Monday, November 8, 2010

Monteverdi Vespers at CCM

Last weekend, The Cincinnati Conservatory of Music performed Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, under the direction of Dr. Earl Rivers. I was pleased that Dr. Rivers asked me to participate in this performance. He has conducted this work at CCM - usually about every five years, and he feels that this is a masterpiece in choral and solo vocal literature and needs to be performed. It is a huge task for a vocal program that is so steeped in the romantic opera tradition. But, things are changing at CCM. I am convinced that it is one of the finest schools in the country for vocalists. They continue to send out the best singers into the field of opera, and it is not so well known that they are sending out singers who also sing early music: Youngmi Kim, Michael Maniaci, David Daniels, Mischa Bouvier, and many more! Their vocal teachers are sensitive to the fact that their students will need to do a be strong in a variety of styles in the professional musical world. Mary Henderson-Stucky, the head of the vocal department, performs early music as a normal part of her repertoire. Robin Guarino, the CCM opera director, would like to offer one Baroque opera each year. It was no surprise that the soloists excelled in the Vespers. It was easy to see some careers in the making.
Dr. Rivers was very interested in absorbing more historically informed style into this performance. He asked Catacoustic regular Michael Leopold to play theorbo, me to play lirone, Vivian Montgomery on harpsichord and organ, Rod Stucky for archlute, and Micah Fusselman for gamba. Elizabeth Motter had her first Vespers experience on harp. Kiri Tollaksen and Shawn Spencer played cornetto.
Dr. Rivers was quite interested to participate in discussions with the continuo players about chord choices and stylistic decisions. Topics such as cadencing on major as a norm, soft resolutions/cadences, and instruments playing rhetorically (imitating singers) - to the extent of it being helpful for us to have text in our parts were exciting to him. I was thrilled to have such an excellent conductor be so open!
The orchestra improved in the intense week of rehearsals, although this style is very difficult for instrumentalists to grasp in only a week or two. I would have loved to have been able to begin work with them several months in advance. Ideas like playing words and imitating singers are foreign ones and can take a while to absorb. Often, "modern" musicians play this music with everything detached, thinking that more space in between notes makes it sound more Baroque. I find that this style of playing makes it rather static. The idea is to play with direction, with articulation determined by the text. The CCM instrumentalists (students and faculty) are becoming more interested in Baroque music at CCM and hope that there are opportunities to work with them in the future!
It was such a pleasure to bring this piece to Cincinnati and collaborate with CCM. The audience was thrilled, and gave an enthusiastic standing ovation. This only bodes well for more early music in Cincinnati!
For more reading on the CCM Vespers performance, see:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Recorder Workshop with Anne Timberlake

Catacoustic hosted Anne Timberlake in a workshop for local recorder enthusiasts last night. Seven people participated, in addition to my bass viol student Alice Nutter, who played bass lines.
Several months ago I asked people what they wanted out of a workshop. I have offered recorder workshops in the past to mixed reviews, so it was important to make sure that the participants get something out of such an event. The response was that it would be good to learn about ornamentation - especially with regard to slow movements of sonatas. Another suggestion was ensemble skills. There are numerous recorder players in the area. You would be surprised to know that there are several local groups that meet to play consorts on a regular basis. I want to create a real community through early music in Cincinnati, which will in turn fulfill part of the mission of Catacoustic.
So, it was perfect when I contacted Anne (currently in Richmond, Virginia) and found out that that very day she was planning a trip back to visit her family in Indiana. She stopped by Cincinnati on her way.
The workshop was excellent. She communicated about ornamentation that made it seem quite accessible. She thought a lot about this topic to prepare for the workshop and had a step-by-step process for everyone to follow. She asked people to prepare a slow movement of a Handel sonata with and without ornaments. Things she talked about:

1) Why does one ornament?
2) When to ornament and when to leave the music alone
3) Types of ornaments - vibrato, mordents, trills, turns, fast scalar passages, rhythmic alteration, short versus long (articulation as ornament), etc.
4) Stylistic appropriateness and grasping the composer's intentions
5) Understanding the bass and rudimentary theory - looking at the bass line for dissonance, parallel octaves and fifths
6) Call and response with ornaments: she would play an ornament and ask everyone to play what she had just done.

Anne played several versions of recordings of this movement and asked people why they liked or didn't like them. She also demonstrated some tasteful and not-so-tasteful ornamentation examples.
Following the ornamentation session, everyone played consorts. Anne got people to talk about musical ideas - that before one plays a piece, you should figure out what the composer is trying to COMMUNICATE. Is the piece a battle or warlike piece? About sighing, about love, etc. After that she talked about having similar ideas of articulation and gestures based on what the piece is trying to communicate. She also got most everyone to take a turn leading the group with cues.
It was a great way to spend an evening, and everyone learned something, which I hope they will take back to their own personal musical lives.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Early Music Holiday Gift Ideas...

