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.