their inception, even if further thought given to their origins leaves us feeling both elated and ill-at-ease.  “The past is a foreign country:  they do things differently there.”

The Phonograph –  “In Angst Over the Aural Tradition” (February 2010)

I’m excited to share that my first Phonograph article of 2010 is accompanied by the strains of my latest early music CD find: Virginals and Consorts, featuring twenty tracks of pure William Byrd performed by harpsichordist Skip Sempé and the brilliant members of Capriccio Stravagante. This statement is both advertising and prefacing. Enjoying a newly borrowed early music CD, I want to write about exactly that: the enjoyment of an early music CD and all it, unfortunately, entails.

As a student of early music, it’s disconcerting to witness aspects of my education occasionally at odds. On the one hand is my adoration for and reliance on early music CD recordings. I became an avid enthusiast of these recordings at around the same time I began playing the recorder and contemplating a career in early music. In the sixth grade, I hid away one day with Music of the Troubadors by Ensemble Unicorn; in junior high, I got my first CD player (a prize won at my orthodontist’s raffle) and, while walking home from school, rocked out to the Baltimore Consort’s La Rocque ‘n’ Roll. Within every CD was a wealth of inspiration essential to a youngster lacking ample education. (Back home, the nearest professional recorder teacher lived eight hours away. Lessons were few and far between.) Within every CD track was a source of rejuvenation for someone who couldn’t plug into an established group of peers at school. (Back home, again, nearly everyone had abandoned their dinky plastic recorders for mainstream band and orchestral instruments. I remained stuck in the third grade.) Throughout my life, as you can see, recordings were both a valuable educational resource and a personal joy. Recently, I discovered Marvin Duchow’s overwhelming CD and LP collection. . . . Words, for once, fail.

But, on the other hand, are the warnings I’ve received regarding the abuse of said CD recordings. During a rehearsal for an Amherst Early Music Festival performance of selections from Carmina Burana, (not the Carl Orff cantata) an instructor miraculously induced that I’d been listening to other ensembles’ Carmina Burana recordings prior to the festival; he was even able to pinpoint the recorded recorderist whose playing my own most resembled. (Give me a break; I was thirteen.) Now, more dire, are the precautionary tales told by my private recorder instructor about the havoc the “aural tradition” can wreak upon one’s artistic autonomy. Their moral: it is important that performers approach a new piece with ears unsullied by another’s interpretation. Questions posed by a printed source can very well be better answered by real-time confrontation, rather than a return to pleasing albeit potentially outdated and erroneous stabs. Of course, the moral lesson is valid and already understood by this student to be at the heart of what I do. With that in mind, may I not, aid my own artistic choice with an overview of opposing views?

In Modal Counterpoint II, I’m cautioned to not “rely” so heavily on CD recordings in my drive for exposure to Renaissance polyphonic literature. According to Peter Schubert, (I paraphrase heavily.) one becomes more intimate with a piece through active interaction with it (i.e., singing and/or playing). But, Professor Schubert, what if I at this time lack the prerequisite coordination required to sit down at a Clavinova and satisfactorily slog through a seventy-breve-long work? In lieu of mettle, (and ample keyboard skills) I have several fine recordings on hand; and I am more than ready to dive head-first into the lovely sonic worlds encapsulated within each. (But, just in case you’re reading this, I promise to play and sing through all of my future assignments; although I may not enjoy it.) In truth, I wouldn’t be so keen on Modal Counterpoint today if I hadn’t beforehand heard the beauty of the music studied within; and, again, this happened largely by way of CD recordings.

I have to say that I take all opposition to my interest with a grain of salt. First of all, these CDs are listened to on my own time. Till that day I brazenly march into either my weekly lesson or bi-weekly counterpoint class and sit down with headphones blaring Busnois, I reserve my right to bombard my ears with all manner of outside artistic influence. Second of all, of course, these hours upon hours of enraptured listening supplement more standard methods of study. The Tallis Scholars accompany readings about Tallis; Giuseppe Maletto’s ficta compel me to confront a given edition of Dufay in a different manner; and my interpretation of unaccompanied Bach is pitted against that of recorderist Marion Verbruggen (on her 2001 Harmonia Mundi recording).