I am often asked for musical gift suggestions this time of year.
Well, one thought is a gift of music lessons or the rental of an instrument to learn. Many people often lament not playing an instrument. Why not pick one up or take voice lessons? Catacoustic has rental viols that are available for this sort of thing and offers frequent workshops for the community. It really is never too late!
If your friend or family member plays early music, then sheet music is a great idea. The Von Heune Music shop or Boulder Early Music Shop offer a wide selection of sheet music for early music instruments or voices.
Also, recordings make a great gift! I have some great ideas for that:

1. If you were at our October concert and fell in love with Michael Maniaci's voice, you can take it home with you with his recently released recording of Mozart arias (Amazon listing:

2. If you liked the Catacoustic concert featuring the cornetto with Bruce Dicky and Kiri Tollaksen, I can strongly recommend Bruce's CD of solo virtuoso music - or any of his many recordings as a soloist or with his group, Concerto Palatino (Amazon listing:

3. Catacoustic's concert of music from Gainsborough's time included music of Abel and JC Bach, and this can be found in the lovely recording by Charivari Agreable (Amazon listing:

4. 17th-Century Italian Nuns' music is a specialty of Catacoutstic. Much of this music has been recorded by Capella Artemisia. I can recommend recordings by Musica Secreta of Vizzana (Amazon listing:
Bruce Dickey's wife, Candace Smith, directs a group in Italy (Capella Artemisia) that specializes in Italian Baroque nuns' music. They have numerous recordings available, as well.

Finally, you could purchase advance tickets for Catacoustic Consort concerts (two left this season - February 26 and April 2). Or, you could make a tax-deductible donation to Catacoustic in your friend's name!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Musicians, Colleagues, and Friends

I am fortunate to have Michael Maniaci (singer) and Daniel Swenberg(theorbo & guitar) with me for concerts this week. We are playing a concert and masterclass at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) today and a concert on my series tomorrow. What a treat to have a singer the caliber of Michael, who has spent the past few days making Daniel and me crack up with great stories and jokes! In addition to an amazing voice, he is a lot of fun to have around. I have also been fortunate to know Daniel, who has really invested so much in Catacoustic and the future of my music here in Cincinnati. He has become good friends with people he has met here and is playing a key role in Catacoustic having a resident theorbo, so we don't have to worry about instruments getting smashed or refused on airplanes. I am still scheming on a way for Catacoustic to its own resident theorbo PLAYER! In addition to the concerts and masterclass, Daniel is working with Elizabeth Motter, who will be playing the Catacoustic Baroque harp when it arrives later this fall. They are having intense lessons on continuo playing and style to prepare her for her journey of learning this harp and its beautiful repertory.
Catacoustic concerts are a lot of work, but when the chemistry of personnel works, it can be magical. I am so happy to have musicians here who also give back to me, the Catacoustic audience, and invest in a future for our music here!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cincinnati Art Museum

Last week, the Cincinnati Art Museum opened their special exhibition, "Gainsborough and the Modern Woman." This show centered around the restoration of a Gainsborough painting of Ann Ford with her viola da gamba in the background and an English guitar on her lap. Benedict Leca, the curator who headed up this show, asked Catacoustic to share music for their opening. What an exciting project! Austin Clark of Louisville came to town to play harpsichord with me. For the Art Museum performance, we played music of Abel and John Christian Bach (the son of the famous J.S. Bach). We had a concert open to the public on Saturday, where we had a video display of Gainsborough paintings during our performance. We also shared music of Linley, Abel, JC Bach, and Graziani for 2 viols, soprano, harpsichord, and Baroque violin. It was a lovely evening.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) is one of my favorite painters and is undoubtedly one of the best portraitists who ever lived. His painting of Ann Ford at the Cincinnati Art Museum which is being unveiled this week, newly restored, is a tourist attraction for lovers of Gainsborough and the viola da gamba. Ms. Ford was a member of the aristocracy and went against the cultural norm to arrange public concerts for herself (not appropriate for a lady). Her father had her arrested twice for this! Gainsborough captures her boldness and strength of will in this painting.
Gainsborough himself was a musician and played the viola da gamba and harpsichord. He loved music possibly more than painting and was good friends with Abel, Linley, the lute player/composer Straube, and J.C. Bach. Gainsborough’s daughter wrote that he was “much led into the company of musicians, with whom he often exceeded the bounds of intemperance… being occasionally unable to work for a week afterwards.” He had a deep friendship with Abel. Upon Abel’s death, the painter wrote:
Poor Abel died about one o’clock today, without pain, after three day’s sleep… We love a genius for what he leaves and mourn him for what he takes away. If Abel was not so great a man as Handel it was because caprice had ruined music before he ever took up his pen. For my part I shall never cease looking up to heaven – the little while I have to stay behind – in hopes of getting one more glance of the man I loved from the moment I heard him touch the string.

