Recital Aftermath, or How I Almost Faceplanted into a Harpsichord

I love playing at Carol Woods. This sweet retirement community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is the most open, supportive, and interested audience I get to play for; the perfect place to inaugurate my baroque journey. I was mentally quite nervous, mostly because I had never performed on baroque violin by myself in public. I didn’t know if I would experience a new kind of tension and I worried I would be grasping for stability when there is none to be had, (no chinrest, shoulder rest) and for good reason. I just had to remember that fact, and when confronted with nerves, move in a direction of letting go rather than tightening my grip.

When the time came, I was surprised I didn’t feel physically nervous. Possibly because I was so exhausted from a long, intense year. I was ready for a break, and really just aiming to survive. So the recital was a great success in that regard. It was not perfect and the perfectionist in me goes bonkers (especially when it comes to intonation), but I gave myself a break because it was a huge endeavor, both emotionally and physically, and my body was worn out. Like when you’re sick at an audition, and you actually play pretty well because your brain doesn’t have the energy to get in your way. In fact, sometimes you’re so loopy that as you look over at your colleagues during a particularly intense progression during Biber's Sonata No. 2 from the 1681 set, you almost trip over your own feet and for a moment, you see yourself diving straight towards that beautiful harpsichord but just in time, your feet remember how to operate and you right yourself. Friends claim they didn’t notice, but when you send the videos to the family, they are quick to let you know...

Truthfully, I was really happy with the Biber because I didn’t have a lot of practice time at my disposal, given how physically demanding piece is. However, I learned it a few months before, and I was reminded that the work we put into things, if done well, won’t disappear. In fact, I experience over and over again that it is often best to let things sit and marinate a bit. My subconscious can get a lot done if given a chance.

Since the recital on September 7, I have had a wide open schedule, filled mostly with reading, stretching, some teaching, and trying to find something interesting to stream. It may seem odd to start off my grand “Year of Exploration” with a two week vacation, but it has allowed my mind to wander freely and start making connections between all the new information I am devouring. Lately, that means reading Thomas Morley’s late 16th century treatise and listening to a fascinating podcast about the history of the English language.

Thomas Morley published A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke in 1597 and it is a treasure trove of information on the music of the 16th century. The puzzle-nerd in me is preoccupied with the complex table that explains note lengths and I’m excited to decipher the solfege of the day as well. I see familiar words and symbols, but in context it is indecipherable. Similarly on The History of English Podcast, when Kevin Stroud reads a paragraph from Beowulf, the epic English poem from around 1,000 AD, you can hear familiar sounds, perhaps even some full words, but the big picture is lost. (I stumbled upon this awesome podcast while I was browsing through other history podcasts. Kevin Stroud traces the development of English from it’s original roots in the Indo-European language from 5 centuries ago to Modern English. Highly recommend it!) I think this may be why I'm drawn to Historically Informed Performance because I love to see the origins of what we take for granted, to see the shapes of notes evolve, alongside the technology of the printing press. To see how the letter P in the Latin branch of Indo-European languages often transformed into an F in the Germanic languages.

Interestingly, the changes that occur in both music and language are almost always related to contact with outside cultures. This is all too obvious when you look at the flourishing of music during the Elizabethan period. The English Madrigal, so popular at the time, would never have come about without the Italian Madrigal from a generation before. Dutch craftsmen who fled to England during the English Reformation brought improvements to the printing press that allowed for the explosion of published music in the last two decades of the 16th century. The English language exists as it is today because of our encounters with other cultures throughout history. Today, throughout the globe, large populations of people are shifting and there seems to be a strange fear of cultural influence and a trend towards Isolationism. They don’t seem to understand culture exchange is not only inevitable, it is necessary. Like variation in the gene pool, the more the better. For my part, I say bring on the taco trucks.