To be fair, I have realized over the years that the so-called early music “aural tradition” has its pros and cons. Con: we recording enthusiasts have become accustomed to a “gold-standard” set by top-quality commercial CDs; however, we must also be aware that such a standard presented to us is unrealistic, considering the—dare I write—unnatural and excessive amount of editing involved in the CD-making process. CD recordings spare listeners’ ears the handful of “flubbed” notes that occur in even the finest live performances as well as perhaps more permissible errors of intonation and “ensembleship.” It is a sad thing to realize that the level of crystallized perfection we performers attempt to emulate may be, in reality, beyond our grasp. Sadder still: our professional futures may be just as excessively doctored before they are deemed suitably marketable.

Pro: a boon to early music is the variety of interpretation our performance practice allows. This variety is reflected through different CD recordings. Listen to enough early music recordings, and you’ll likely hear, for example, more versions of Pavana Lachrymae (after Dowland’s “Flow My Teares”) than you can count on one hand. Historical source variation and discrepancy aside, listeners’ can enjoy a wealth of starkly contrasting arrangements of the same piece, because a lack of prescriptivist instruction invites modern invention. CD recordings featuring different “takes” on the same music affirm that there is no single correct way in which to perform—or imagine.

This conflict aside, I know that the early music CD habit’s too pleasurable to quit now. Within and without the arenas of academics and historically informed performance, these recordings simply mean, well, beauty. They’re collections of beautiful music that have been beautifully rediscovered and revived through a synergy of scholarship and performance. Through their accessibility, I’m reminded of and humbled by musical and intellectual processes beginning centuries ago at a composition’s inception and beginning again when that composition—researched, transcribed, and translated—reaches my waiting ears. I wonder who’ll be the next to hear it and how.

The Phonograph –No Ticket? No Problem! A Spotlight on Chamber Music without Borders” (December 2010)

Many of you may already be familiar with Chamber Music without Borders and the musical gifts they offer the Montreal concert-going community. For those who aren’t, here’s a statement from the organization featured on the Facebook page:

“Chamber Music without Borders is an outreach program that offers musical encounters to community institutions in the Montreal area. Initiated, directed, and featuring student musicians, our goal is to make music more accessible to everyone, particularly those who might not otherwise be able to attend high quality concerts. Facets of our program include regular performances at drop-in centers for the homeless and seniors’ residences; workshops with children; and a noon-hour concert series every Tuesday in the beautiful St. James United Church sanctuary.

“Chamber Music without Borders is designed as a collaboration between McGill University and the Montreal community: soloists and ensembles offer free, accessible performances in return for the opportunity to experiment with music for diverse and appreciative audiences. Together both groups have the opportunity to broaden their horizons through music. This is also a symbolic relationship: a statement that classical music is not only suitable for universities and concert halls. Our concerts welcome all genres of music: classical, contemporary, jazz, folk, etc.”

A week ago, Hali Kremen and I sat down with Chamber Music without Borders’s Amy Hillis. Amy is a charming and effervescent violin performance major in her third year of university and a longtime member of Chamber Music without Borders. Here are some highlights from our discussion: Laura: so, tell us a bit about Chamber Music without Borders. Amy: the program is now in its third official year. It was originally founded by four McGill students. Currently, our organization’s administrators include Sarah Frank, Julia Loucks, Aaron Schwebel, Laura Horn, and myself. Our organization’s aim is to get classical music out into the Montreal community through regular concerts given in venues throughout the city.