Gainsborough much preferred painting landscapes and making music to painting portraits. He wrote “I’m sick of Portraits and wish very much to take my Viol da Gam [sic] and walk off to some sweet Village where I can paint Landskips [landscapes] and enjoy the End of life in quietness and ease.”
If you would like to see the exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum, it is open from now through January 2. See more information at

Catacoustic's Tenth Season: Where do we go from here?

An excerpt from Saturday's program:
I was asked this week in an interview for CityBeat how Catacoustic has changed throughout the first ten years. Interesting question… I started Catacoustic to have a musical outlet here at my new Cincinnati home and to continue learning. I have seen musicians make deep friendships here and careers take off. I have developed friendships with many in my audience, and I never expected to fall in love with an audience. Never before have I played concerts with such a warm feeling coming from the audience! We have had a real variety of musical styles in our series – from English Renaissance tunes from Shakespeare’s time to French Baroque opera. What a musical journey! Catacoustic has changed in many ways that I have personally changed – all a journey in life.
Part of the next stage of focus is to develop more professional early music performers here in Cincinnati. What a joy to have Youngmi Aria Kim in today’s performance! We have all seen her blossom in our concerts! I am pleased to have my former student-turned-colleague Micah Fusselman playing today, as well. The addition of the Baroque harp to Catacoustic’s instrument collection (currently consisting of the harpsichord in today’s concert and eight rental viols – one played by Micah) will give a huge boost to Cincinnati’s early music scene, as well as the national early music scene. Cincinnati professional harpist, Elizabeth Motter, has committed to learning this instrument and has already attended the Amherst Historical Harp Workshop to study. Bringing in the best players in the world and developing the next generation is the way of the future, and I am excited to be part of this continued voyage. Thank you for being here for today’s concert to celebrate our own musical past, present, and future.

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Rehearsal Space

The season opener concert for my tenth season here in Cincinnati with Catacoustic is this week. The harpsichordist for the program, John Austin Clark, just arrived for our intense week of preparation for this program. Incidentally, I have a new home, where rehearsals are taking place. A big part of the reason that I got the house is for Catacoustic to have a home and to have space to make music. I don't know why, but I often find that every time I move, I am extra motivated to practice in my new space. I am enjoying playing in various rooms in the house. Today's rehearsals were extra exciting. I have spoken with other musicians who have similar experiences with new homes. I am looking forward to an early start tomorrow morning in my new music room!

Monday, August 30, 2010

How Naxos and Early Music America Competition Impacted Catacoustic

I was recently asked by Maria Coldwell, the director of Early Music America, how our winning the EMA and Naxos recording competition impacted the Catacoustic Consort. In only our second season here in Cincinnati, it gave Catacoustic a boost and a seal of approval that what I was trying to do in bringing early music to Cincinnati was on the right track. Cincinnati is a wonderful place for the arts, but when I started Catacoustic ten years ago, Brahms was considered early music. The competition helped me garner respect here at home, as well as nationally and internationally. The most important thing for me at the time was the attention at home that winning a national competition and a cd recording on the prestigious and well-known Naxos label offered. So many groups start up and eventually dissolve - just like small businesses. This extra attention and notice helped push us further faster with the local audience. This win also gave me a personal boost. There are so many ups and downs with the business end of running a music group. It is worthwhile as long as the ups balance out or outweigh the downs. This surely helped tilt the scale!
It is the 25th anniversary year for Early Music America, and through their creativity in helping promote early music ensembles and musicians throughout the country, they have given a real boost to the Catacoustic Consort right here in Cincinnati.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Recording Strategy Blog Website...

