Could you give some biographical background like where you were born and... Back to Home Page
Sure. Okay, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1952 and moved to New Jersey when I was 5, I think. And basically, you know, went to school there. And then when I was 17 my family moved out to the end of Long Island. And I stayed around New Jersey and shortly after that started going to Boston. Well I went to Boston to go study music there. I was there until 1977, at which point I went to Stanford because Binkley was doing some guest teaching there. In summer of 78 I moved to Cologne, in Germany.
What about your first musical memory?
It would probably have to be the music of South Pacific or some operetta, My Fair Lady or something that my parents would listen to around the house. But it wasn't anything I could say I liked at all. I definitely remember hearing some rock and roll things before the Beatles had come: Gene Pitney It Hurts to be in Love, that sort of thing. It sort of caught my fancy a bit but it was really due to the Beatles and that whole scene that certainly caught my attention. And after that, I, along with three million other kids my age wanted to play guitar.
So you hadn't played any instrument until ...
I had played clarinet before that but I didn't take it to seriously. I mean I did okay with it, but I didn't take it to seriously. I'd done that maybe three years before that.
But it's funny. Many people say something like that, I didn't take it seriously. But the fact that they did it very early, sometimes, I think must impact something musically. I assume you started on guitar after the clarinet?
Well, yeah. The guitar was the first instrument I really took more seriously. I think I must have been influenced by my father who, I can remember, he never practiced the piano, but he liked to sing and he could sit down at the piano and just play. So at some point, obviously, he learned how to do that. I don't even know when that happened. But you know, nothing too heavy on the piano, but he could get around okay, at least it looked that way to me.
No, no more, it would be more typical Irish type songs: Danny Boy or whatever, something like that. He'd just sit down and play. He'd play an accompaniment. He loved to sing. He belonged to glee clubs in New York City and things like that.
So your family was musical.
Well, on my father's side, I'm sure there was something and my mother loves music but she doesn't do it herself, and the same with my sister. So we're not a super musical family as such.
Did you start off with rock guitar?
Yeah, well you know, the Beatles. Yeah, as soon as you learned how to play a little bit, you immediately looked around for a band as I'm sure you did as well, to play in, to start playing dances at the junior high or whatever. I just got more and more into it and by the time I was a senior in high school I knew that I wanted to do something professional with music but I wasn't quite sure of the form so my guidance counselor had led me to apply to I think it was the University of Miami because they had a jazz department or something going on there. Where else did I apply? San Francisco State I think, because I thought it would be an interesting area to kind of meet people in. But I realized then when I got an advertisement from a laundromat in Miami in July or August or something, it finally clicked that I had, without even actively realizing it, been channeled into, if I didn't do something in a month or two I'd be arriving in Miami and gong to college there. I just though, wait a minute, I don't want to do this, I'm not sure if I want to do this. So I must have been about the only one of my, that I knew in my class or my friends who didn't then go immediately right into some kind of college or university right after finishing high school. I just took a year off playing music. I hitch hiked out to San Francisco, actually and hung out a bit, and had a
That was 69, right?
Well, September 70, yeah. I stayed at a commune in San Francisco. I went to a concert down at Winterland with The Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver.
I think I was there too.
I was able to get back stage because someone in the commune knew one of the people in the Dead or something gave me a secret button that I was told to put on my jacket upside down. So there was a huge line of people outside when I went down there. I went up to the front of the line and the guy goes 'yes?' and I point to the button and 'Oh, okay come on with me' and right back to the dressing room. It was funny. I had a good time. But basically, I took that year and felt around musically what I really wanted to do. And that, I decided, would be classical guitar. So I started only from listening to records, listened to a lot of classical guitar and started learning some of the pieces from the records. I just tried to get more and more interested and finally I just thought I want to try and apply to a conservatory.
Let's be clear. You were learning these pieces by ear from the records.
Yeah, at first I was doing that because I hadn't learned to read music on the guitar. I spent some time with it and finally decided where I wanted to audition and New England Conservatory because they were said to have a good guitar department. I also considered at one point going over to England to a place called Northern School of Music. Supposedly John Williams was on the faculty. I actually got as far as picking up the phone and calling them to ask 'how often does he teach there?' The woman said 'next year he'll be here for two weeks'. You know, like for the whole year, so I thought that doesn't make so much sense. I ended up going to NEC. That was how I started with classical music.
New England Conservatory?
Yeah, as opposed to Boston Conservatory. there are those two conservatories there and there is also, Boston University has a music department and Longes School of Music, there are bunch of them around.
New England Conservatory has an early music program, right?