Hali: what’s the organization’s current makeup? What sorts of student are involved?
Amy: right now, we have many string players! It’s not an exclusive group, however; we are always looking for new student performers. Hali: what do you feel Chamber Music without Borders has to offer McGill music students? Amy: the organization offers students performance opportunities. Those looking to run a solo recital can do so for free. Our current venues are also ideal for student string quartets and chamber music ensembles. Also, from what I’ve seen, I can tell you that this has never been a waste of anyone’s time. I feel that performers who participate always gain something from their experiences.

Laura: tell us a bit about your audience. Whom are you trying to reach? What sorts of people attend? How large are your audiences?
Amy: over the years, it’s been really interesting to see who shows up. We’ve a handful of business people who regularly attend our noon-hour series at St. James United Church. The location also allows us to attract tourists. I think the people who do come realize that our concerts largely feature McGill students. They know to expect high-caliber performances. The average audience size ranges between twenty and twenty-five persons. We make a point to tell our audience members that they aren’t require to remain for the entirety of our concerts; they’re free to arrive and leave at any time.

Hali: tell us a bit about your outreach programs at schools and retirement homes.
Amy: we recently gave a lecture demo on the music of Beethoven for an elementary school audience. We taught the kids about musical dynamics by asking them to make the loudest sound they possibly could. It’s really rewarding to work with kids. They ask the cutest questions. You really come to learn what an audience likes, because the little ones are so honest. It’s nice, also, to be able to connect with them, before and after a concert. We can demonstrate, for example, that a viola isn’t just a big violin. Through our work with younger audiences, I like to think that we’re proving that classical music isn’t just for adults.

Laura: has your work through Chamber Music without Borders caused you to view your McGill experience differently?
Amy: it really shows you that the aim of a degree in Music Performance isn’t to become the most virtuosic. Ultimately, our job as musicians is to brighten someone’s day. I first came upon this realization after performing at a retirement home. The audience wasn’t evaluating my bow-grip; they were looking at my smile. Performance isn’t just for us; it’s for our audience.

Hali: is all of the music you present “mainstream classical”?
Amy: certainly not! We’d love to have a few jazz combos present concerts for the series, provided that they’d be able to work around issues of technology and amplification. I mean, I’m sure we’d attract more walk-in traffic if we advertised concerts of Lady Gaga’s music. Some people do decline, saying that they don’t like classical music, by we’re really open to anything. Currently, the Bombadils, a folk band founded by violinist Sarah Frank, is especially receptive to sharing concerts with other ensembles and solo performers. They invite virtually anyone to share concerts with them.

Laura: what were some of your favorite Chamber Music without Borders performances?
Amy: Ewald Cheung’s performance of the Sibelius violin concerto in D minor totally blew the audience away. I also remember another audience’s reception of a concert of Beethoven string quartets. They were incredibly receptive to it, and it was great to see the audience appreciation for well-performed classical music. Finally, I remember one woman who came and spoke with us after a St. James noon-hour concert that included solo harp. Soon after she began speaking, she burst into tears. This just shows that, even if you play a concert for a single person, if they’re moved, it’s so worth it.

Hali: what are the organization’s future plans and goals?
Amy: we’re trying our best to get the word out there. Right now, the organization advertises through its own website and Facebook page. We’d like to keep the quality up, and drawing from McGill’s pool of student talent is our best bet. However, we’re also open to having McGill Music Performance alumni participate, too. Participating is a fairly painless process, because there’s so little bureaucracy or paperwork involved. You simply propose a concert, and we find you a time. What’s great about Chamber Music without Borders is that we don’t really need money. All we need are performers! But we’d love to have more student support, too. It would be great if more of our peers would attend Chamber Music without Borders concerts. One product of our work is the attention it’s sparked at Julliard. One contact from the school actually asked us if a similar organization might be started in New York! Of course, we were thrilled. We’re not entirely certain how the word got out, but it’s neat that, somehow this was communicated elsewhere.

Hopefully, you’re now asking yourself the question: how can more students get involved? Those interested in participating should email info@cmwbmcgill.org or any of Chamber Music without Borders’s administrators. New performers are always welcome!