I just realized that I did not attach the address to read about the new "better" strategy for making recordings.
Here it is:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A New Strategy for Making Recordings

Writing my recent blog entry about the reason one makes recordings has really caused me to think. The past ten years have been constantly changing for the recording industry, and we musicians are trying to analyze the best way to go about it. I read a blog this afternoon that suggested that most musicians are approaching their recordings in the wrong way - that the question is not how to sell their recordings, but how to best market themselves with their recordings, even by giving them away. I would love to hear your thoughts about this!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Matthew White and Les Voix Baroques

I spent the past month in Canada performing with some of the best singers I have ever worked with... One of the programs was with Matthew White's ensemble, Les Voix Baroques. Some years ago I performed several operas with Matthew, and to this day, I have a hard time hearing Poppea with anyone else singing the role of Ottone.
Matthew studied English literature in college, and he grew up singing in a cathedral choir in Ottawa, five services each week. He studied privately with Jan Simons at McGill. Matthew is a countertenor, which is still an unusual voice type, but it is becoming more and more common to hear excellent countertenors. Matthew said that he learned how to survive, musically, in the cathedral choir environment. He was exposed to all kinds of music in the Anglican church. He also heard the countertenor Daniel Taylor, who was a few years older. Matthew wanted to sing with this kind-of voice, and it was natural for him to do so.
Countertenors are singing more in Cincinnati. John Holiday sang in the Catacoustic Bach concert last April. Steven Rickards sang in our first season, and Daniel Bubeck has sung several concerts. Paul Flight sang in this year's May Festival performance of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. William Sauerland, a gifted countertenor who sang in the well-known ensemble Chanticleer, moved back to his hometown of Cincinnati. Most recently, a countertenor won first prize in the second "Opera Idol" of the Cincinnati Opera.
Matthew is an amazing talent, and I was curious to know more about his ideas for aspiring young singers as well as his goals for his own musical future.
#1)His first suggestion for young singers wanting to sing early music is to go to Europe to get the languages down. Study Italian, German, and French. Knowing how the language functions will save a lot of time when deciphering scores. Also, so much is happening in Europe. It is good to be in that environment for the exposure to early music performance.
#2) Spend time working with both your regular voice teacher and coaches who know what will be expected of you in professional early music circles. Your vocal technique should not be at odds with your musical interpretation. It should be a tool for expressing yourself more easily. Subsequently, find a musical coach and voice teacher who speak a compatible language.
#3)One should learn to teach oneself. There is an enormous amount of free information out there- the most compelling artists are the ones who sound like they have digested the important facts and then made some personal decisions.
#4)Learning "early music style": Go to as many concerts as possible and buy as many CD and DVD recordings as you can afford.

Matthew founded Les Voix Baroques with Chloe Meyers and Amanda Keesmaat as a forum to explore the alto repertory. It has since expanded to be a group that focuses on one-to-a-part vocal music that features solo and ensemble singing, especially Renaissance and early Baroque polyphony. White has since taken ownership of the group. His goals are to make Les Voix Baroques the premiere vocal ensemble in North America featuring vocal soloists singing in ensemble. Much like Collegium Vocale Gent, he sees the ensemble as flexible in size but featuring a regular core of experienced early music soloists who know how to sing together.
Les Voix has made several CD recordings to great acclaim. White says that it is much easier to make CD's in Canada because there is a lot of federal and provincial funding. Their next recording is of Bach's St. John Passion, which is a collaboration with the Arion Ensemble. White's ultimate goals for Les Voix? Two goals that I absolutely respect and know will sustain them for years to come: to sing better and to have fun making beautiful music.
I strongly recommend recordings of Les Voix Baroques to anyone. I especially love their recording of Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri. CD's may be purchased at

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Grant Received for Harp and Theorbo Purchase!

