Christmas in Italy — Montclair Early Music
Montclair Early Music Singers & Recorder Consort,
Bloomfield Mandolin Orchestra,
Italian Folk Dancers.
Sunday, Dec. 15, 5 p.m.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 73 South Fullerton Ave.
By GWEN OREL
Masks, bagpipes, stories, dancing, juggling, Italian food, singalongs.
Oh, and recorder choirs, in a duet with voice choirs.
Montclair Early Music’s virtual tour of Italy on Sunday, Dec. 15, “Christmas in Renaissance Italy,” offers renaissance music, and a holiday extravaganza.
“We wanted to do something for the holidays that was different,” said Julienne Pape, the founder and president of the organization. Montclair Early Music has had other themed events, including a show honoring the 350th anniversary of the death of Rembrandt, and a Wassail last year.
Taking a “tour” of Italy, where so much renaissance music comes from, is something new and different.
“The idea came to me to start with the Carnival of Venice,” Pape said. “They do have a carnival that starts in December and goes through January.”
Guests will be handed carnival masks as they enter, and a bagpiper will play.
An old Italian tradition has shepherds from the hills come to the towns to play music at Christmas time. Bagpiper Brian McGowan will start a procession, followed by jugglers.
The audience will sing along to the Christmas carols, in Italian: the words are printed in the program.
The Bloomfield Mandolin Orchestra will play.
And that’s just the first stop on the virtual tour.
Starting with festivity, and dances, is “to make you feel like dancing,” said Pape. “Then when you hear sacred music, you realize it’s different and beautiful. I want to make people love the music like I do.”
She loves the recorder, and has been playing it for 25 years. She has a degree in music as a flute player, and still plays the flute, but once she began playing the recorder she became aware of music she had not even heard of. “Few colleges teach about early music. They gloss over it,” she said. “I discovered a world I had not known. I thought, ‘Well, this is the music I really need t be playing.’”
About 20 people participate in the group, which has been around for about 10 years, Pape said. There is also an a capella singing group, which began this past summer,with about 10 people.
“It started with a few players getting together to play,” she continued. “We started having house parties, and invited our friends. Then a house began to be too small to hold all the people.
THE MUSIC SHE SHOULD PLAY
Unlike playing flute in an orchestra, Pape said, a recorder in a small group will not have 30 measures of rest, then 10 bars to play, then a long rest again. Like the human voice, the recorder has four registers: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. “Four people can get together and play music that is like choral music, written at that time to be played by instruments as well as sung,” she said. “People would play recorder when they were tired of singing. With the recorder, you’re playing almost all the time. The polyphony makes every line interesting. Each instrument has its own melody, and all interface with each other in a glorious way. ‘I think I’ll play the soprano part, no let’s switch, I’ll play alto…’ Each instrument can experience beautiful lines in music. That’s the way music was written at that time.”
After the carnival festivities, the tour moves to Florence, to the Uffizi Gallery. Pictures of the nativity will be shown on a screen, while the choir sings. Recorders will play “Ave Maria.”
And “Hodie Christus Natus Est,” by Giovanni Bassano, showcases interaction between the choir group and recorder group. “It’s like a call and answer,” said Pape.
The next stop is Naples, where Joanne Dadd, a classical soloist trained in early music, will sing a Renaissance lullaby to Baby Jesus composed by Tarquinio Merula, accompanied by guitarist Enrico Granafei.
Granafei, formerly one of the owners of Trumpets, will accompany her. While Granafei is known for jazz, he’s also an accomplished classical musician, Pape said.
The final stop is Rome, where the good witch Bufana, played by Barbara Stefanacci, will come out to tell her story. Bufana has been searching for the Baby Jesus, and missed him when the wise men came, Pape explained. “Every year she comes and tries to find him. She cleans people’s houses with her broom and leaves gifts for the children. It’s their equivalent of Santa Claus.” The show ends with the Italian dance the Tarantella, led by Francesca Silvano, with the audience invited to join in.
Several restaurants have provided Italian food for the audience.
Choosing Italy for a Christmas concert made sense because so much music of the period comes from Italy. “Every composer during the Renaissance went to Italy. The nobility hired musicians, and they would have their own chorus. They all went to Italy. Most of the best composers came from elsewhere, went to Italy and performed. Everybody learned their craft there. Then they would bring that music back to England, Netherlands, and developed somewhat different styles.”
Pape also teaches the recorder. This year, MEM started its beginner group (the beginners will not be performing), and held a contest for third graders, including free private lessons. She has even “twisted the arm” of her husband, Nathaniel Cheney, to learn.
“A lot of people hear ‘early music’ and think ‘that must be boring.’ It’s not. There is more music and more composers during the Renaissance era than from 1750 on.
“I want people to know about the music, but not come to the concert and fall asleep. I want them to have a good time, and think, ‘this music’s really cool.’”