Here’s an overview of Chamber Music without Borders’s current concert venues: “All ensembles welcome: the Chamber Music without Borders concert series features weekly formal concerts in the sanctuary of St. James United Church. Concerts begin every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. This is a great opportunity to run through recital and concert programs. In addition, St. James United Church’s Drop-In Center features monthly performances in a casual environment. All sorts of musical performance (i.e., not simply “mainstream classical”) are welcome.

Chamber Music without Borders is currently active in a number of local retirement homes. Vista Retirement Residence offers students a chance for musical outreach in a very relaxed concert setting. All manner of musical performance are welcome. Place Kensington is a retirement residence with its own small auditorium and grand piano. Classical music concerts are encouraged. Finally, Manoir de l’Age D’Or is a Francophone retirement residence that, again, welcomes all sorts of musical performance.

Those interested in performing for younger audiences ought to contact Chamber Music without Borders regarding their in-school performance opportunities. Performers are encouraged to play and talk about their piece(s) with K through 12 students (in either English or French!).

All venues are within a five minute walk from the Schulich School of Music. Transportation funding is supplied by Chamber Music without Borders.”

For more information about Chamber Music without Borders, visit their website (http://www.cmwbmcgill.org) and their Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid+41892850177&v=info).

The Phonograph –A Spotlight on Theatrical Anti-Punk at POP Montreal” (October 2010)

Understand that this is not a review. It is preference and prodigious self-awareness that restrains me from haphazardly applying my arsenal of standard and jargon to Darling Ghost’s performance. In facing the impending submission deadline, I felt impelled to ask the old “who am I?” and then decide upon how exactly I was and wasn’t going to deal with an article about POP and “pop.” Having attended, not just their POP Montreal performance for the Winks’ album launch, (30 septembre 2010, 21h30) but several of the band’s shows, I know that the members of Darling Ghost know better. Their art elicits no stamp of approval; their creation laughs in the face of critique. Theirs is a music meant to unsettle, “to evoke unwanted feelings and emotional breakdowns,” as founder and femme fatale Sheena Burnett states. It’s too personal; and to convey it in any way otherwise would do the band a disservice. Go to their next concert, get riled up (or not), experience an epiphany (or not), and you’ll get what I mean.

Now I’ve an opportunity to tell you a story. Here’s subjectivity’s flight from one venue to another; here’s what occurs to one on a rainy Thursday, when most with more or less sense remain at home. That night was wet. Into the metros running underground—from Place-des-Arts, past Berri-UQAM and Jean-Talon, to de Castelnau—crammed the sopping, the chattering, and the disheveled. To the best of my abilities, I ran with them, but a wrong way taken on St. Laurent did not help.

Five minutes before the performance, and fifty-five minutes after my departure, I finally entered Il Motore, resisting the urge to wring out my jacket sleeves in its doorway. After paying my $8.00 dues, I sloshed my way to the back of the room to take in the scene. Beside the bar, I met cellist Anthime Miller-Lémery, ready for his role in stiletto-heeled shoes and a black sequined gown. “Buy me a drink,” I joked. To ameliorate my exhaustion, I was offered several sips of a St.-Ambroise en route to a candlelit table to the left of the stage. I sat down and attempted to rub warmth into my hands while the band attempted a sound check.

The audience of daring souls who had braved the elements in order to be in attendance, were faceless in Il Motore’s dim light. Flickerings from the candles atop the tables winked in passing glasses and revealed, on the floor, islands of individuals, sitting cross-leggedly and shifting in anticipation. By the show’s start, there were at least fifty: a good number. Above their burbling could be heard Sheena’s clipped complaints. There was some issue of balance created by the malfunctioning electronic keyboard at which she sat. Alas, it seemed that neither the band nor the present “technicians” could right the wrong and have the show remain on schedule. Darling Ghost began their well-known intro with the question “how can you bear to be human?”