I guess they do. I'm ashamed to say I no longer even know what they have. But at that time, they had In the early 70s, quite a good early music department as I realize now in retrospect because there were some strong people there for different periods. There was Daniel Pinkum was a harpsichordist and a composer, a general all-rounder for that. John Gibbons had just started there at that time. He was Baroque and later was his thing. Julia Sutton was there for Renaissance music and dance. It was quite interesting. Ken Roth was there. He was also an all-arounder, but he had a lot of insight for medieval stuff. And it was in his class that he was playing some recordings, the topic was troubadour music, oh and speaking of classes and Medieval music, my first class in Medieval music was a music history class, just a huge lecture affair, I don't know how many students, a lot, and I was doing I thought quite well in the class but at one point the teacher decided, I guess he was getting fed up with people who were not coming or something, so he made an announcement, or decided one day 'I'm going to bring in the heavy hands here and just said 'Anyone who did not come to class today fails'. And I wasn't there. I had been there almost, you know. So I can probably say the only class I ever failed at NEC was the Medieval music history class.
But in this other class, Ken Roth played a recording of troubadour music by Thomas Binkley's group Studio, and one piece in particular, and I thought it was all great, but one piece in particular Ah Chantar is a very well known troubadour song by the Compesta villa. It just really grabbed me for some reason. Up until then the few little bits and pieces of people doing that kind of music were just so boring and bad and totally uninteresting on any musical level or otherwise. This was the opposite, this was something . The people doing it had technique; they could sing well; they could play well, there was some improvisation happening; it was modal sounding.
It was recorded in a way that has long since been abandoned which is separate miking. It's almost like, if you listen to early Beatles and you can separate the channels and you can hardly hear anything from the other side. This is like that so everything is...
Clear and present. You hear everything. It's a great mix, if you want to use the word. That has gone the way of the dodo. Nobody records like that anymore, to my regret because I often think that is much more dynamic. Purists will say ' we like to record it as if you were in the room'. I don't know how many recordings I've been involved in where that kind of recording and there is a plastic head on a mic stand and out of each ear comes a mic and the producer, or the tonmiester will say, now this is what you hear when you are in the room. And you do a take and you go back and listen to it and you are sitting there thinking, 'this doesn't sound like the room.
Because you need to wear headphones.
Well, even doing that, I always had the impression it didn't translate directly for me, it wasn't exactly the same thing. I was always one who would say 'look I just don't want to listen to this at home in my room, I'd like it to be as rich with dynamic as possible. But anyway, the point was that that Binkley recording was what really grabbed me.
And when did you hear the lute first?
I first heard the lute in 1971. I had probably heard a Bream disc or something somewhere along the line maybe before that, but what I remember was a fellow guitar student in that first semester, who was from Chicago, he also had a lute. He had one, you know and he was pretty good, Jim Carrington. No one else around there had one that I knew of, doing that kind of music. And of course, when you start getting into classical guitar repertory and start buying sheet music and books and so forth, you quickly bump up against transcriptions of lute music for guitar. That takes you about 2 minutes. So I was aware, this is the forerunner, in a way, of the guitar the earlier instrument to give the repertory here.
Was there a lute recording or experience that grabbed you and made you say I want to play the lute?
I could certainly point to hearing that Binkley recording because in that song that I named, it was just Andrea Von Raum, one of the singers,and Binkley himself playing the lute. It was the way that he played it, with a lot of fluidity and, I thought, finesse, that in that moment grabbed me. That would have been 1974 that that happened.
So four years in college?
I stretched it. Five actually because the second year I took off then I went back and did the three to finish up.
So you graduated in...
76, actually. And then at that point, I wasn't sure exactly what my next move would be, but I didn't have to wait long to decide.
You were a classical guitarist at this point.
Well, no, by 76 I had basically decided is going to be my thing. Of course I could still play the guitar.
When did you get a lute?
I got a lute in 1973.
You went to England to get it.
I went to England in February 73 and I came back two or three months later with an instrument.
From Bream's maker.
Jose Romanios who's Bream's guitar maker there. I also had an interesting lute related experience. Which was, I had gone to England for two reasons. One was to look up an old school friend who had moved there, a musician, who lived up in, I thought, in Chester, kind of up in the north. The second reason was to look around for a lute and hopefully find one. So when I got there, at first I had one night in London and I was totally bewildered, felt absolutely sorry for myself, I didn't know a soul, completely this is a new world type of thing. The next day I jumped on a train heading up to find this old friend who didn't know I was coming. I thought I'll surprise him. When I got off the train finally that evening up there, went to the address that I had and knocked on the door where he was supposed to be living. I said 'is so and so here?' Oh no, he moved down to South Hampton about six months ago. So I wasn't sure what to do. I had my classical guitar with me. I walked up to a young couple from --- who were walking their dog and asked them if they knew an inexpensive place to stay. They invited me to stay with them in a very friendly manner. We later, then went to a folk club there and I played some pieces. It was a very informal kind of hangout, but it was a lot of fun. It was there that I met a woman who was going to go down, heading south, to Surrey, asked me would I want to go down with her She was going to hitchhike. She was going to stay at a place that was a kind of commune. It tuned out it was owned by a wealthy and quite eccentric individual who was an early music guy. And he had the largest, he claims, private collection of classical records and early music records in England at that time. I seem to remember 25,000 or something. He worked at the BBC and he also had connections with the early music community there to a certain connect. He was connected with a journal of the Dolmetch Society that was called 'The Consort'. So I was able to listen to incredible recordings. He had everything he had old Deutche Gramophone, Archive recordings going back to the 1930s. It was just like the most amazing library of recordings you could imagine regarding early music as well. And he was, of course, very interested to meet me and hear about my quest to find a lute and blah blah blah. So that was an interesting coincident .
