Chorus America: Illuminating Early Music

Early music can seem intimidating, as imposing and immutable as a stone cathedral. The context for which much of it was written—liturgical ritual—is no longer a part of daily life for most. The music adheres to mathematical and technical principles, rather than sweeping listeners away with the pathos of Romantic repertoire. And the training required to play most period instruments is expensive, difficult, and time-consuming. Perhaps as a result, early music (usually defined as Western European music written before the death of Bach in 1750) is often viewed as a monolithic obstacle to surmount or a gleaming ideal on a pedestal.

These musty conceptions are exactly what some of today’s most innovative choral directors are seeking to topple. It helps that the voice is a much more accessible instrument than, say, the theorbo or the viola da gamba. A cappella early music in particular has spread beyond the domain of conservatory-trained professionals, and many community choruses regularly perform early pieces.

Inaccessible? Actually, People “Get It”

The choral directors interviewed all agreed that early music is, in fact, warmly appreciated by their audiences. “A tremendous amount of early music is a cappella,” says Kent Tritle, who helms ensembles such as the Oratorio Society of New York and Musica Sacra in addition to his duties as director of choral activities at Manhattan School of Music. Tritle has also directed the choral workshop  program at the Amherst Early Music Festival, a one-week intensive for experienced volunteer singers. “What the human voice can do with monophony, polyphony, and antiphony has a magnetic way of touching people deeply. Early music, performed beautifully—people get it.”

Read the rest over at Chorus America!


October 9: HONK! feature

Deidra Montgomery remembers exactly her first encounter with the HONK! Festival.

“I was not at all familiar with the area,” she said. “I was meeting up with some friends in Davis Square, by chance, on the weekend of the festival. I don’t remember which day it was, but I definitely remember the spectacle. It was just there, and it was brilliant.”

At this weekend’s free HONK! Festival, a whole roster of street bands from all over the country (and sometimes from outside it) will perform in public spaces around Greater Boston, with activity centered on Somerville’s Davis Square. The festival is taking to the streets for its 10th year of colorful parades, wild dancing, and merriment with a message.

The germ of the idea that became HONK! originated at rallies against the Iraq war on Boston Common, where an impromptu band of amateur musicians started playing raucous brass music. “We were feeling the power of music and social change,” said Maury Martin, a festival cofounder and family physician. This group eventually became the Somerville-based Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society, taking their name from the New Orleans parading tradition of following behind a street band and dancing.

“We had had Second Line going for a few years,” said Martin. “Then I went to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, and here came the Hungry March Band, a street band from Brooklyn. So we thought, I wonder if there are other bands like that?”

Read the rest over at the Globe!