Early Music Masters
Passionate performers become instructors at this year’s Madison Early Music Festival
If you’ve ever heard the term “early music” and wondered what that meant, the twelfth annual Madison Early Music Festival, a weeklong celebration of workshops and concerts concentrating on Baroque and Renaissance music, will enlighten you. This year’s festival will feature the rhythmic folk sound of guitars, harps and percussion brought to America by Spanish conquistadors and minstrels in the sixteenth century. Madison can expect a wide range of talented performers and participants from all over the country to take part in this event. The instructors, in particular, bring a spirit to this festival as they share their passion for music on the stage and in their workshops. We spoke with ensemble performers Julie Andrijeski, Bob Wiemken and pre-concert lecturer professor John Barker for their take on the festival as an outlet for their musical talent.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, violinists and dancers were one and the same. In the spirit of early music, Julie Andrijeski is the MEMF’s very own dance and violin master.
When did you start your career in dance and violin?
My mother was a dance teacher. I started getting into dance at age four and later started playing the violin at age five. I had the tough decision to study the violin instead of dance during my undergraduate education at the University of Denver. Later, I got my masters in music at Northwestern University and did doctoral work at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
How did you get involved with the Madison Early Music Festival?
I started working with the festival in its first year as a teacher for both Baroque violin and Baroque dance.
Have you always specialized in Baroque and Renaissance dance?
I used to do mostly ballet and some tap, but now I focus on seventeenth and eighteenth-century dance. Most violinists at this time were also dancers. Dance masters would accompany their lessons with a violin as they danced.
Really? Have you ever tried to do this?
Everyone always asks me that. At a performance at the Smithsonian, I performed on a pochette (meaning pocket), which is just a very small violin. I attempted to dance a little bit while I played, but I’m not sure how successful I was at it.
Other than the genre of music and dance, what about the Madison Early Music Festival initially intrigued you?
I really like the concept of the festival. It is so multi-faceted. I like that the performers from the music groups are also members of the faculty. Also, it is nice to work by a lake!
A True Renaissance Man
Bob Weimken, the artistic advisor for Madison Early Music Festival and artistic co-director for Piffaro The Renaissance Band, is a man of many talents. The students at the festival benefit greatly from his passion for early music and his extensive knowledge in renaissance instruments.
How many instruments do you play in total?
That’s hard to say because of the consort nature of Renaissance music and the fact that we all play many of the various sizes of instruments of one type, from soprano down to, in some instances, contrabass. If we stick to instrument types instead, e.g. shawm, dulcian, recorder, krumhorn, percussion etc. there is still the difficulty of counting variants on a particular class. In short, for any one concert I may play six to nine different instruments, but in the background lie dozens more that could be played, in various forms and sizes.
That’s quite the variety! When did you pick up your first instrument?
My father played guitar and accordion and I was allowed to dabble on those when I was very young, but my first serious foray into playing an instrument began in the fifth grade when I started studying the trumpet. I took to this fairly quickly, but in the seventh grade switched to French horn because there were many trumpet players in the school band, but no horn players. The band director held up a beautiful new nickel-plated double horn and asked if any of the trumpet players would like to try that, and my hand shot into the air without my thinking about it. I then played horn for almost twenty years after that on an amateur and semi-professional level, all while pursuing other studies.
So how did you discover your love for renaissance music?
I was in a Ph.D. program in classics at the University of Pennsylvania, had finished my course work and exams and was headed into dissertation territory, when I saw at the beginning of the fall semester in 1981, a notice for auditions for the Collegium Musicum. I had started playing recorder with a classmate of mine the previous year, and so we decided to go and audition, despite having very little knowledge of renaissance music at the time. We both were accepted and that ignited a love affair with the music and instruments of the period that hasn’t abated to this day.
You have been performing for quite some time. I’m sure you’ve had a wide range of performing experiences. Have you had any particularly memorable concerts in the past?
Oh, the strangest, funniest things can happen in performance and do—totally unexpected and unplanned. A couple come to mind. While performing in a fourteenth-century castle in Scandiano in northern Italy, on an outdoor pavilion just after dusk, we were in the midst of this intricate piece by Alexander Agricola, late fifteenth-century composer, when all of the lights in the place suddenly went out. Well, we knew the music quite well so just instinctually continued to play, letting the fingers do the remembering. About twenty-five seconds later—what seemed like a lifetime on stage—the lights came back on and we finished the piece, to the great delight of the audience. In another, we were on stage in Philadelphia with a guest artist who played lute and renaissance guitar. It was in the midst of a very energetic piece that he was strumming heartily and happily on the guitar with bagpipes and percussion, when the bridge of the guitar violently popped off the face of the guitar, sounding like a gunshot in the room. Many of the audience members ducked or jumped out of their seats, but the guitar player just went over to the table, grabbed a lute and finished the playing the piece on that. We all had a great laugh, audience included, at the end.
Professor John Barker is an avid record collector and longtime participant in the MEMF. His quick wit paired with his extensive knowledge of music and history make him an ideal pre-concert lecturer for the event.
What does your work as a lecturer at the Madison Early Music Festival entail?
I give one pre-concert lecture during the festival. As a historian, I like to use music in my teaching. I like to relate music to the material. With the festival, I want to explain the cultural background of the music within the performance.
How did this interest in music develop?
Music is the tail that wags my dog. I am a record collector—I have over forty-five thousand CDs. I have loved music since I was a toddler, though I have never had musical training. But that’s why I love performing with the participants’ choir—I can hide behind the other great singers!
Sounds like you really enjoy the performance aspect of the festival as well. Is that why you decided to become involved?
The Madison Early Music Festival really has a lively traffic of performers. I enjoy this festival most of all because it involves performing, but also that the performers are working with the students. I hate to call them students though because it is not just students that get involved in the festival. There is such a wide range of people that come in—we put cities five times our size to shame with our Early Music Festival! There’s a spirit to this festival. It really is a pivotal event. Now, a number of Early Music groups have come out of the woodworks because of Madison Early Music Festival.
Madison Early Music Festival, July 9-16. Pre-concert lectures start at 6:30p and concerts start at 7:30p in the Mosse Humanities Building (455 N. Park St.). Purchase tickets online (arts.wisc.edu) or call 265-2787. Tickets for individual concerts are $17 ($14 for students with a valid Student ID and seniors over 62). For more information, view the website at dcs.wisc.edu/lsa/memf/concerts.htm