But he didn't put you on to the Romanios.
No, the Romanios, I had his address. I think I had brought that with me from the U.S. I can't remember where I got it.
Tell about your experience when you went to his house.
When I was staying in the said commune in Surrey with all the incredible records, and people as well, it was from there that I decided to go look for this address that I had in Dorset. and the address was in the vicinity of Shaftsberry, beautiful, picturesque kind of Thomas Hardy town. I followed my directions to get to this little teeny village that I was going to and went into the only, or one of the few, pubs and showed the guy the address. And he said, oh, up that road and over that way. So I followed what he said and found myself on the grounds of a beautiful country style house, expansive, 18th century manor type house. there didn't seem to be anyone around and as I approached the house, walking up to the door, a little man came around the corner, who was obviously working on the grounds, a gardner or something. And he came up and said 'may I help you?' I just said I'm looking for an instrument maker, guitar and lute maker, and I showed him the name. He said oh he doesn't live here, he lives nearby but it's not here. Then he kind of looked me up and down and said 'do you know who does live here?' I don't know whether I had my guitar case with me or not I can't remember. So I said no, who lives here? And he said 'Julianne Bream'. Of course I was delighted and flabbergasted. he gave me a little tour of the house. which was very kind of him. He said the master of the house wasn't there, he was off on tour. In it's own way it was kind of inspiring to be allowed to look around. Then I made my way over to the instrument maker's shop and lo and behold he had a lute that he'd finished. In retrospect again, you kind of wonder, most instrument makers don't have finished instruments hanging around that they would just say 'okay, oh, here, yes, I just happen to have this one. But anyway, for whatever reasons, he did. It served me certainly well enough for the next year or two
Did you playing Renaissance music?
I did yeah. I started off very much in the Bream mold. Bream was certainly one of the idles at that point. I had seen him a couple of times. That was one great thing about to NEC was, just opposite the door, if you open your window and the door you could throw a stone and hit Jordan Hall across the street which was the main concert hall. Every year there was a high powered classical guitar series. So they all came there: John Williams and Bream, Parkening, Lorimer. Segovia not. Segovia had to have a bigger space. That wasn't big enough. He had to have Symphony Hall, which was ridiculous. I don't know how many seats. I went to see him and he was like a little insect and playing a little insect guitar. It was so far away. And when I think about it's just kind of amazing to bring a guitar into that kind of room. What is that? But anyway... I had seen Bream in Jordan Hall and he played half of his concerts on lute so that was great. But yeah, I was playing Renaissance lute and loving it. And at the same time delving around and getting into other
This was 73 and you finished your college in 76.
Yeah, and by the time I finished on my graduating concert, it was a real mixed bag. I started off with Medieval lutes with a big set of estampies.
Medieval? And were you playing with a pick?
I was just playing an oud that I had tied frets on with a guitar pick. I hadn't become aware of the appropriate instrument historically or iconography blah blah blah, all that stuff.
But in those days an oud was close enough.
That was certainly close enough. Definitely. On that concert was a good dose of sixteenth century music, mainly Elizabethan, I think. I might have played a set of Francesco, I don't remember, but I did play broken consort lessons.
Were you playing guitar style?
I wasn't playing guitar style per se because I had gone to a master class in the summer of 75, Donna Curry in Carmel, California, and had seen at least there, Robert Strizich was there, Dombois was there. I got a taste of the other ways, so to speak, of trying to do that.
Were you playing thumb-under?