I am pleased to announce that the Abraham, Katie, Eleanor, and Natalie Feld Memorial Fund as well as the Ruth Ballard Klausmeyer Fund (via The Greater Cincinnati Foundation) has provided a grant to the Catacoustic Consort to go toward the purchase of a Baroque triple strung harp and a theorbo!
This is thrilling news! Elizabeth Motter, a Cincinnati professional harp player, is learning the triple harp (named such for its three parallel rows of strings) and recently returned from the Amherst Early Music Festival, where she participated in the Historical Harp Society Workshop. She is planning to dedicate time and energy to learning Baroque music on this beautiful, difficult instrument. Elizabeth fell in love with the triple harp last year when Julia Seager-Scott came from Toronto with her instrument. This is just the thing that will have a huge impact on Cincinnati's early music scene!
The theorbo purchase will be to ensure that we can have theorbo players here for concerts. It is always a huge risk for Catacoustic's theorbo players (Daniel Swenberg, Michael Leopold, and others) to fly here with their instrument. There are huge fines for over-sized luggage, and one never knows it the instrument will make it here in one piece. The theorbo is an essential instrument for Catacoustic's repertory, and until a professional theorbo player moves here, we need to do what we can to see that it is possible to play with this instrument.
I have commissioned a harp from the English builder, Simon Capp (, and it will be ready for delivery this Fall!
These grants provide a portion of the funding necessary to purchase these instruments. We will have a fundraiser concert soon (date TBA). If you would like to contribute to the harp and theorbo fund by making a tax-deductible donation, please mail a check payable to the Catacoustic Consort at PO Box 198022, Cincinnati, OH 45219. You may also email any questions to
I am home for a day before I head off to Vancouver to spend some more time for concerts in Canada. My Montreal experience was wonderful! I played with Les Voix Baroques (led by Matthew White and Alex Weimann) and Le Nouvel Opera (Susie Le Blanc and Alex Weimann). It was wonderful to play with new people, to get new musical perspectives, and to make new friends. The rehearsal days were very long and intense, so I had no energy to come back and do any work, including writing for the blog. However, the music making was energizing at the same time. I am inspired by the high levels of singing and playing. It was also pretty incredible to see how much is happening in Montreal with early music. The province puts a lot of money into arts and culture. There are numerous baroque orchestras and EM chamber groups in Montreal. It is possible to make a living there in early music!
I had breakfast with a good friend of mine one day, Matt Jennejohn. He is making a living there as a cornetto maker, baroque oboist, and cornetto player. I knew him in the mid 90's when we both played music for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Those were fun days, and then he wasn't even playing Baroque oboe and had just begun playing cornetto (recorder player first). Very good to see him doing well!
The music for LVB was a beautiful program of madrigals - very hard! I played tenor viol and lirone, and there were two violins, cello, theorbo, and harpsichord. It was refreshing to hear a new take on violin playing with these great players! This country is dominated by the IU school of playing (which I love), and it was good to hear a new perspective. The theorbo player (Sylvain Bergeron) was great and loads of fun. The director, Alex Weimann, had an excellent sense of style, and was an excellent conductor! When I travel for concerts, it is normally with people whom I have played before or people who have studied at the same school. Very exciting to have this experience!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Playing with the Canadians...

I am in Montreal now in rehearsals with several exciting groups, Les Voix Baroques and Le Nouvel Opera. We are actually not performing at all in Montreal, but are performing in other parts of Canada - from Orford to Vancouver. I know at least one friend who is traveling from Oxford, Ohio to the Vancouver concert. Okay, this just happened to work out on her vacation...
It is such a pleasure to play with new people and get new perspectives on music. I am enjoying meeting new people and making new friends. (One of my good friends from university is here singing, too - Sumner Thompson.) I am pretty tired now after a long day of rehearsals, but I will write more later about my time here!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer Work for Catacoustic

Rehearsing and personal practice are only a small part of my job responsibilities as director of the Catacoustic Consort. The summers are my time for finalizing the concerts for the next season. It is also prime time for grant writing. I have written six grants and a final report in the last month! Catacoustic's fiscal year is August 1-July 31, so it is also a time to close the books on the season and refine the financials for the upcoming season. While I may have a general idea of the music for concerts, the summer is when I try to make my musical selections. I checked out ten books from the CCM library this week to choose tunes for my September concert of "Music from Gainsborough's Time." I have been listening to more recordings to become inspired by other musicians' programming choices and musicality. It is also time to set the venues, hire musicians, arrange for musicians' housing and travel, as well as put together the season brochure and press releases. Okay, so I need to stop writing this blog entry and get back to work...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Artistic Intention

I saw a Facebook posting recently by Cincinnati dancer, Susan Moser:
"Controversy for the sake of controversy is weak art; controversy avoided for the sake of avoiding controversy makes for weak art. As artists we must decide whether to avoid or confront certain questions: How nervous should we make our audience? How provocative should we be? Should we invite people to examine the assumptions at the center of their lives?"

I am active on Facebook primarily because one must be active on Facebook today. It is work for me, but occasionally I am inspired or touched by this internet world of ours. This thoughtful quote resonated with me. I am frequently around artists of different mediums. Mostly musicians and artists are quite selfish- understandably so. We are constantly working on a medium that comes from ourselves: training our bodies for artistic marathons, perfecting our skills, and forcing our brains to focus on specialized materials. With our own myopic focus on our craft and being in an insular world of our own kind, it is easy to lose perspective on our artistic purpose and intention. Why we are doing what we do in the first place, and who is supporting the art with their time and dollars? My own feelings about making music through Catacoustic are that my fellow musicians and I should inspire each other and uplift the audience. Artists and musicians may have different motivations for doing their craft, but it is good to take a step back every now and then for perspective.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why Does One Make a Recording?

