Hi harpsichord peeps!
Hear, hear, Daniel!
I'm a serious Hammond-B3/rock/blues/psych keyboardist, and also a
Billions of years ago, for some years I studied drums and mallet
One thing I love about Sweelinck, a lot of virginal music, renaissance
dance music (I ran a broken consort for some years, played ren alto
recorder), etc., is how it's NOT "classical era music", how it's
IMNSHO, much more immediate, personal, alive --- much more like good
rock/blues music. The performer has a lot more personal
power/responsibility, than in some classical-era-universes.
Improvisation is assumed, at least to some degree. I *love* how
teachers like Ed Parmentier, will teach and model, ok, those 3
identical notes in a row, play them so they're all different -- and
love what that does to how the piece sounds.
Now, this past week, I encountered Bach's first invention, in 2 situations --
-- I just started teaching a grade school girl, keyboard lessons --
she'd been in a couple sessions of girls-rock-camp that I teach at,
she'd taken several years of piano lessons but did not like them,
wants to mess around with more than piano -- she recently got an
electric keyboard -- One parent wanted the girl to study whatever SHE
wanted, one parent initially resisted moving away from traditional
piano-only stuff -- So, I'm compromising -- I have her learning 1st
invention, on this electric keyboard -- along with doing some solfege,
learning to count 1 e & a and really do it, playing improvised lines
over simple chord progressions, blues pentatonic scale, etc.
-- We are fostering a harpsichord, she's currently at a friend's
house, the friend is trying her out on the Bach she once played on
In neither scenario are we going for trying to figure out how to play
as much early-informed as possible -- BUT!
I've given the girl a printout, showing some less-pianistic possible
fingerings.....and in rock keyboard class, I was already telling the
girls Diruta's "the arm guides the hand", because that's how I tend to
do fingering/handing (!) when I play rock keyboard -- so I've got her
moving her hand, rather than crawling around pianistically --
She already likes, that doing that tends to change entirely,
articulations -- SHE made the initial comment about this, as I was
about to start talking about that! -- and she's already doing some
pairing of notes -- She'd of course never heard the term
AND, we're playing this, in various electronic keyboard voices, e.g.
"072 distorted guitar", "169 analogon", etc.
One of her homework assignments is to pick 5 different voices, and
write down, how she'd change what she'd play in each voice, to use
that particular voice.
The friend who is trying out the harpsichord, is for the first time
really realizing how utterly different, this music is on a decent
harpsichord, compared to playing on a piano. Scary too! but she
said, I had no idea, I thought I had an idea, but I had no idea.
****So, here's a relatively inexperienced grade school girl, who tells
me, oh, it's better when the arm guides the hand! it sounds better!
****To me, that's an example of this whole discussion, the music
itself, speaks more happily/more ferociously, when we play it more
like those ancient ones talked about it ****
(weird grammar I know!) --
And yep, totally, we can never know this like people then knew it, but
we can TRY! and as someone pointed out, we're sounding better and
better! as time/learning/instrument-building goes on --
It was a revelation to me, billions of years ago in Cal State Long
Beach's library, reading some period reviews of consort playing ("then
they blew towards the one who'd just had all the divisions, to revive
them") -- and when my consort got to play with a couple troupes of
dancers, oh, you can't play this kind of dance too fast because
there's travel time through the air, for the person! but also, this
is dance music, this is going to naturally swing!
Listening to a famous baroque flutist, last year, when the notes go
low, it's like they disappear -- How do you do that? well, when
playing a flute that is as good a version of a baroque flute as
possible, the instrument naturally does that -- notes in that range
are much softer -- The flutist said, it's written in, written in the
But playing the same line on a modern flute, one would never hear that
sudden flight and hiding --
Handful of years ago I got to hear Ton Koopman play, had heard him
billions of years ago in Los Angeles area -- he's still Ton Koopman!!
and as someone mentioned, he DID get yelled at back then (I think of
those years as the time when there was a war, between are we going to
try to play this as much as we can like THEY did, or are we not -- and
the war was pretty much won, at least in that these days, one doesn't
get told "You are destroying the intent of Bach!" when playing with
But I remember sitting hearing him, back then, and wanting to jump up
for joy, there was so much dancing, so much playfulness, so much "here
the music is a couple of people chasing each other around, here it's
ferocity until that breaks, and it's never just metronomic" -- As my
housemates and I were leaving the parking lot, we went right by Ton
and his wife -- I yelled out the window, I saw you in the early 1980s,
you're still awesome! or somesuch -- BIG grin, he said yes we were
young then! I told him I'd heard him play a battle piece, and it
sounded like a battle! and wow did people yell at him for that!
I've been working on some Sweelinck, and starting to learn some early
fingerings -- changes everything!!
I've always loved Parmentier's "for whatever instrument you're
playing, figure out what THAT instrument can do, and then do that",
and teach that to the girls at rock camp.
So anyhow -- this is kinda incoherent, but I wanted to write something
-- We don't have to say, it's X or Y, all or nothing (and in fact, we
will never know "all" of how they played stuff back then, and there
isn't even one "all" from back then) -- but it's really neat, to learn
more of what they did then, and see, oh, that little thing, just made
this music make so much more sense.
To me, that's liberating, rather than confining --
(who has often been told, "you can't be both a rock musician and play
(and when our broken consort would be eating in the kitchen, before
playing a many-hour gig, we thought, they did this too!)
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