I don't really remember what I was doing at that point. I may have been but I can't really tell. I had to do a lot of different things, I remember that, because I also played Baroque lute on that program. I played Weiss, actually, which didn't stick with me. I quickly realized that wasn't my scene. It was better left to those who could really do it well. And by then, there had been people like Dombois, like Shaeffer. And then there was a new generation coming up, players like Hopkinson Smith and so I thought 'Nah.' Plus Baroque lute is really hard. (laughs) It just didn't fit my background. I'll never forget though, as another little story, to pay for that trip out to California. Of course, at that time, money was a crucial issue, I had to find a way to save some extra money to get out to that course, the summer of 75. The only job I could get was working as a night shift orderly in the Pine Street Inn in the combat zone in Boston, which is basically a place for homeless men to go at night. God knows if it still exists, but at that time, any wino off the street could go in there but you weren't supposed to take any booze in with you. They locked the doors at 10 o'clock and the condition also was you had to give up your clothes to be fumigated while you slept during the night. My job was too, starting shortly before 10 o'clock, was to stay up all night along with one other person and monitor the nightly wanderings or activities of this group of it could be anything from 50 to 200 men in this giant ward. It looked like something out of Dante's Inferno, a sort of sea of people in military style cots, and what they would get up to. And sometimes it was a bit dangerous, to be honest, because you couldn't predict what they were going to do. I mean some of them were totally irrational, not all there. We had to make a nightly run down to the emergency room of the downtown Boston hospital to pick up any candidates of this category who for some reason had ended up there but then needed a place to stay. So one of us would go down in a van and see if there were any customers to bring back. And I went out to the van, which is parked outside, the doors were locked and bolted, basically, because sometimes they could get really violent. I went out to the van, which is always kept locked, and it must have been around midnight, because it was quite dark, and I opened the door and got in. And as I was starting it up, looked in the rear view mirror and a shape rose out of the back seat and gave me quite a fright because i just didn't know what was coming next. But the guy was harmless enough and just said 'Oh, hello we're just going to drive for a few minutes, just take it easy and we'll come back in a few minutes. But the point of the story was, that here I was staying up all night in this kind of lowest you can go in life, sort of street culture experience and during the day I was trying to practice my exalted, refined, French Baroque lute music, music of the highest echelon of the most, you know, the creme de la creme, culturally speaking, of west European society in the 17th or 18th century. And it was just too different. I can remember, I suppose I was overtired after doing this, because I had to do it for 6 or 8 weeks to save enough money, and at one point, maybe it was just out of exhaustion, but I just kind of completely broke down in my practice room because I could not reconcile the two things. It was like you are trying to play this music, but what you are experiencing every day or every night is... it's not this.
I often stop to think about that, about the music that we play and what it took for that society to exist, to think of the decadence, in a way.
And I feel that way whenever I see some magnificent ... anything. Okay, how many people had to slave over that?
Exactly, yeah. So that was a very strong experience. Whether or not that influenced my subsequent lack of enthusiasm for Baroque lute or so, I don't know. It's hard to say. But anyway, In any case, by 1977 I had made a decision that I wanted to specialize in Medieval lute and that I wasn't going to spread myself thin over many different kinds of music. For better or worse, I was going to do that. And that's what I set out to do.
And 77, is that when you went to Stanford?
Yeah, late fall of 77. And that proved to be the absolute key move because meeting Binkley was fantastic. He really was... they were the model group and performance at that time. No one could touch them. They were completely...
'They' meaning the Studio für Fruen Musik?
Yes, exactly. They were completely on a level by themselves, I would say. And Binkley also seemed to know everything and anything about any aspect of the music. He was very quick to formulate a very clear opinion about something. Sometimes too quick, as I later found out, but at that point it didn't matter. It was important just to have a sort of strong leader figure or guru-sort who is showing you around and providing you with a kind of model to follow.
You obviously impressed him. How many Medieval lutenists were there there?
Well that's the problem there: big fish in a little pond. There was hardly anyone else who was even trying to do it at the time. And to an extent, that still applies a little bit today. So he had to take what he could get, in that sense.
When he was at the Schola, I think he kind of roped in people, didn't he? I mean Paul Odette and Hoppy were in on some of those recordings.
Right, but that was more because, I think, they were required to do that. It wasn't, as I understand it, I wasn't right there with them they would be the people to ask, but my impression is that the program that you give when you study there at that time was that. That was just what everyone was doing and they went along with it.
So if he had taken a leave of absence, he was already at the Schola at this time? Thomas Binkley?
He was only at the Schola for four years. He arrived in 1973 and he left in 1977. And the last concert of that group was in June of 1977 in Basel: an Arstitulia (?) program that by all accounts must have not been so successful. But as I say it was, for me, to meet someone like Binkley was very inspirational and crucial because he put me in touch with important people in Europe
So you got a lot of contacts and inspiration from him, and you had lute lessons from him, right?
I did, but you know they weren't against they weren't lessons in the sense of talking about technique or even fingerings or almost anything like that. My memory of it is fairly vague and it wasn't many many hours over a long period of time. He would speak more about how he though a contra tenor line should be thought of or phrased or something like this. Many's the time that I wanted him to just pick up the lute and demonstrate. I said that a couple of times and he didn't seem too willing to pick up the ball and just say like " yeah, okay, look do it like this." He seemed to resist doing that, I don't know why. He seemed to have gotten to a clear point where he just had decided in his mind "from now on I'm not a performer anymore and I'm not a lute player and that's it, that's not what I do." Even though just a year or two before that he had done some great playing on recordings. That was always a bit of a mystery. I never spoke to him latter about that but I surmised that from that time, those experiences also, then the years that followed them.
Well did he organize a collegium or something there at Stanford and have performances?
My impression was it was the early music class, as such. So a mixed bag of singers and instrumentalists.
Do you remember anybody else who was there?
