Medieval music comes north
Submitted Photo/Yukon News
This weekend, Yukoners will get a chance to hear music the way it was likely played in noble courts more than 700 years ago.
Katelyn Clark and Julie Ryning make up musica fantasia. The pair perform early secular music — anything from the 13th to 15th centuries — using instruments common to the era.
They’ll be taking the stage at the Yukon Arts Centre this Saturday at 8 p.m.
“I think for an audience coming into this music for the first time, they can expect to hear something they haven’t heard before, and also kind of have a different sense of time,” Clark said.
“It’s a sense of travelling to another place and travelling to a distant past.”
Ryning is a soprano, while Clark plays the clavicymbalum and the organetto. Both instruments have been specially built to match the ancient originals.
For those not well versed in medieval musicology, a clavicymbalum is an early, miniature ancestor of the piano. Unlike a modern piano, where music is created using small hammers inside the instrument, striking a key on the clavicymbalum plucks strings to create music.
The ancient variety also lacks any dampers. That means the strings continue to vibrate and create sound longer after they’re plucked.
The organetto is a smaller version of the modern organ found in churches around the world. The musician playing the organetto works a bellow with one hand and plays the keys with the other.
“The actual musicians playing and creating the music were really poets who also worked with sound,” Ryning said. “This is the type of music that you could hear amongst musicians or at court with a noble audience.”
While recordings of modern music have captured everything from a rock legend’s final concert to a five-year-old’s first foray into drumming, it’s harder to tell if you’ve got medieval music sounding right.
For Ryning and Clark, who met while pursuing music degrees from Montreal’s McGill University, putting together a show begins with finding copies of the ancient music that have survived through the centuries.
Most often what’s left is a simple melody that goes along with a very long poem or other type of text, they said.
From there the pair relies on their education, experience and skill to imagine what a full performance would have sounded like.
“From that starting point we collaborate and have to put together an entire musical interpretation of that. We improvise and we add ornaments,” Clark said.
“Of course Julie has to do a lot of work with the actual pronunciation, and the way that the text is delivered of course affects how the poetry is understood.”
Depending on which piece of music they’re working on, Ryning may find herself singing in ancient versions of languages including German, Italian and French.
Both women say they enjoy the amount of improvisation that comes with this type of performance.
“I think when you get a little bit later in history there’s much more of a canon that’s normally done,” Ryning said.
“Whereas in medieval music it’s almost always something unfamiliar, exciting and new.”
They’re trying to represent what a lot of the musicians would have done as professional working artists many hundreds of years ago, Clark added.
The Whitehorse show will feature songs primarily from the 14th century that focus on love, lust and sometimes betrayal, they said.
This is the pair’s first concert in the territory. They’re being presented by Whitehorse Concerts.
It’s about giving audiences a new experience and hopefully triggering their interest in the past, Clark said.
“I think it’s just such a jumping-off point for not just medieval music or early music but music in general,” Ryning added.
“It’s a new process, an instrument that people haven’t seen, singing styles that people haven’t necessarily heard. It’s a fun concert to come to.”
Tickets for Saturday’s show are available on the Yukon Arts Centre website.