Darling Ghost is Sheen Bernett, a triple-threat (singer, actress, and dancer); Mathieu Lacombe, a double-bassist who dislikes jazz; Enki Treetop on drums and other percussive instruments or objects; and Anthime Miller-Lémery, who plays upon a cello without an endpin. They invite those with a need to categorize to call them “Theatrical Anti-Punk.” That night’s act included theatrical portions, certainly, an example of which were Anthime’s gruesome monologue, recollecting murder most foul with a touch of raspy Cockney, plus Sheena’s constant emoting. These were enhanced by the band members’ apparel: fringes, bowlers, and suspenders that smacked of a Victorian era long gone. But the songs were undoubtedly brandished at us, in our present time. “Draw!” the lyrical composite exclaimed at us water-logged listeners. We were then served a summary of our own experience: “the pleasant, uncomfortable or pleasantly uncomfortable.”

After the concert, I was led, beneath exposed pipes, into a room of a size comparable to the smallest 1 ½s. In it were arrayed the members of the band, several guitars, a partially eaten pizza, plus myriad indescribable miscellanea. Sheena wrapped up the night’s first interview with a couple of camera-equipment-toting hipsters. (“Zooks!” I silently exclaimed. There I was without a single dry sheet of paper, preparing to commit our imminent interview to memory!) When the hipsters departed, I was invited to sit down beside Sheena. I cracked my knuckles and prepared to concoct a collection of questions on the fly. . . .

In our interview, I tried my hand at being cleverly obtuse. “So, your aim is to piss people off?” “No!” Sheena laughed and assured me that, although a handful of past audience members have been turned off by her intermittent screams of frustration, and, although one particular listener fled from the emotions a performance had provoked, the “aim” of this venture’s music-making has always been to inspire responses unique to individual audience members. Just as that night’s malfunctioning electronic keyboard added spice to the improvisatory melange, previous nights, introduced their own blends of circumstance. Anthime assured me, in effect, that, though the ensemble ticked like a freshly wound time piece, its interweaving of instrumental riffs wasn’t the result of a single orchestrator’s ingenuity.

I imagined, then, that what makes the band so gel is an element of implicit trust. Each within Darling Ghost is excellent at what he or she does; each can be counted on to, in the moment, do his or her job. Three out of the four members share something in common: formal musical education. Sheena attended the National Ballet School of Canada at fifteen, was accepted to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York on partial scholarship, and then studied classical vocal performance at Montreal’s Vanier College; Mathieu majored in double-bass performance at Memorial University of Newfoundland; and Anthime is pursuing a B.Mus. with major concentrations in Music History and Early Music Performance at our own university.

Another thing these three share: “reality.” How wonderfully little does Darling Ghost have to do with the expectations of their specific educational programs! How fantastically enervated are these folks’ degrees! How could any of them have guessed then that a very different sort of music-making would have them unnerving others beside the boondocks? Consider this “reality,” consider again why I’ve refused to review, and I’ll close by answering the question posed at the show’s intro (“How can you bear to be human?”) with “how could you bear to be anything but?”

The Phonograph –A Musing about Music and Memory’s Melding” (April 2009)

Most of you don’t know me, but you few who do are aware of my penchant for making musical playlists, copying them onto CDs, and presenting them as surprising and unsolicited tokens of affection. With the now negative correlation of my diminishing blank CD collection and ever-broadening musical taste, I’ve recently resorted to subjecting an intimate handful to constant streams of links to new music via email and Facebook. The act stems from a need to reconcile the incomparable love I feel for that which is inanimate with a different love I feel for that which isn’t. I share music in order to share myself and my world at the time that the music was first heard. My life is filled with musical milestones. In a way, music acts as my time machine: depending on my mood, I choose to return to particular works that evoke particular memories. Odd, yes, but perhaps I’m not alone in speculating that our emotional responses to music truly do have the power to color and shape our present and past realities.

