The viola da gamba – a distant cousin of the violin and cello – once was a signature sound during the Renaissance and Baroque eras, becoming one of the most popular instruments in Europe by the late 15th century.
More than 500 years later, the music will be heard again, thanks to a Sunday revival.
Eclectica: A Concert of Early Music, New Music and Music In-Between brings together a small group of formally trained musicians to perform a mix of music from Baroque Germany and Elizabethan England to 1960s London at the Allen County Public Library downtown. It’s part of the library’s Sunday Afternoon concert series.
Viola da gamba musicians Melanie Bookout, Russell Bookout and Anne Martin often play traditional Renaissance music for IPFW ensembles and other chamber performances, including the library’s concert series in previous years.
Melanie Bookout, an IPFW associate professor, says this will be the first time the musicians will be accompanied by Farrell Vernon, jazz saxophonist and IPFW associate professor, and guest artist Robert Margo, a Boston University professor of economics and an accomplished musician who plays the mandolin, lute and guitar.
The viola da gamba is a six- or seven-stringed instrument that is played between the legs like a cello. Although it is played with a bow, the use of frets along the neck of the instrument is more similar to guitars; it is also tuned differently than a violin or cello.
Bookout says she, along with a new generation of musicians, want to push the viola da gamba into the 21st century.
They are very calming. It’s a quiet music, and that’s good for our turbulent times. We’re playing extremely beautiful music, and we can make them sound very contemporary and emotional, Bookout says.
Bookout, who is on the board of directors for the Viola da Gamba Society of America, says interest continues to grow for the instrument, with the organization celebrating its 50th anniversary last year.
Every four years, the society also organizes the Leo M. Traynor International Competition for New Music for Viols, a program offering $500 prizes for up to four composers who create contemporary pieces that will carry on the instrument’s legacy.
Bookout says the ensemble will perform one of this year’s award-winning compositions, The Shades, on Sunday. The piece is composed by Brooke Green, an Australian musician who graduated with a master’s degree in early music performance from the Early Music Institute at Indiana University.
Stacy Pearson, the art, music and media manager for the library, says she likes to bring in musicians for the Sunday concerts who perform music slightly different from the library’s summer Rock the Plaza series.
Pearson has booked the Chicago-based ensemble New Comma Baroque to perform in January. Similar to Eclectica, New Comma Baroque strives to engage modern audiences with historically informed concerts.
Every single concert, I have people say to me, Wow, this is really great that you offer this for free; more people should come to this because it’s such a great offering,’ Pearson says.
At the library, our mission is to provide entertainment and cultural opportunities, and a part of that is having patrons come to music concerts. I think that music plays an important role in society and that the library needs to participate in that.
This season, Pearson has selected city favorites such as the Sunny Taylor Band to perform next week and the Ty Causey band in March. Americana folk band the Goldmine Pickers and the Indianapolis-based Farrelly/Markiewicz Jazz Quartet will also be featured.
We try to get a range of music from classic folk to rock to jazz, Pearson says of the series, which began in 2007.
It’s just spending an hour on a Sunday afternoon having a free concert. It sort of grew as just something to have during the winter months at the library, she says.
We have such a beautiful venue, and people are surprised that it is so nice and inviting. It’s such an undiscovered treasure, and I just feel like I need to get the word out that this is being offered, and it’s for free. Don’t miss this opportunity to broaden your musical tastes.
Aside from introducing the viola da gamba to new audiences, Bookout says she enjoys performing in the library’s intimate setting. She says Pearson has coordinated a program that allows musicians and music lovers alike to share with each other in a quaint venue.
It’s great for a Sunday afternoon, Bookout says. The people are so wonderful and so excited.
It’s a joy to share this music communally with the audience and with other players. The music touches the human spirit because you share with the audience and players the love for the sound.