Of all the weekends for my back to go out, this had to be one of the worst. You see this was the weekend that I agreed to host one of the visiting artists for the Early Music Hawaii concert, called Early Music – Early Movies.
What happened was that in getting my apartment ready for a guest, I was moving a lot of heavy stuff around and probably didn’t know I strained my back in doing so. When I reached for a box of cereal for breakfast the other day, something went ‘pop’ in my back, and I was immediately in pain — couldn’t stand, couldn’t sit, couldn’t even lie down without a grimace. I cancelled all my organ lessons, but since I had agreed to be one of the homestays, I didn’t want to back out of it. (Hey, I just made a pun, get it?)
And guess what happened! My guest, Tina Chancey, turned out be so helpful, she even made breakfast for the two of us. We reversed roles and she in fact became the hostess and I was waited on! We had a wonderful time together, and shared our experiences of being widows after many years of musical partnership and marriage. Her late husband, recorder player Scott Reiss, co-founded the early music ensemble Hesperus with Tina in 1979, and it is Tina’s goal to keep his musicmaking alive through a channel of YouTube videos. I embedded the video of “Dear Irish Boy” below.
I found out that Tina grew up in Cleveland and learned to play the violin and piano at an early age. Yet she didn’t discover “her” instrument, the viola da gamba, until college at Oberlin. I really admire her — in that she has been able to make her living in early music ever since.
And last night’s concert at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu was truly a unique and wonderful experience. Tina played viola da gamba, renaissance violin and recorder; Grant Herreid played baroque guitar, vihuela, and sang tenor; Priscilla Herreid played recorders, shawm, bagpipe, crumhorn, and sang soprano, and Nell Snaidas sang soprano and played renaissance guitar. We viewed the silent film version of Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks and the music from Hesperus never stopped!
From the program notes Tina wrote, she said: “Silent films were never meant to be silent; they were intended to be performed with musical accompaniment. Hesperus has . . . crafted a soundtrack of music inspired by the time and place the film was set, early renaissance England, and perform the music on copies of period instruments.
I asked Tina her method in creating a soundtrack, and she said the first step was to watch the movie and map out the length of each scene in minutes and seconds. Next she chose the music based upon the mood of the scene and the length of each piece. So in performing the work, the group has a video monitor of what is happening in the movie and can extend or jump to the next work, improvising as necessary. In the program, Tina wrote: “When choosing music to accompany a film, the first goal is naturally to reinforce the mood of each scene. Music can add pacing, drama, or irony, foreshadow tragedy or anticipate rescue. We hope that our combination of early film and early music really makes the story come alive.”
And indeed the music did just that. I didn’t realize that the movie was so hilarious by 21st century standards, and what I appreciated were not only the moods of each scene, but the occasional sound effects — a drum was banged when someone’s head got bashed, or the shawm was played when in the movie, heraldic trumpets announced a royal proclamation.
Even though the group has performed Robin Hood “about 60 or 70 times,” Tina said “every time we do a performance, it’s different.” From the program I read, “While our music is authentically early and we perform it on the appropriate instruments, every showing of the film is different and you’ll hear a great deal of improvisation and spontaneous ornamentation.” I really admired the group’s stamina, too — because throughout the two hour movie, the music never stopped!
The group tours with five different silent films: in addition to Robin Hood, they include The Mark of Zorro, The General, Der Golem, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the latter of which will be performed on January 21st, 7:00 pm at Queen Emma Community Center, Kealakekua, on the Big Island.