pennsicdance: Comments from Octavio de Flores (part two)

(John) Byron Boyd lutenist at
Sun Aug 28 18:14:14 PDT 2005

Good gentles of the list:

My full response was rejected for excessive length, so I am sending it in sections.

> Some additional comments on the dance music from Octavio de Flores:

> Sometimes this can be very selective (snobbish?), say, using only
> instruments that might have been used at a 15th Century party, to achieve
> one evening of greater authenticity and "improve our medieval experience."

> Just as there is an effort toward more period dances (restricting OOP
> dances to whatever degree), we face the same issue with period 
> instruments.
> Period instruments are more expensive and harder to play, but add
> wonderfully to the ambience.    I would not want to ban modern 
> instruments,
> but wouldn't want to widen their use.  (For instance, a keyboard 
> synthesizer
> could produce some period sounds, but would look dreadful in the music 
> pit.)
> Also, I understand completely when an organized band dresses the part and
> only plays (allows) period instruments.
> Therefore, I would like to encourage individual musicians to look into
> finding, learning, and playing more authentic instruments, and gradually
> (and without much regulation) improve our period authenticity.

Amen, brother.  In honesty, I feel uncomfortable playing for a function 
within the SCA in which some of the musicians are using modern instruments. 
This is partially because I do not attend events to hear such instruments. 
I am content, however, if the musicians attempt to perform the music in an 
appropriate style, but am less willing to overlook their use if they employ 
a modern technique.  I also object to their use because some people are not 
familiar with Medieval and Renaissance music and the instruments from these 
periods, and are hence unable to distinguish between the music and 
instruments of modern times and these earlier periods.  I am partially 
preaching to the choir, as this applies more to Mundania that it does the 
Society, as SCAdians are more familiar with Renaissance and Medieval music. 
I am most annoyed when modern instruments are used to play these styles in 
modern situations, since most people have little, if any, experience with 
Renaissance music and are given a false knowledge of this genre.  Examples 
are the playing of Ottorino Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances by a symphony 
orchestra, the performance a transcription of a lute piece by a guitarist, 
or the playing of a Renaissance tune by a modern brass ensemble.  I am also 
irritated at the common appearance of guitars, bodhrans, and Great Highland 
bagpipes at Renaissance Faires, at which Celtic music (a modern style) is 
often performed and perhaps even described as Renaissance music.  I realize 
that not all can afford many of these instruments; neither could I when I 
first began playing with a mundane Renaissance consort and later became 
involved in the Society.  I first played percussion, as simple drums, 
tambourines, and triangles have changed little - if any - since the 
Renaissance and Middle Ages and are inexpensive.  I also played plastic 
tabor pipes, which are also of low cost, with a drum.  Good new, soprano 
recorders can be bought for $100, or even less.  I have seen good, used 
Yamaha plastic recorders at thrift shops at very low prices.  The violin, 
viola, and cello were well established by the Renaissance era, although the 
design has changed slightly.   The trombone is similar in sound to the 
sackbut, and I know one musician who claims that she found proof that the 
oboe was used during the Renaissance.  And yes, historical instruments can 
be more difficult to play.  Both myself and another musician attempted to 
play our viola da gambas in the dance tent during Pennsic XXXIV, but the 
great humidity prevented our instruments from remaining in tune for as long 
as even one dance, so we abandoned this idea.  Somehow, the violinists 
managed to avoid this problem!  Sometimes, modern instruments can be 
disguised.  I once saw an electronic keyboard used as a substitute for a 
harpsichord in an a&s competition.  The player had fashioned a cardboard 
cover to which she had applied simulated wood contact paper in order to 
present a more authentic appearance.

In service,
Iohann se pipere
Sable, a gyron argent
Ars Longa Vita Brevis (Art endures, life is brief)

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