Jubilate Musica

My first semester of freshman year in college, I took Music History 204 (having skipped the prerequisites due to 6 years of orchestra and a strong passion for music history). Professor Stoner walked us through about 600 years of music, from “Hey, we can write this down so we don’t forget”, through hocketing to the Baroque. I fell for early music, and I fell hard. I still haven’t recovered from that first passionate discovery.

My sophomore year, having quite quickly exhausted the early music resources of a school that definitely wasn’t strongest in music and definitely definitely wasn’t strongest in early music, I did an independent study on Wind Instrumental Ensembles in Italy from 1450 to 1620. That website is actually how (why) I learned HTML, which led to a 10 year career as a programmer. I digress. I love love love early music. Of all early music, I love best the wind ensemble music of 16th century Italy. Of that, I *heart* Giovanni Gabrieli’s wind ensemble compositions most of all, and daydream about hearing them with authentic instruments. I made my husband go with me to Venice, just to stand in St. Marks and imagine what it sounded with Gabrieli’s opposing choirs.

So when I got a note from one of my favorite local early music ensembles (Blue Heron) mentioning in a small postscript that their conductor was going to be leading a bunch of young musicians playing period instruments in a program of Gabrieli and Praetorius, well…. I had to be there.

It was with a light heart this morning, in summer sunlight, that I turned my steel chariot to transport me to Back Bay for the concert. I had planned on taking the T, but I was running a bit behind and figured that I’d probably be able to find street parking, and if I didn’t, I could park in one of the lots down there. That was ok with me. Heaven forbid I be late. There were cornetti and sackbuts! Tickets sold at the door! Late was not an option.

About halfway down 93 I noticed that there were a lot, and I mean a LOT of small planes and helicopters circling over the city. I passed a digital billboard with yellow, black and a “B” in the middle. It was 11:25 am on Saturday the 18th.

Whoops.

Reckoning that my original course was still my best option, I pressed on to the city, encountering surprisingly little traffic. But when I got to Back Bay, route after route was closed for the parade. And parking? Completely non-existent. I crawled through the streets looking desperately for pay parking, meter parking or permit parking where I would only get ticketed, not towed. How horrible and appalling it would be to drive past the church where this music was to take place (several times) and yet be denied! I started to panic. Then, just when my situation was getting dire, I found a great spot at a meter (no charge for weekends) which didn’t even require me to use my (non-existent) parallel parking skills. The day was saved! I rushed breathless to the church.

Taking advantage of my single status, I ante’d up my $10 and walked in. There was no assigned seating. I noticed, Presbyterian-like, that only a few people were sitting in the very front row. I made myself one of them. The church quickly filled behind me.

And oh glory! There were cornetti and sackbuts! There were recorders and theorbos. There were bass viols and violones. There was a harpsichord and organ. And there were glorious singers – clear crisp sopranos, warm confident mezzos, firm authoritative tenors and profound basses. They sang in Latin and German. There was counterpoint across the balconys. In fact, the only downside of this concert is that I was directly under the balcony that held the sackbuts, so I didn’t get to watch them except for one piece where they were in the center area of the stage. One of my favorite conductors (Scott Metcalfe who [how cool is this?] does a conducted sing-along once a year so interested amateurs like myself can remember how much fun it is to make music. He’s an EXCELLENT rehearser!) was center stage, animated, bringing the musicians along with him.

For an hour and a half, I glowed. My heart sang. At several Gabrieli chords, tears came to my eyes. It was superb.

The glow has come through the day with me. I feel nourished and restored. I feel extremely tempted to pull out my cornetto and see if I can get good enough to get called in. (Apparently, talking with one of the cornettists afterwards, they’re extremely hard to come by and perhaps the standard is lower than it might be for other musicians.) The day was clear and warm. The city was full of celebrations. And I had the sounds of Gabrieli in my ears.

These are the moments of our life to which we aspire, and which we must hold firmly in memory. It was glorious.


My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.

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8 thoughts on “Jubilate Musica

  1. Music lifts our soul and truly elevates the human condition. Which instrument do you plan on the boys learning to form your own group? Hugs.

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  2. Today in class the word sackbut was mentioned in a report about trombones — and I wasn’t the one who mentioned it! Your heart is glad, Brenda.

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  3. I know nothing about that period of music, and your descriptions sound a bit like a foreign language to me, though a beautiful foreign language. I obviously need to broaden my horizons.

    So glad you made it. Missing this b/c of some Duck Boats would have been a true tragedy. Seriously.

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    1. To call this period of music obscure would be to vastly overstate its popularity. Even with the Boston Early Music Festival in town annually, this particular kind of music doesn’t show up very often!

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  4. I’m amazed that you got *anywhere* on 93 on the weekend – all those lane closures due to bridge work have just been awful. Glad that you made to it the big event!

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