minstrel: Instrument Differences

Fred Ross fred at horace.ls.net
Fri Nov 17 12:00:12 PST 2000

And once more interspersed - I may have to change some options in my mail

Fred Ross
s.k.a. Philippe de Minerve
a.k.a. Sgath

On Thu, 16 Nov 2000, Tim Connor wrote:

> The mandolin is very late period, as far as I know.  However, there were
> similar
> instruments earlier--Timothy McGee, in his book MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE
> PERFORMER'S GUIDE (highly recommended)suggests that a mandolin could be
> a reasonable substitute for a
> medieval cittern or citole (though it would need to be restrung, and
> tuned differently).   Even a
> flatback mandolin would work in this role (though a simple oval shape
> would be
> more convincing than, say, the Gibson Lloyd Loar model).

That is a fine book.  I have it on my shelf, as well.  The restringing
might present problems for someone who doesn't do much luthier work, since
it entails remaking the head, the nut, and the bridge.  On the other hand,
if you're doing Elizabethan stuff, there's no reason why you couldn't use
a modern Cremonese mandolin.  Unlike the violins, I don't think the
pattern for making them has changed much.

> As for early guitars--a cuatro (restrung with nylon), vihuela, or even a
> baritone ukelele would be reasonable. All can be found at reasonable
> prices, evene dirt cheap in the case of the uke.

Now here's an idea that escaped me since I'm only familiar with the
classical guitar.  On the other hand, the smaller frets would really throw
me for a loop.   I can't even play the steel strung guitars without

> > There are plenty of options for instrument substitutions, given that
> truly
> authentic period instruments are not really affordable for most of us. 
> However, I
> see no need to compromise on the music itself.  If it could hold an
> audience 700
> years ago, it can do so today--given a good performance.  You can't just
> expect
> people to listen because it's authentic, though I do think there should
> be an
> effort by performers to educate the audience. (On the other hand,
> there's also the
> need for audiences to educate themselves--part of persona development
> would seem
> to be cultivating the tastes that one's persona would have--but that is
> another
> can of worms).  If people prefer to listen to filks based on modern pop
> songs,
> that's fine, or at least there's not much I can do about it--but I don't
> have to
> play the things.

Hear hear!  I find myself doing a lot of apres-temps classical since that
forms much of what I know and even - horrors! - improvising sonatas and
the like.  On the other hand, Bach provides a model for those who run out
of repertoire here: improvisations and compositions using idealized dances
as forms.

> There are books of early music out there--more for
> later period than for the stuff I like to play (I spend a lot of time
> transcribing from recordings), but it's available.  Perhaps we should
> compile a list of music books to post on the A&S page.

Here's a good idea.  Do you want to spearhead the effort?  The list gets
long in a hurry.  Even small music libraries without a focus on early
music - such as that of Appalachain State University - have a variety of
books with such materials, and masses of folk music that can be passed off
as pseudoperiod.

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