O sure. Yeah I do. Amongst the singers were two women, Jullianne Beard and Sally Sandford: the two names that stick in my mind now. But then there were of course other people as well. I don't want to fortget anyone as such, but those were the two that I remember. and then the same deal with the instrumentalists. There was an interesting guy named Mark Wordenberg who was from, I think, Palo Alto or somewhere around there, as far as I can remember. He was a multi-instrumentalist. He used to be very good on a lot different, mainly, stringed instruments. And then there was Jason Paris (?) who was a very gifted bowed stringed player. He was studying at Stanford to do his PHD in performance, I think. He had done very good things there already and was very interested in Renaissance improvisation which I think he had studied with Imogene Horsley, I believe her name is, out there. He later ended up going to Europe and going to Basel himself and to the Schola on a teaching basis.
So, after that?
transcribed by Caroline S. Chamberlain
Q: So, after that?
A: Well, after that um..I joined Ensemble Sequentia(?) in Cologne in the summer of 78 and we parted ways during the course of 1981
Q: And who was in the group?
A: That was a quartet with Benjamin Bagby, tenor; Barbara Thornton, alto, Margiet Tindermans, fiddle, who now lives in Seattle. Shes from Maastricht in Holland. And they were fantastic, you know, they were really. I couldnt have hoped for a better chance than that, you know, to join a high powered, er, intimate, er you know, small group. And they had some very good connections, lots of concerts. I mean, it wasnt of course big money in that sense but for me it was plenty; to do what I wanted to do. I just wanted to be working and have a chance to work on the music in a serious way and, and that I got. And, er, you know, there were fringe benefits. We had a lot of concerts all over Europe and especially in that time in Italy and parts of Germany and I would always combine the concert trips with iconography trips or I would try to visit churches or museums and collect pictures of medieval plucked instruments and did that for a long time. And Ive been doing it actually ever since then, so
Q: and you photographed for yourself?
A: I photographed them myself or I would order something if I heard about it from the place um, er, just, yeah, go looking around.
Q: And you looked at manuscripts and stuff?
A: Yeah made a I had a lovely two week trip to er, England, to Oxford, to the Bodleian library where I was, I was able to just leaf through any number of Gothic or late Gothic manuscripts. And the person, huh, one of the people working in the library at that [Is that still going? Sounds of tape machine falling to floor? Its that one, its not that..yeah, this is still on, mumble mumble,] So, yeah, one of the people working at the Bodleian library, who was putting books away as I recall, or was just kind of around doing that sort of thing, was Christopher Page and we, we er, I remember having a brief chat with him because he saw me doing that or he might have had to go get a book for me so something started to talk about instruments at some point and had a nice chat on that day. But, yeah, I was extremely lucky, I mean, I er, went all over the place.
We went to, at one point, to the Middle East. Actually coming back from a concert tour of India and Pakistan and moving back then westwards. It lasted I think two months and er, one of the concerts was in Amman in Jordan and I had found looking through one of the instrument books, um, one of the many instrument books, I found a picture of a long-necked lute from the 8th century, a kind of er, it looked something maybe like a citole type of instrument and That was said to be from er, a fresco, which was located in an old hunting lodge, like 8th century hunting lodge, located in the desert in the vicinity of Amman so I, one day when we had a bit of time and I got a taxi driver to take me to this place. It was about a two-hour drive just out, out onto a dirt, big, you know dirt road leading out to the desert. And finally arrived at this building, which was to all intents and purposes, abandoned. I mean there was no-one around, there was a Bedouin family whod set up their tent a couple of hundred yards away. Otherwise there was just no one there. And I went inside and it was, er, half falling down if I recall correctly. But I went inside and there were some old, faded frescoes that you could see and theyd been somewhat damaged and chipped but you couldnt find them. (That doesnt make sense, but I think its what he said.) So I located the one that I was looking for and I, um, had to climb up on a little wall. I had my camera and I got some shots. And it was very interesting because it turned out that the book that , er, had referred to this instrument and actually given a reproduction, a reproduction (that) had been completely photo-touched up and the shape of the instrument had been radically changed.
A: In the published version, yeah, er, so that what it was in the published version, it looked like a spade, like a shovel with very sharp corners and shoulders and in the fresco which as far as I knew was original, (I mean). As I say, it was in very poor condition but it was still recognisable. Maybe, maybe that wasnt totally original. I dont know. In any case, it had strongly in-curved sides and um, yknow, some smoo--, some sort of roundy corners. In other words to give a very different shape. If youre using that to try and do any kind of research (or something) .. It was the same shape as the existing Coptic lutes from the um the late er, how shall we call it? Late Christian or early Christian late Roman maybe up to the Carolingian (?) period .
transcribed by Bruno Fournier
Crawford : the late , how should we call it , early Christian, late Roman, maybe up to the carolingian period, sort of these surviving koptic instruments which we have, same shape.
Crawford: Koptic, is a Christian culture in Egypt, Kopts.... that was interesting, but again I would have never had the chance to do that, had we not done the concert there.
Ed: in the 70's, it seems a lot of the medieval music had very strong Arabic influence.
