Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Renaissance Music and Making Lutes

Abe's lute: the classic style

If there's one thing I know about, it's Renaissance Music! Ha ha. Just joking, but if there's one thing I certainly learned more than I ever wanted to about, it's Renaissance Music. I fell asleep to the soothing strains of motets and madrigals during plenty of late-night study sessions in college. I tried to learn to hear the difference between Josquin des Prez and Pierre de La Rue. Oh how I struggled through that class, Music 301. I really do have a hard time liking such early music (give me Debussy or Rachmaninoff!) but I did learn to appreciate it. Some is quite beautiful. Anyway, I broke out the dreaded NAWM [said by me in a fearful tone, like a lion would say "Raaar!"], as my teacher lovingly referred to it (Norton Anthology of Western Music) and the children actually quite enjoyed listening to samples of music and talking about polyphony, text painting, and so forth. They certainly got excited for the next few weeks every time they ran into a sackbut or a lute (which you do, occasionally, when studying the Renaissance).

Here are some good things to listen to if you want to hear some Renaissance music (and you aren't lucky enough to own NAWM):

This little video was great. Shows several period instruments: what they look like and how they sound. 
Famous Art Song by John Dowland
This article talks specifically about some Shakespearian songs. It's fun to hear some of the words from the plays set to music–the same music they may have used for them while Shakespeare was still alive!
This article has links to three versions of "O Mistress Mine," a song from Twelfth Night. Very interesting.
Another Shakespeare song: Full Fathom Five.
Very basic information on Renaissance Music
You can just search for "Renaissance motet" or "Renaissance madrigal" online and you'll get a bunch of stuff, too.

After this lesson, we made our own lutes from various stuff we found around the house. You just need rubber bands and something hollow that you can cut a hole in. Some of our attempts worked better than others! I thought the milk-jug lute had the nicest sound, and was a bit sturdier. We didn't have a pattern for this, but just cut a hole in the jug, stuck rolled paper in for the neck, and stretched rubber bands around over a cardboard bridge. Daisy enjoyed decorating her lute with marker.
The tissue box lutes we tried just crumpled from the pressure of the rubber bands! We didn't really follow these instructions, which maybe is why they didn't work. We should have cut our rubber bands–but that makes the sound not as nice!

This version probably looked the nicest, and was pretty easy to make, but again, the sour cream containers or plastic cups (we tried both) were very prone to being squished by the rubber bands. It was really easy to make a lute shape with this one, though!
Seb was never really pleased with his. It didn't meet his standards for musicality. :) He didn't even want me to take a picture of it, but I liked it!
Malachi's was really nice too.

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