The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jun 4, 2007

Early Music

In Delhi around 1994, I was newly employed, single and a-rarin' to culture-vulture. The cultural season is usually the winter, and things move very slowly at any other time. But just as I was getting bored and fried out of my skull, the British Council announced a concert by the Dufay Collective.

I rang them day and night to get tickets. As usual in India, most of the seats had been earmarked for some politico or bureaucrat. But a kind lady at the Library, unable to make it, offered me her tickets.

I'd never heard of the collective, or of Guillaume Dufay. I was hoping to learn about a new genre, increase my repertoire. Boy, am I glad I went. The musicians were superb performers and marvellous educators. They explained how they reconstructed the music. They pointed out the similarity between medieval European music and Middle-Eastern sounds. The pieces they played were all minstrel compositions from their album A L'Estampida, secular dance music played on the shawms, flute, and percussion. Stirring stuff, it was.

There were some disappointed people in the audience ("Jazz? I thought they said jazz?"), but I came out abuzz with excitement. It was several years later, though, that I managed to purchase a CD of theirs. That was in the USA.

What a vast gulf in cultural access between India and America! Delhi has a decent music scene, but it is comprises mainly Hindustani and Carnatic classical, and visiting folk bands from various states. But at Princeton, the college chapel choir performed chants by Hildegard of Bingen. Chicago's Ravinia Festival offered Chanticleer, a vocal ensemble of depth and grace, performing secular songs from the medieval period. In New York, there were early music concerts by Pomerium, the Kronos Quartet, and Lionheart. I was there at all of them, moved by the beauty and power of the works of Da Palestrina and Taverner and Monteverdi and Josquin de Prez.

Still, such concerts were few and far between. I haven't looked for them as avidly in London - the boy will not permit it. But imagine my pleasure to see this article about a society set up especially to promote this music in New York. So check out the Gotham Early Music Scene and rejoice.


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