Crawford: it did, and at the end of that trip that I just spoke about, we ended up going over into North Africa, then, and along the way, because it had been organized by the German Culture Institute, the Goethe institute, a lot of these offices, there would be an office in every city that we stopped in, had organized some kind of local encounter with the musicians there, East meets West kind of thing.
Crawford: So I met Oud players of course, I met one in Damascus, and in Alexandria, in Cairo, and all along the way, I had an Oud made for me in Cairo, in 3 days, like a child or lady's model, a bit smaller body to it than the normal ones and I just said to the guy, can you make one with a shorter neck? you know like sort of medieval, I thought, closer to the medieval lute, but he built it in 3 days, it was a total piece of crap, but anyways, but in Morocco where we ended up, we had a big East /West or however you want to call it, meeting, and, oh they made a bid deal of it, I mean there was, huh! he West German radio sent down a team to record it from Cologne, the musicological seminar or institute of The Basel University, sent a an expert musicologist down to participate in the whole thing, and the upshot was, you know, in my humble opinion, was simply, an Andalusian orchestra, you know this traditional orchestra that they have there, doing their thing, and Margaret and I , just sitting next to them there with our instruments, feebly trying to kind of follow what they were doing, and maybe pick up a few refrains, here and there , if they repeated them enough or something, in other words, it didn't, it really didn't show or prove anything, in my opinion, and it was kind of a joke. But, it was a wonderful experience, to go there and to hear them do their thing, was fabulous, we had that in a number of different places, but that Arab influence thing , yes, it was very current then, and also in Basel, under Binkley's influence, one of the things that happened just before he left, was a symposium, I think a week long, I don't know, I'm not sure how long, but the main subject was medieval music and Arabic influence and they invited , I think, it may have been that same orchestra, to come up or something.
Ed: I think some of them made a trip to the Middle East , didn't they?
Crawford: That also, some of the Medieval students went and performed. At that symposium then, papers were read, lectures given.
Ed: You weren't there.
I wasn't there then, I hadn't come yet, because that was 77, and so, out of that, they made the first yearbook , its the so-called Basel jarbuch, for early music practice, that was the first one coming out of that symposium, so the theme of that first yearbook is Arabic influence, question mark, in medieval music, and I've often felt that it would be a nice idea, at some point, because every year in Basel, we have this symposium, the school organizes this symposium, its not always about medieval music, its often not, or just to a limited extent, but I've often thought it would be great to, I was even thinking, like 25th anniversary, okay like 1977 you know, like what would it have been? 2002 theoretically, that would have been 25 years, go right back to that subject, and say where do we stand with that whole thing now? What have we learned or thought since all those years?
Ed: what's your take on it?
Crawford: hmm, I've stayed away from it, I openly would say that I avoid it because: no.1, since the Sequentia days, as instrumentalist, I've had to go later in repertoire, and get away from the monophonic song or Cantigas, whatever it is that you would first and foremost, think of when you are talking about possible Arabic influence. So the repertory that I've done, since the mid-80's let's say, has not been that, its taken me later into the 14th century and then even more into the 15th century. So that's the first thing. And then the second thing is: I've read so many whacky articles and books about it, everything from Henry George Farmer, Scottish musicologist who worked in the 30's and 40's, I don't know how far back he goes, but he wrote a number of books on the subject, and he would make statements about this is what medieval Arabic music WAS, and you just would have no way to check it, because how are YOU, going to check what HE says? Do you have access to those sources, did HE even? Can YOU understand or read medieval Arabic, you know, etc, etc, and then also, the Latin sources, into which the Arabic sources were translated, they are a problem onto themselves, so it's like, it's at a number of removes, if you will, in other words, to really kind of get to the source material, and try to understand it, in any objective way, is a very, very tall order And I mean there are people who are out there doing that, or claiming to do that, and you know, and long may they flourish But I have no way to judge it myself, and because I don't have to directly play it or even specialize in that area, with teaching activity, I don't concern myself with it much anymore. I can certainly describe what I hear and where things have gone, but I think in general, there has been a more of a tendency towards what we call cross-over interpretations of medieval music, which don't mean mean ONLY, bringing in Arabic instruments, and other things, but also anything from ... uhmmm... traditional Irish music to.....uhmm. Any sort of traditional music is fair game for that, in other words, Ukrainian or you know, or whatever you care to ...
Ed: So called world music...
Crawford: yes world music exactly, and you know, I don't go for it usually, its not my cup of tea, I love Irish music itself, and can pick out a jig or a reel on a tenor banjo, but I think it's because when you have to, if you' re in a position where you are required to"teach about it", I feel that there is a responsible way of handling that, and that's to, at least, provide the students with access, as far as you can, directly to the documents themselves. And then that's sort of all you can actually do: leave them with the documents and time takes its course, and they will come out with their own interpretation, and in the earlier kinds of medieval music, like the Cantigas for example, I find that doesn't happen so much. What happens a lot more is that, the student will go to a recording that catches their fancy, or a name that they've seen in the bin at the CD store, Jordi Savall or something, where it presses a button somehow, and THAT is in fact what is serving as the source....