Several weeks ago, I was given an opportunity to explore the issue of memory and music through a response to a post on a most beloved and habitually visited music blog (http://www.moteldemoka.com). Its maintainers and contributors wanted to know what listeners considered criteria for a truly memorable musical work. They posited: “It couldn’t possibly be as simple as ‘I like it, and that’s what memorable.'” While I normally prevent myself from giving into such time-wasting and potentially addictive activities as blog-posting, I decided, just once, to “take up the pen,” as they say, and put my own speculative spin on the provocative prompt. Thus, I wrote: I agree that it couldn’t possibly be as simple as “I like it, and that’s what’s memorable.” I think that, at least in my case, memory has more to do with love.

An example of a piece I love and thus remember most vividly is Tout par compas suy composes, (“With a compass was I composed”) a circular canon crafted by the French poet cum composer Baude Cordier. According to Medieval Music History, (MUHL 380 with Julie Cumming, for those interested.) supplemented by a smattering of Wikipedia, Cordier lived in Rheims (c. 1380-1440). His ten extant compositions are categorized as Ars Subtilior music and explore features of mensuration (e.g., coloration) and musical cryptography (e.g., Augenmusik). Tout par compas suy composés can be found alongside similar Ars Subtilior polyphony in the Codex Chantilly (Chantilly, Musee Conde MS 564; ca. 1350-1400). I wish that I currently possessed an ability to provide you with a substantial textual description; but, at this point, words fail to justly convey the work’s appearance and sound. You ought to check it out yourself and believe me when I tell you that the experience would be quite worth the time taken. From its first hearing, over a year ago, Tout immediately inspired intense positive feelings coupled with a deep sense of affinity. In the case of this musical miracle, feelings of love developed after its first couple of bars. Inexplicably, and instinctively, I knew that I was in for something very special, that I would be internally altered by the piece’s end, and that I would better off having heard it. (Indeed, I was and maintain that I still am.)

The emotional intensity felt during that hearing was great enough to produce what I’ll risk identifying as flashbulb memory: a memory created in great detail as a result of a highly emotional event, be it personal or on a large scale. (Examples that come to mind are the assassination of former American president John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 or the death of a loved one.) Countless details from my introduction to Tout are effortlessly recalled: the quality of light in Tanna Schulich Hall, the number and appearance of the performers on stage, various scents, as well as my own actions and thoughts. For example, I remember my child-like feelings of anticipation for Tout‘s next performance, the following evening (an encounter I remember quite vividly, as well). My attraction to the piece was irresistible: I just had to get to know it better. (And, to my surprise, I soon thereafter received that opportunity in MUHL 380.) Since its introduction, on stage and on page, the piece has become a dear friend. I’ve studied it, performed it, and listened to various versions of it (I’ll add: on both good and bad days). With time, repetition, and familiarity, the intensity of my love for it has changed and matured, but, importantly, not diminished. Coloring my current feelings for it is the memory of and respect for how it first made me feel.

I’ll compare the way I, a performer, relate to music with the way I, a performer, relate with people. More often than not, I’ve found, there’s an absence of immediate attraction and affinity. Instead, time, effort, open-mindedness, and even a bit of forgiveness, is required in order for love to develop; sometimes, even then, love is not achieved. (By no means is love a requirement of appreciation or respect for every individual—at least the love I mention, with vague qualifications.) Occasionally, though, I hear something that immediately strikes a chord within me (pun most definitely intended) or meet someone with whom I feel an immediate and intense emotional resonance. I cite only emotional resonance, because, again, in my case, nearly anything can be intellectualized; but to be touched on a purely emotional level is something rare (although concrete reasons motivating those emotions are often eventually uncovered). Assuming that what I’ve described can be applied to others, whether this sentiment stems from a gained sense of self-validation or attraction to novelty (or whether it is derived from a point on the imaginary spectrum in between) is influenced by the individuality of one having the experience as well as, to be fair, the context in which the experience is had. In any case, a visceral response of some form is usually involved; and this response can be conducive to the initial formation of memory and that memory’s longevity.