I was thinking on my long drive back from the Ojai Music Festival, as I was carpooling with Wildcat Viol member Julie Jeffrey: why does one go to the trouble of making a recording? This spawned an interesting discussion.
The Wildcat Viols just released a first recording of English music for three viols. It is a fine recording, and their audience in the San Francisco Bay is responding enthusiastically to it. It took many hours, a lot of work, and many dollars to make the cd. They will probably never recoup the investment they put into the project, and their real love is naturally performing and rehearsing. The studio experience of making the cd is never an enjoyable one. And, really, who enjoys listening for edits? So, I ask again: why make a recording?
1) To get concerts
2) Making recordings makes people consider you as a “legitimate” musician
3) Allows you to reach a larger audience
4) To leave a legacy
Julie pointed out that Jordi Savall’s group Hesperion XX made a recording of Purcell viol fantasies. Two of the musicians on that recording have passed away, possibly due to cancer. Julie had her own cancer scare recently, and this caused her to think of her own legacy and in-part pushed her to finish this recording and to think to the future with an additional recording that Wildcat Viols is now raising money for of Purcell and Locke fantasies.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Interview with Robin Easterbrook, Pacifica Viols Chapter Member

Robin Easterbrook (standing in photo) was one of the viol players at the Pacifica Chapter viol concert and party. I had met her previously at a workshop. She is quite active in the Bay area viol playing scene, and she kindly agreed to answer some questions for this blog.

What made you decide to play the viol?

I decided to play the viol after one of my Suzuki moms accompanied my students on a strange looking "cello.” I was teaching her daughter violin at the time. The mother's name is Mary Prout. I also had another violin student whose parents play the viol, Richard and Cathy Taruskin (at the time the head of UC Berkeley music department). So, I was intrigued by the beautiful resonating sounds from the gut stings. The sound of the gamba is the most sublime sound in the universe!

Why do you think people in your chapter take up the viol?

I think the beautiful consort music is a big draw. We also have wonderful coaches once a month.

What do you recommend for a region that might want to have more activity like your chapter?

I would recommend them to get more people involved playing the gamba, especially the younger folks. They should do school presentations like we have done in the past.

What is the value in a gamba society chapter and in your events?

The value is that we nurture and help people who are just learning. I am in charge of helping the "newer" players, and have gotten positive feedback they had such a great time! Everyone is so friendly and we see ourselves as a big family. When I first started playing Lee McRae and John Mark helped me so much, so that is why I want to help new learners!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Performance in Barefoot Concert Series

I performed at the Berkeley Early Music Festival last week with Wildcat Viols in a concert that was part of a new concert series, The Barefoot Chamber Concerts (see I unfortunately did not get a photo of the viol consort, since I was busy playing music, but I did get a photo of the mimosa table at the concert! I did not partake, but it certainly contributed to a very happy concert environment.
Barefoot Chamber Concerts was started by viola da gamba player Peter Halifax in Berkeley, California. Concerts are generally held on Friday evenings at 6pm, so that people can enjoy the hour-long concert after work on their way home. They would have time to make it home for dinner and would be able to fulfill other Friday evening engagements. It is a great idea - perfect for a community like Berkeley. Wine and cheese is available at these concerts.
What a great way to start a weekend!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I spent today(in between my rehearsals for the Wildcat Viol program) at a concert in the Berkeley Early Music Festival – actually “a concert” is not quite the appropriate word. It was an all-day (11am-7pm) program of the music of Marin Marais entitled The Marais-a-thon. Professional viol players in the San Francisco bay area performed in 15 or 30 minute sections. Presented as a concert in the new Barefoot Chamber Concerts Series (, the proceeds from the day’s music went to scholarships for the Viola da Gamba Society of America’s Grants-in-Aid program.
All day, all Marais.
Performers included Colin Shipman and his wife Violet Grgich playing on harpsichord. It was so tender to see this married couple playing this intimate music together! Rebekah Ahrendt played one of my favorite suites beautifully. Peter Halifax played music from the movie Tous les Matins du Monde and kept everyone entertained with his announcements and narration of Marais’ “Operation.” David Morris’ suite moved me to tears with his sensitive interpretation. And, this was only a small sampling of what was offered!
It was intriguing to hear all these musicians playing today. There were so many approaches to technique, sound, and interpretation. It was exciting to hear so many approaches, and several of today’s players said that they work well together and learn from each other. The viol players combine in different groups and work well together in a fun, collegial way.
I hope that concerts like this will happen in Cincinnati. Someday!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pacifica Chapter of the Viola da Gamba Society of America