Ed: Oral traditional
Crawford: The oral tradition, the good old oral tradition. (laughter) And I think, that's great, as long as long as one recognizes it for what it is, you know, let's face it, everyone does it to a greater or lesser extent let's say .... I think that the key distinction would be, the difference between that student and someone else, maybe like myself, would be, when you have to teach ,when you have to give that to someone else. To me it just didn't feel good just to say; well you can learn everything you need to know from this CD, here's the name of it , go out and buy it..... because you're trying to prepare those people to go be able to teach it as well then, and to be able to have an overview on the sources and so forth, you know.... a sources based approach I suppose, and even there when you talk about it, what is it you really mean, it's kind of meaningless, but I think you get the idea, in the whole spectrum of modern medieval music activity, let's say, you know, you've got one end of the spectrum, we're going in that direction....you've got you could describe that activity more in those terms, and the other way, you could just ...those things are not important, there it's more, really the oral tradition, you know, what this person heard somebody do at a concert or on a CD or on the radio or whatever it is, and to do that you don't need the other thing at all, actually, if you goal is to learn to do it that way........... I mean I learned, one of the nicest lute pieces, that I,.......and I think about it now, how ironic, that I got from Thomas Binckley , that I got off a CD, he was giving me lute lessons, but..... do you think he would have ever said one word about that piece, which I wanted to.....I probably even played it for him, I don't know, but I had taken it note for note off his Landini recording..............Yes, it's kind of ironic, I never thought about it like that before.............
I had learned that in Boston, just tried to get it, nail it down, note for note, as he played it on the record.......and not so easy to do that, because it has some places where it's kind of tricky, but then a year or two, or three after that , you know, in an actual face to face lesson situation, he didn't teach it as such......
Transcribed by Guy Smith
ED: How did you get from Sequentia to the Schola (??)
CY: After I left Sequentia, I was looking for a job and I had started to do some gigs down in Basel with Jason Parris, the guy I studied at Stanford, who by then had landed at the Schola and was doing a bit of teaching. I know quite a few people by that time in Basel anyway. So I had some work, not so much, but and I was just about to take a job at the Pedagogische Hochschule in Cologne which is a kind of teachers college, youd call it. Classes giving general guitar lessons. It paid a pathetic hourly sum of 18 marks an hour. But I was pretty desperate, but I didn't do that. I went down to the Schola and I approached Peter Eidermeister (?), the director, and to just also, you know, have a chat with him, see what the general future looked like from his side for the school, for Medieval music. Because remember, Binkley had left and had not been replaced there. That he had left in 77. So there had been, lets say, a four year gap
ED: Sterling Jones had taken overｷ??
CY: Sterling Jones was continuing some of the activity, Jill Levitt (?) was still there, Andrea von Rom(?) had left.
ED:But she was still in Basel.
CY:She was still in Basel, but she had been phased out or had quit the Schola. An so, it was a very opportune moment for me in that sense, and one that I never forget.
ED:So when you got on there, Sterling Jones was still on the faculty, right?
CY:Yeah, oh yeah. We did many many things together. Sterlings a lovely musician and a lovely person. Hes living in Munich now. But, yeah, so I started to do a little bit of teaching there, and that increased, and I've been there ever since. And maybe just the other thing to quickly mention. The two key, well I see them as a series of key events, the experience of Sequentia, the luck to start teaching at the Schola, and then also, based on also going back to the Sequentia time, the relationship with the West German radio in Cologne as a kind of sponsor and patron. And they virtually single-handedly made the Ferrara ensemble possible for me.
ED:How did the Ferrara ensemble come about?
CY:It came about very indirectly through a very tragic incident first, which was the death of my good friend Jason Paris by a drowning accident in the summer of 1982, in Basel. And Jason had been planning the next year to do a concert program in Basel with the students centered around the court of Mantova, Isabelle d Estes scene at the end of the 15th century. And, I was then asked would I take over the project. And I did so, but I changed it slightly from, and focused rather on Mantova
CY:Yeah. Which is frottola territory, I mean first and foremost. I just shifted the focus over to Ferrara, which is a town of what, 45 minutes away, or an hour away. And did so because Ferrara had some famous instrumentalists at that time, including Pietrobono, the famous lute player of the 15th century worked in Ferrara. So to make it into a program which I could kind of better imagine if I were pulling the strings, I thought lets focus on the court, the dEste court, because dEste was the same family. She married into the Gonzaga family in Mantua but she was from Ferrara. So it wasnt really changing that concept. Just, you know, on the surface. So, the group that did that had the chance then where we got asked to do a few more things after that. And the group didnt have a name and amongst ourselves, we just referred to that project as the Ferrara project.
ED:Those were students?
