There is something uniquely compelling about chamber music — a small group of musicians, usually playing in an intimate venue. As a musician, I love to play it, and as an audience member I have a special place in my heart for it, too.
It’s Valentine’s Day, when many people’s expectations are high for romance. Candy, flowers, cards and romantic dinners are OK, but what moves me even more is MUSIC. With that in mind, these are a few of my favorite things — baroque and early music that is luscious and romantic and perfect for ANY time, not just a fleeting holiday. Always the perfect fit.
An article in the NY Times recently featured people who turn to making music in retirement. (Joanne Kaufman 1/29/17) Some were returning to playing instruments they played as children, while others were learning for the first time. Their passion for music had been deferred for a variety of reasons — time, money, careers, families, perfectionism, and other distractions.
For many years, we have heard about studies attempting to show a connection between musical training or listening to classical music with extramusical benefits, such as advanced brain function or activation. Remember “Mozart Makes You Smarter” and all the articles urging women to play classical music near their pregnant bellies, to name a few?
Recently I had lunch with a friend who is a generous, longtime public radio supporter. He expressed surprise that more people don’t support their local public radio stations, and we talked about the excuses many listeners make for not contributing. He looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you know why *I* support public radio?” I threw out a few possibilities, and he said, “No! The reason I give is because it FEELS GOOD. That’s it.” He’s right. It does feel good to be part of something you care about. It feels good to have a personal stake in the success and future of something that’s an important part of your daily life.
So, now I’m wondering: do YOU support your local public radio station? If not, why? If so, why? Do you agree with my friend that giving feels good? What would you say to your fellow listeners who don’t support their local stations to try to change their minds?
Confession: I am not an early adopter. I have no aversion to technology at all. In fact, I savor the many conveniences and treats technology can provide, and I enjoy learning new things. But I won’t run out and acquire something just because “everyone” has one; there has to be a demonstrable need or application to convince me. I didn’t even bother with a cell phone until a couple of years ago because I truly did not need one.
As 2016 winds down, I’ve been thinking about musical highlights of this past year. There were some interesting recordings released in 2016 (see the Sunday Baroque Holiday Gift List for a few of my favorites), and I had a chance to interview some renowned musicians including organist and conductor Ton Koopman and lutenist Ronn McFarlane, to name just two.
People often ask how I craft Sunday Baroque each week from the enormous array of options. I start with the general parameters of the baroque era — 1600-1750 — and extend it to include some of the music that led up to those years. There are many composers and compositions and many recordings of their works, including familiar “big names” and music, and less well-known musicians and music of the era. Some of those recordings employ “period” or historical instruments.
Quite a few of our most beloved and familiar Christmas carols have roots in the baroque era or even before. Many of them started as popular secular music such as dances, folk songs, or even drinking songs, with festive words added to go with the holiday theme. One of my favorites is Branle de l’Official from Thoinot Arbeau’s Orchesographie. It’s a dance tune from the 1580s, but you probably know it better as the lively Christmas carol Ding Dong! Merrily on High. In 1924 George Ratcliffe Woodward wrote the familiar words to go with the ancient dance melody. Do you have any favorite Christmas music? Maybe you even sing in a choir and have some hands-on experience guiding your choice of favorites. I’d love to know what music (baroque or otherwise) helps makes Christmas special for you and your family.
This year’s Sunday Baroque Holiday Gift List has a broad variety of recommendations, including a few surprises. There is something for just about every taste — familiar favorites, less well known music, period instruments, modern instruments, and more. And of course, all the performances are top notch.