Several days ago I attended the end of year annual "bash" of the Pacifica Viola da Gamba Society Chapter (a chapter of the Viola da Gamba Society of America or VdGSA). This consisted of a pitch-in lunch and an informal concert of many of the members, most of whom were amateur players of many playing levels. Everyone had a great time visiting and making music. There were fifteen different groups that performed for this 2 1/2 plus hour concert. But it was fun, since we could relax with food and drink during this casual program. It was a wonderful and supportive environment to enjoy music and friendship.
My dear friend, Julie Jeffrey founded this chapter, along with Lee McRae, who was also enthusiastically playing in the concert. They were carpooling to a workshop, when Julie asked, “why isn’t there a chapter in San Francisco with all the viol players there already?” Lee responded, “let’s make one happen.” This was in 1988. There are currently close to 100 members in the Pacifica chapter. Incidentally, there are sixteen chapters of the Viola da Gamba Society of America (
The benefits of a chapter are the community and the organization which enables members to do projects, scholarships from the national society, scholarships to members for projects and continued education, and monthly workshops. Julie said that the structure of a chapter makes it easier to get support from the national vdgsa and the community and easier to communicate within and to the larger community. The real challenge is how best to serve all members of many abilities: from the young to old and from the beginner to the amateur and the professional.
The Pacifica chapter offers its members:
1)monthly meetings for members free-of-charge with playing opportunities and led by professional viol players/coaches.
2)a monthly newsletter
3)viol rentals
For more information on the Pacifica chapter, see

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Early Music in San Francisco

I arrived on Thursday in beautiful San Francisco for concerts with the Wildcat Viol Consort (Julie Jeffrey, Joanna Blendulf, & Elizabeth Reed). No, there is no funny connection with their group and mine and cats. Wildcat is a canyon just down the road, and "catacoustic" means reflecting sounds. We are performing Purcell viol fantasies in a concert for the Berkeley Early Music Festival and the Ojai Music Festival. The consort sounds amazing, and friends of Catacoustic would recognize Julie and Joanna as frequent guest artists.While Elizabeth has yet to play in Cincinnati, I hope that she will join us soon!
It is wonderful to be in San Francisco: good food, exciting stores, diverse population, and it is nice to escape the Cincinnati summer weather for a few days! What I find especially intriguing is the culture for early music here. This city boasts the SFEMS series (Catacoustic has performed on this series twice,, the Berkeley Early Music Festival (, an astonishing number of professional viol players (last count was 16!), a full-time professional baroque orchestra (Philharmonia Baroque, with the superstar conductor Nicolas McGegan, and a whopping 43 early music organizations. This city is an inspiring model for Cincinnati. It would be wonderful for my home to become a center for early music like San Francisco! Why not? Cincinnati is a true center for the arts: home to one of the finest orchestras in the world, has an excellent music conservatory, is home of the Fine Arts Fund, has an excellent cost of living, and is within close proximity to two of the leading universities in this country for early music studies (Indiana University and Oberlin Conservatory).
What does it take for a city to become such an exciting center for early music? I plan to spend time here asking people this question.What do you think? What can Cincinnati do? What can Catacoustic do to further encourage more concerts of early music, amateur musicians to take up early music instruments, and professional performers to move here?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Listening to Beautiful Music Today...

I am often asked what my favorite type of music is. The answer is that it depends... The music I enjoy changes, depending on what is going on in my life and, frankly, what music I am practicing. I do not tend to listen to music for fun. It becomes work. But, I will say what my favorite music is today. I am listening (for fun!) to a recording by Kristian Bezuidenhout of Mozart sonatas performed on the fortepiano. I am rediscovering a love for Mozart through his interpretation of this music! Listening to this recording makes me feel alive and energized. Now that the Catacoustic concert season is at a close, I plan to continue listening to inspiring artists such as Kris to refuel for our upcoming tenth season! Interested in hearing this recording? The cd is entitled "Sturm und Drang," and it is on the Fleur de Son label, catalogue number 57951.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Early Music at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music

Part Two: Lutes and Voices

Rodney Stucky teaches at CCM’s Early Music Lab (EML). Rod teaches a group class that combines voices and early plucked instruments, such as lute, vihuela, and theorbo. The lutes also receive extra private coachings, as part of their participation in the class. He has taught in the EML since the fall of 2002. Numerous singers have completed his class to pursue early music careers, including Catacoustic’s own Youngmi Kim, Mischa Bouvier (also performed several times with Catacoustic,, Molly Quinn (, and Chris Wilke (currently pursuing a doctorate with Paul O’Dette at Eastman in lute and theorbo, A current student in Rod’s section of EML bought his own lute this year. (The Early Music Lab has a collection of instruments that are loaned to students for the duration of the course.)

