Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Early Music Groups

If you are interested in early music or play an early instrument it may be difficult to find relevant information about your interests.

It might be worth checking out some of the many early music groups that are now available. They can be a great resource for exploring obscure topics. If you have a question, you can search the archives or post your question for others to comment on.

My favorite way to use these groups is to sign up for email summaries of the discussions. This way, the information comes to me. I also use a separate email account and avoid giving out personal information to maintain my privacy.

I have assembled a fair number of links. Please feel free to leave a comment with links to other early music groups you enjoy.

Early Music Groups

Medieval and Renaissance Music
Music of the Middle Ages
Early Music Tribe
Medieval Musicians
Early Music Performance
Early Modern
Baroque List

Lute Groups

Renaissance and Baroque Lute
Baroque Lute
Lute Lovers Tribe
Renlute 2002
Bach Plucked
Classical Guitar and Lute

Viola da Gamba Groups

Viola da Gamba Tribe
Viola da Gamba

Harpsichord Groups

Harpsichord Enthusiasts Club

Recorder Groups

Recorder Friends

Ney Groups

Ney Lovers
Turkish Ney

Other Early Instrument Groups

Hurdy Gurdy Tribe
Renaissance Woodwinds
Dulcian List
Cornetto Zink

World Music Groups

World Music Forum

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Hurdy-Gurdy

The hurdy-gurdy is an ancient stringed instrument that makes sound with a turning rosined wheel. It has both drone strings and melody strings that are shortened by keys. Some hurdy-gurdies also have one or more buzzing bridges.

The player usually turns the wheel with his right hand and plays the melody by pressing the keys with his left.

Some people claim that it sounds something like a bagpipe. Of course, its not a wind instrument but it is characterised by persistent drones that remind one of a bagpipe. The sound is quite medieval. It's well worth checking out the following links, especially if you're not familiar with this intriguing instrument.

Melissa the Loud

If you would like to try a free software version of the hurdy-gurdy, visit Soundbytes

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lutes Verses Guitars

Many think of a lute as simply an old fashioned guitar, maybe a little harder to hold or tune, but not fundamentally different. So it's perhaps understandable that much of the lute repertoire is performed and recorded on classical guitars. I am happy, of course, that so many guitarists are interested in lute music, but I'm usually not satisfied with the result. The music sounds somewhat dull and lifeless to me.

If the original composer had the guitar in mind while composing, it might be a completely different situation, but these two instruments are different enough that I feel it does them both a disservice to pretend that either can properly represent the other.

What do you think? Am I being too picky? Or is it best to avoid recordings that feature guitars playing lute music?

View Lute Videos.
View Videos of Guitars Playing Lute Music.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Few Words About Myself and this Blog

I think I was about twelve years old when I first remember hearing a lute. I was listening to public radio and they were interviewing someone who played a baroque lute with twenty-six strings. I was fascinated by both the instrument and the music. I've been hooked on early music ever since.

I compose and write about music, but when it comes to early music and ancient instruments, I'm strictly an amateur. In some ways, I prefer it that way. We are all, to a greater or lesser degree, products of of our environment and upbringing. When I compose music, I do things in a way that makes sense to me. I realize that my perceptions of music, based on modern cultural influences, will always be a part of my music. Since I compose experimental music, I find it helpful to try to transcend my cultural conditioning or mimic the musical views of others. Still I know I can only partially succeed in this.

When I listen to early music, I know that I'm not hearing it like they did when it was written. Its not "my music" and never will be. But for me, this is where much of its appeal lies. There's a great mystery in listening to music that comes from a time that is very different from ours. Of course, they shared many of the same feelings and motivations that we do today, but the context is quite different.

I feel that music is one of the best ways to learn about others. I do not, however, share the common view that music is a "universal language." There is a danger in thinking that our personal musical perspective is sufficient for understanding the musical traditions of others. Different musical traditions are somewhat like different languages. You may get some superficial information from someone speaking a foreign language by observing their gestures or tone of voice. But if you want to really understand them, you must begin to learn their language.

One reason I feel early music is unappreciated by most people is simply because it can be difficult to understand its musical language. Some of us may respond naturally to this music, but I have to acknowledge that, at times, I don't enjoy certain types of early music either. Is this simply because I lack the ability to understand it properly, or is it because I just don't like it? I don't know, but I find it to be a fascinating question and I'm determined to learn more.

Ancient instruments are an important part of these musical traditions. They have greatly influenced musical thought and practice. Instruments don't just make music they also help determine how music is made.

In this blog, I hope to not just examine these instruments in isolation, but also consider their complex interaction with historical forces and their lasting effect on us today.

Since I am a product of Western civilization, this blog may be somewhat biased, but I plan on making an effort to include information on ancient and interesting instruments from the rest of the world, too. As always, your comments are appreciated.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Pardessus de Viole

Welcome, Early Music Lovers!

So what kind of music do you like? If you have unusual tastes in music like I do, you know this can be a tricky question. Chances are, your companion is merely trying to make small talk or establish some sort of common ground. It is generally hoped that you will mention some sort of common, modern music and then proceed to a bland discussion of it.

Well, I just can't get myself to do this. I have no desire to hide who I am and what my interests are. On the other hand, a direct exclamation of your enthusiasm for lute music, or something similar, can be a perilous course. Politeness, if not complete ignorance of the subject, will usually prompt your companion to ask some sort of question. Now this is when I get into trouble. I tend to actually answer the question! Frequently, my enthusiasm gets the best of me and I begin a long lecture on just what a lute or viol is, what historical forces lead their eventual disuse, and how a lot of people would probably really like this kind of music if they could only experience it for themselves. Sometimes I say something incredibly stupid like, "So would you like to borrow some cds?" This is an uncomfortable situation because they have to come up with some kind of polite refusal and I start to wonder if I really want to loan out my cherished lute cds.

I think I have a solution. The next time I get asked what kind of music I like, I'm going to clearly and briefly state my preferences and then refer them to this blog in case they want to learn more. I will then deftly steer the conversation to a safer subject like the recent performance of the local sports team or the unusually average weather we've been having.

I hope this blog will also be useful in other ways. I am especially looking forward to hearing from you. We all have our unique perspectives on music and on life. Regardless of whether you are a professional performer of early music, an instrument builder or someone who has only recently discovered early music, your insights can benefit the rest of us.

Music is really just the organization of sound waves. Its the human emotional responses to these sound waves that are responsible for the true beauty of music. Music is an incredible journey that can help us to understand people throughout the world and throughout history. I hope you will join us on this adventure.