The above theory is complicated by an element of conscious choice. We often aid the preservation of memory through our willingness to do so; and we’re often more willing to preserve positive memories of positive experiences. I’ll cite Fiona Apple’s ‘Sullen Girl’ as example of a song I associate with an unpleasant event that occurred in my very early teens. Years after, I still cannot bring myself to actually listen to the song; although its chords, chorus, etc., and the sensation of sullenly biking through my hometown of Oak Park, Illinois, while listening to it on my first CD player, are seared onto my memory. I know that hearing it again would bring me momentarily back to a time that I no longer want or need to revisit. (Of course, I mean Fiona no insult. I was and still am a fan of much of her music. Tidal is her best album, by the way.) In this case, my unpleasant emotions stem from the experience itself; but, as a result, my desire to better know and recall the song, specifically, is hindered. The melding of music and memory is evident in associations made between such experiences and their accompanying music. My past and present perceptions are continually shaped by their synergy.

As final example of music’s ability to elicit life-altering emotional responses: we musicians often experience a potentially uncomfortable melding of fantasy and reality when our dreams butt against life’s brick walls. Many of us are faced with a choice, in some form or another during our musical lives, between pursuit of the seemingly insubstantial versus resignation and submission to practicality. I’ll let you come up with your own examples of doubted dreams, perhaps experienced post-concert or alone in a practice room; but, when I was faced with such a choice and had nearly convinced myself of a dream’s impossibility, I realized that my feelings for the dream had substance. My feelings made the impossible possible and the dream worthy of pursuit. Regardless of the outcome, I know that I made the right decision and am infinitely happier as a result.

The Phonograph – “In Church” (February 2009)

One day, last semester, I considered whether God could be found in music. The question was inspired by a piece that I then had to prepare for my keyboard class midterm exam titled “In Church.” Some of you may be familiar with the work; it’s printed in “Easy Classics to Moderns.” If you aren’t, it was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and published in 1878 as part of a collection titled “Album for the Young,” Op. 39. The work, at a glance, doesn’t seem technically difficult or deep; it consists of 52 bars of primarily four-voice texture and short, repeated phrases of static and dynamic harmony. I, however, was inclined to make a much bigger deal of it than most would. I couldn’t help but be moved by it; so much so, that I didn’t want to perform it for my keyboard instructor. I knew that, when the time for my “performance debut” came, it would be an emotionally revealing experience.

I realized then that much of the emotion I felt for the piece stemmed from my awareness of its religious associations. “In Church” is a fitting title for a work whose harmony and tempo conjure up the solemnity and gravitas of a Western church procession. I’ll admit that my affinity for sacred and religious-themed music likely stems from my Lutheran upbringing. This may be a reason why, since the start of my musical studies, I’ve come to love medieval (and renaissance) liturgical (and paraliturgical!) repertoire best. I work in a largely secular culture of many atheist or agnostic musicians who often emphasize the role of the individual performer or composer; but I myself have never been satisfied with the notion that the ability to move, inspire, and create interest stems solely from me. I like to think that, through music, I’m tapping into something greater, that what I’m doing, in fact, isn’t about me at all.

Wondering at all of this, I took out my player, put on my headphones, and settled on the first movement of Brahms’s second symphony. And I wondered: what if even this piece isn’t merely a corporeal creation but a sonic manifestation of the divine? Through these chords, could I be hearing, seeing, and feeling God “Himself?” The idea had me nearly in tears. I listened to the familiar and beloved work with a newfound sensitivity—and vulnerability. Surely, God can be found in everything from podiatry to sunsets, but here, in my work and life now, is something that I can hold onto: every time I hear or make music is a confirmation that “He” exists, that there’s meaning in this life, and that we’re not alone. The moment marked the genesis of a new way of experiencing music—and of experiencing life. Now, I’m able to open and offer myself up to music and life in ways that I haven’t before.


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