Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Music of the Renaissance

Phil Neuman with a "serpent".  Its length produces a deep note, and its curves make it easier to handle.
Phil and Gayle Neuman are definitely local treasures.  They are very passionate about the history of music, carefully researching early music and instruments. They have traveled the world to examine firsthand ancient instruments in the collections of eminent museums, and meticulously recreated them to make them authentic in every detail.  They have recorded CDs of historical music. But if you live in the Portland area, you mustn't miss one of their shows!  They present each instrument and explain its story and place in history, and play a historical piece written for that instrument. We attended one of their shows about the Renaissance, obviously a favorite of theirs. The Renaissance is a time that holds much fascination in popular culture, but few of us are familiar at all with its music.  Yet it is easy to forget that before recorded music, playing an instrument and singing were common skills and music has always been deeply woven into culture.  

Most of the pieces they played for us had interesting stories.  A piece played with two douçaines came from the court of King Henry VIII, and it's possible the king himself wrote it as he was a musician.  The douçaine was described in literature, but little was known about it because none survived to modern times.  Then in 1982, the wreck of the Mary Rose was salvaged, and the world's only surviving douçaine was discovered.  This was Henry VII's flagship which sank in a battle with the French in 1545 as the king watched from the shore.  Another piece with lyrics about the songs of birds was played on a soprano recorder. The recorder was very popular in the Renaissance, and it was also popular to make instruments in every size practical. A book called "The Bird Fancyer's Delight" from the Baroque era compiles songs to be played on a tiny recorder pitched to match birdsong in order to train pet songbirds to sing popular tunes.  Seeing and hearing these amazing instruments definitely brings history to life. They list their upcoming public shows here: http://philandgayleneuman.com/upcoming-events/ so check them out!
Phil Neuman with a "tartold", a carnival instrument in a fanciful shape.
They conceal a spiral of brass tubing 8 feet long, and some were
contrived to have tongues that wiggled as they were played.
Gayle Neuman plays the rackett.  This ingenious instrument has nine
separate bores which loop together to create one continuous tube. This
makes a much lower pitch than one would expect from so short an instrument.

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