Monday, October 22, 2012

The minstrels of Arkadia

So knowing my love of minstrels, when my favorite bookstore (Arkadia, where else?!) announced that it would be having a small concert of songs of love and lament from the 16th and 17th centuries, obviously I was going to go. Where else would I be on a Thursday night anyway? Working out at the gym? Not this night (though that would otherwise be my probable standby) - I have more important things to do, like watch minstrels.

This particular duo of musicians was called White Sparrow, and consisted of an Asian woman singer, Debi Wong, (who is apparently from Canada, as the owner was telling me later...since we were so similar in...some attribute I did not bother to ask about; the owner first thought we might have been from the same country...alas, no) and her instrument player, a Norwegian named Solmund Nystabakk,  who clearly loves his historical instruments (those being the lute and theorbo...but more on those later).

Sadly I only got few pictures because I find it painfully awkward to take pictures of musicians while they play unless you are in a large crowd and masses of people are doing the same thing (plus I was sitting in the front row like a total dork so I wouldn't miss a single bit of it), so you'll just have to imagine with me as I write.

The woman, clearly fluent in Italian and versed in songs of this nature (with some operatic overtones, if I not be mistaken), dove straight into their set, only pausing after three wonderful songs to introduce herself and the man. According to the links sent out ahead of time by Arkadia, they're from the Yale School of Music (so prestigious!) and are actually quite famous on their own. Solmund has known the owners for years though, and likes to do these community concerts just for the heck of it (and all the more power to him, since it certainly made my night).

But anyway, back to the concert...songs of love and lament? Right up my alley! They sang a whole set of gems for us, and in three different languages - Italian, English, and French. I was duly impressed. The English ones were naturally the easiest to follow, for a layperson like myself, but the Italian ones were easy to guess at. Strangely the Italian ones were all laments and the French ones were all about love. ...Hmm...perhaps it was just the selection they chose.

After a few more songs Solmund introduced his instruments (clearly his babies): first he was playing the lute:


...which is really just a small stringed guitar-like instrument that you would imagine any normal bard of the appropriate time period playing. His was gorgeously ornate though (both of his instruments were). I know my picture is crap (since I wasn't actually trying to take a picture of his lute and then he took it away to tune it), but the hole beneath the strings is actually intricately carved out in a wonderful lace design. Fabulous.

And then he switched to a theorbo, which is actually just an extended version of the lute that has more strings to account for a bass octave. The theorbo allowed for singers to play songs entirely by themselves, now having an instrument that had both high notes and low notes. Something something self-sufficient bards. Here is one sitting next to a lute (the lute is on the left):


The thing is huge! I love how this was the more convenient way for musicians to become self-sufficient. Yeesh.

(Btw since I was a super dork and sitting in the front row, as he was playing this particular instrument (and was quite passionate about his playing), I was almost knocked in the head several times. But being one with songs of love and lament and particularly acrobatic, I deftly avoided all such attempts at ruining my otherwise perfectly musical night.)

Alas there was no CD to buy at the end as I hoped, but it matters not since there is a website I can share with you all so you can hear the music (and even video), for yourselves! Please, do check it out:

White Sparrow Music

Another successful visit to my favorite place in Helsinki, Arkadia. One can only wonder what may happen there next! Stay tuned!


Here are some wondrous lyrics from the event that I went to, in case you were interested (there were translations for us at the event):

Finally the beauty that I adore,
makes me aware of her return.
That she wants for me to see again

those eyes for whom I die of love.

But when I see again the beauty that inflames me,
Leave me, my displeasures, lift yourselves from my soul.

The heavens see that her absence,
removes all of my happiness.
Granted by my perseverance,
is the end of my cruel torment.

But when I see again the beauty that inflames me - 
Leave me, my displeasures. Lift yourselves from my soul.

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