Additional information about Stucky:
Rodney Stucky is a lutenist, baroque guitarist, classical guitarist, and vihuelist. He has been active in early music since the late 60’s. His performances include appearances in New York at the Cloisters with the Dupont Circle Consortium, in Washington D.C. with the Theater Chamber Players, directed by Leon Fleisher, and in Paris at the Conservatoire SupĂ©rieure with his wife mezzo-soprano Mary Henderson. Locally he has been heard in concert with the Vocal Arts Ensemble, Dayton Bach Society and Philharmonic Orchestra. He is a member of the baroque music ensemble, Apollo’s Cabinet and has directed or co-directed early music ensembles at the University of South Carolina, St. Louis Conservatory of music, and at Interlochen’s summer program. In St. Louis he was a founding member of the “Oriana Singers,” a vocal quartet focusing on music of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He is currently a co-director of the Early Music Lab at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati and head of the classical guitar program in the Preparatory Department. He is also author of Guitar for the Young, books 1 and 2, a classical guitar method for young children.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Early Music at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music

Part One: Viola da Gamba Class
I have been teaching viola da gamba at CCM for three years. I took over from James Lambert, who plays double bass in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He is also a frequent musician for Catacoustic Consort performances.
I teach two gamba classes – one beginner class and one for returning (advanced) players. People who have bowed string experience are encouraged to participate, although everyone (must be a music major) is accepted. The beginner class is naturally all about the physicality of how to hold the instrument and how to get a good sound. By the end of the quarter, we are able to play ensemble music. We talk about basic concepts in playing renaissance music, since so many basic concepts in communicating through music have changed through time. The advanced viols spend their time with a bit more technique and more in-depth coaching on playing stylistically sensitive manner. Concepts of rhetoric and effective musical expression are throughout this class. We spend each class playing consorts. The past two quarters this year have introduced the advanced players to tablature. (Tablature is a type of notation for the viol that is, in effect, Braille for the viol player. It shows what strings to play and what fret to cover. Viol tab uses a staff which consists of six spaces and seven lines. Each space represents a string, and letters are used to represent which frets to stop. An “a” on the bottom space would represent the open string, and the “b” on the bottom space would be the first fret on that string.) This is an ideal system for reading chordal music in different tunings, which is exactly what we have done. We have played lira viol trios all quarter in this class – even working on Lawes lira trios, which are VERY difficult!
The degree programs at CCM are quite intense, as it is one of the best music schools in the country. My students are introduced to the viola da gamba and concepts of musical expression through this instrument. Occasionally there are exceptional students who decide that they would like to pursue the instrument beyond the classroom, which is thrilling. But, it is also rewarding for the students to be introduced to the instrument and its repertory in the classroom.
There is typically a class recital at the end of each quarter, involving all the collegiums sections, including the loud band, recorders, voices and lutes, and viols. We had our class recital this past Tuesday, and the viol students were wonderful!
While the CCM early music class is not intended as a major field of study, it offers a fine introduction to a new instrument and musical language that may encourage some musicians to continue to pursue this field of study.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why does someone take up an "early music" instrument?

I began playing viol when I was in high school. I played violin and attended Interlochen (a summer music camp), where I took a class entitled “Shakespeare’s Music” handed me a treble viol. I fell in love and haven’t looked back. Numerous early music professionals got their start there. Unfortunately, Interlochen has since ceased offering any early music to their campers. Currently, in the US most early music professionals get their start on a period instrument in university. Another strike against us is that many universities are cutting these programs with today’s economic difficulties. The professional performer is only side of the historical performance world. The other is that of the amateur musician…

Many people decide to take up music later in life, as their careers and families are established. They may have more time to devote to music in retirement or as their professional and personal lives are more established, they want to explore a creative path in music. This musical explorative journey is quite rewarding, as it offers opportunities to make music with friends in ensembles of like or unlike instruments with many people performing in church or in house concerts.

The recorder is often a popular choice for people to start their musical exploration. It is quite easy to play as a beginner, and there is much music to play for solos and ensemble. (Instruments are quite inexpensive, with decent plastic instruments selling at around $20.) One local player is a proficient trombonist, who was pushed to pick up the recorder by his church organist to eventually perform in church services. There is also at least one amateur recorder consort in the greater Cincinnati area. Catacoustic also offers frequent workshops for beginner, intermediate, and advanced players with teachers brought to instruct these players in technique and ensemble skills.

The viola da gamba is another surprisingly popular instrument for the amateur musician. It is easy on the body to play, a rewarding instrument for the beginner, and offers a huge repertory for many levels of ability. There are four players in Cincinnati who play on Catacoustic’s rental instruments. I also teach music students at CCM (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music) to play the viol in group classes. Catacoustic offers frequent workshops for viol players, attracting players from throughout the Midwest – from Nashville, Cleveland, and Chicago!

As I think to the future of early music performance in this country, I would like to continue to encourage people to find their voice in Renaissance and Baroque music. This will include amateurs and professionals learning early music instruments, as well as attracting more people to concerts and recordings where this repertory is performed. I would like to know your thoughts on the best way to do this. Have YOU ever thought of playing an “early music” instrument? What is the best way to go about doing this?