We tend to think of classical music as “old.”. After all, much of the orchestral repertoire was written 100, 200, or even 300 years ago. This was my assumption as our troupe, the Utah Philharmonia Chamber Orchestra, arrived in Britain last week. Certainly, we were playing some “old” music on the tour, works by Handel and Geminiani being the oldest pieces. Piazolla, Gershwin, and Joplin were the more recent selections. Grieg fell right in the middle.
Any concept I had of old was immediately dashed as we entered the churches for our concerts. Great St. Mary’s in Cambridge was 15th century. St. Nicholas Church, Potterspury, 13th century. St. Mary’s, Chalgrove, 11th century. By comparison, the music written in the 1730s was positively modern! Even the “old” Baroque music was closer to our own century when compared to the era of two of the churches. It didn’t stop there. We drove down remnants of Roman Roads, and saw Roman ruins. A trip to the British Museum put time into even deeper perspective as we gazed upon artifacts from ancient Greece, and Egypt.
This journey back in time became a reminder of the great responsibility we have as musicians. We are stewards of the past, charged with keeping the sounds of bygone eras alive (even relatively recent ones). We must study, reflect and ultimately present the great music of the past. In this way, the musician becomes a conduit much like an ancient edifice, only presented aurally for modern observers to reflect and find meaning.
Copyright, 2012. Robert Baldwin