The Lute Appendix iii
In the summer of 1996, I attended The Lute Society of America‘s Summer Seminar West in Vancouver, BC. The event took place from July 29 – August 2, 1996 at the Vancouver Early Music Festival held at The University of British Columbia.
Earlier this month the LSA held the 2016 summer seminar at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and as my FaceBook feed was briefly inundated with photos and videos that attendees posted on the LSA FaceBook Group, I found myself reminiscing about my experience in Vancouver twenty years ago. It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life.
I was thirty years old in the summer of 1996. We had moved our young family from New York to Tampa the previous year, and I was still struggling to determine exactly how I was going to establish my career as a musician. At this point I had been studying early music seriously for about five years, including a lot of score study, reading, listening, and applied practical study on recorders and lute. I had been playing lute for nearly four years, including about two years of lessons with Pat O’Brien in New York City before moving to Tampa.
My parents gave me the opportunity to fly to Vancouver and attend the LSA Seminar West as a gift. I had been studying on my own since moving to Tampa, teaching part time and playing occasional gigs, but for the most part in total isolation – Tampa at that time had no early music “scene” and only a few musicians familiar with Renaissance and Baroque music, whom I had not met yet. So when I arrived at the seminar, I was overwhelmed to find myself surrounded with people who shared my enthusiasm and love for the lute and its beautiful repertoire.
Lute Seminar West 1996 participants stayed in dorm rooms at beautiful Green College at UBC, and ate incredible meals provided by the college cafeteria there. I remember being very impressed with the quality and preparation of the food – caribou was on the menu! – and terrific beer. I also remember camaraderie between staff and participants extending to the experience in the dining hall, as we stood in the same line with artists like Paul O’Dette and Ellen Hargis, and made small talk while we waited for our plates to be filled.
The program that week for the Lute Seminar ran concurrently with a Baroque music workshop for the Vancouver Early Music Festival, so there were other instrumentalists besides lutenists in attendance, and most of the baroque lutenists attended their own rehearsals and classes while we Renaissance lutenists had our own program of offerings to choose from. I had brought recorders with me, and found several opportunities to play recorder as well as lute in duets with other lutenists.
On one afternoon, I even had the opportunity to read through some of my beloved Händel sonatas with a harpsichordist and a gambist from the Baroque program on the stage of one of the recital halls at UBC.
Most of the week, however, was spent obsessing about lutes and lute music – playing for and with each other in classes, grabbing moments between classes to read through duets and check out each other’s instruments, sharing gems we had come across while digging through the repertoire on our own with others who would appreciate them…
There were many highlights to that week, and the impact of those experiences on me was very strong, as evidenced by how much I remember twenty years later. Lute virtuosi Paul O’Dette, Stephen Stubbs, and Ronn McFarlane were on faculty, and I had opportunities to meet and interact with all of them – they were incredibly encouraging and helpful. I remember meeting Paul O’Dette in the elevator on the first day, and then playing the Padoana Belissima from the Capirola lute book in a masterclass with him later that week. Despite my trepidation about playing for every lutenist’s hero, the masterclass was not only very helpful but fun – Paul was generous with both good advice and good humor. Stephen Stubbs played an exquisite recital of French Baroque pieces, opening his recital with the sublime D minor suite from Denis Gaultier’s La Rhétorique des Dieux, and closing it with Nowhere Man, arranged by Terry Schumacher for baroque lute. I also remember Stephen carrying around a copy of Thomas Mace’s Musick’s Monument, enthusing about the book on several occasions, and reading aloud from it to us.
Monica Huggett, who was teaching in the Baroque program, gave a stupendous recital (Biber and Buxtehude?) – I remember sitting in the fabulous concert hall at UBC and feeling like the notes were flying over my head, my ears trying to reach out and grab as much of the sound as they could. At the end of the week, Ronn McFarlane invited me to play through some duets with him, which was a thrilling if daunting experience. Afterwards, Vancouver luthier Grant Tomlinson remarked that it must been like “jamming with Eric Clapton” – an apt description of how I felt about it. As I’ve written about here on Off The Podium, it was through listening to Ronn’s recordings that I first fell in love with the lute.
Attending the 1996 LSA Seminar West was a peerless experience, which has reverberated down the years in ways I still feel today. Grant Tomlinson, Caroline Usher, and Dick Hoban were especially warm and encouraged me in my aspirations for a lute playing career, and I left Vancouver elated and hopeful.
My thirties were turbulent – both personally and professionally. Shortly after I returned to Tampa I formed The Tampa Bay Early Music Consort with Theresa Villani and Carl Klein, and performed early music on recorders and lute throughout the Tampa Bay area and occasionally further afield for a number of years, but ultimately as our family grew it became necessary for me to focus more on my teaching career than performing. While my identity as a lutenist has remained a vital part of who I am as a musician, the time at my disposal to pursue lute playing dwindled. Over the years I have continued to play for periods (usually a few months at a time) every year or two, often in preparation for a performance. I sought opportunities to bring the lute into my work as a music teacher, and accompanied many students and some student ensembles on lute at Nashville School of the Arts in performances of music by Dowland and other gems of the old repertoire.
It took me by surprise when I realized that twenty years have passed since this formative experience. The time has gone by so very quickly, yet so much has happened! I am grateful for the individuals who make up this remarkable network – The Lute Society of America and especially those I met in Vancouver in 1996 – and for the important impact they made on me at a difficult time in my life.
* * *
I ~ Meet the Lute
II ~ Francesco da Milano
III ~ The Medieval Lute
IV ~ Petrarch’s Lyre
V ~ Renaissance Lute
VI ~ Baroque Lute (coming soon)
iii ~ The Lute Society of America Summer Seminar West, 1996
iv b ~ Dowland on CD: A Survey of the Solo Lute Recordings: Part II (coming soon)