CY:Well, yes and no. There were a few students, but it was mainly other faculty members. So, yeah, we were calling it amongst ourselves the Ferrara group, the Ferrara ensemble. And then, in 1987, no, 88, I approached Klaus Neumann (?) at the West German radio, who is someone I had known since the Sequentia days. He was the head of early music there and a huge generous patron for anyone in early music, from Sequentia to you name a group, a prominent group in Europe they got some sponsorship, or support in some way from the ??. And he suggested to me that I make a proposal for an ensemble project and for a recording. So I thought about it, and I was just at that moment very much taken with the music of Alexander Agricola. Because, late 15th and thats the first real instrumental ensemble music in terms of repertoire. Youve got a lot of pieces that he wrote which are for instrumental ensemble. And fantastic stuff, you know, very well made. So I proposed it, and we did it, and that lead to another one etc. And that literally was how the Ferrara ensemble started. In its first incarnation, it was an instrumental group that had two groups within one group. It had a soft string ensemble, with lute, vielle, and harp, and hammered dulcimer. And it had, because Randall Cook, the vielle player, is also a brilliant double reed player, he could also play in the alta capella. In other words, the shawm band, which was a nice contrast for the concerts. And, we did that for awhile. We did one recording for the Schola in 1984, with that formation. And then, after awhile, I felt as we got the chance to do more concerts, I started to feel it would actually be good to get some singers here, because so much of that music is vocal music. And also as a contrast to the instrumental stuff. So we got some singers together and there we were, the Ferrara ensemble. So that was from theｷ
ED:Mid-80s or early eighties?
CY:Well, that Schola group started, that first concert was in 1983. Spring of 83, and I think it was probably in 1984 that we recorded something then for the Schola. And, yeah, it went on from there. The vocal version of the group, in other words, the group as most people would recognize it from the CDs, with the singers. That started, that got going really at the end of the eighties.
ED: And when did the PAN ensemble, Ensemble PAN or PAN ensemble?
CY:Yeah, either. Ensemble PAN, which stood for Project Ars Nova, in other words we wanted to work on Ars Nova music. That started concurrently, because that originally was to have been a quartet with two singers who studied at the Schola, including one of them, with whom Id studied in Boston, Laurie Monahan, a mezzo-soprano. She then went to Basel and studied with Andrea. Michael Culver is a counter-tenor and a cornetto man who also studied at that time in Basel with Andrea and the others. And Jason was supposed to have been in it as the bowed player and me as the plucked player. And that was going to then have been, a kind of, that would have been my next troupe after Sequentia, so to speak. But, of course when Jason died, it threw a wrench in the works. We did have some gigs that we did with Sterling. Sterling came in as a substitute. So that was the earliest version of that group. And then, I think in 1985, or 6, it became clear that Sterling had other things to do and thats when Shira joined the group. And that clicked very well from the get-go. And then, shortly after that, I think it was in 87, John Fleagle joined the group as a tenor, beautiful tenor voice, and harp player. And also multi-instrumentalist. And with John joining the group it just entered its golden phase. I mean, it reallyｷ
ED: Michael was still there too?
CY: Michael was still there too, but he, ??, Michael, John, and Laurie lived, they all lived around Boston. Shira lived in Berkeley, and she does still does, and me in Basel. So it wasnt practical, she and I could only join in for the kind of larger projects, you know, where there was more money. That was maybe three or four times a year, we would meet for a couple of weeks each time, you know, and do it on that basis. The others could work as a trio locally around Boston, as a kind of pared-down version ofｷ So that worked out well for a long time, andｷ but then fate struck again, and the group had certain problems because there was no named leader. There was no director as such but there were issues, I think with, there were issues amongst the members, with someone trying to be more the director or to push things this way orｷ There were just certain problems that arose. And, though they progressively got worse and worse so that finally John decided he was going to quit. And it was kind of falling apart then anyway, butｷ And he did, and that pretty much was the death-knell anyway for me and Shira in the group as well. And then, yeahｷThat was how it sort of ended. But it had some very good years.
ED: So, the Ferrara ensemble is still going?
CY: Still going, yeah its still going
ED: Whats the latest project?
CY: The latest project, two months ago we did a recording which is directly related to Basel and specifically the council of Basel.
CY: Well, music from the council of Basel, specifically related to an exhibition in Basel, the treasury of the Basel cathedral. You know, all these pieces of gold work and things from the middle ages. It went on exhibition a couple of years ago and we were asked to do , I think, a special program that would go hand in hand with that as a concert. We just recorded that now. But we have a lot of things that we have done that still havent come out and Im hoping that they will.
CY: You know, we've changed record companies, and moved around a bit and, yeah, we'll see whether they do
ED: Can we talk about the lute a little bit.
CY: A little bit. And then, maybe, yeah, Not for too long because Im getting a bit tired.
transcribed by Jason Yoshida
ED: What kind of lute are you playing?
CY: At the moment, I have a few different instruments. I've had over the
years a lot of different ones. But at the moment I am playing a Joel van
Lennep. It was originally a 5-course lute in what I would call early
renaissance style. A lovely instrument That I have,,It's been my main
instrument since 1982, basically. I have. And I use that at the moment
mainly as a plectrum instrument. It's setup for plectrum playing so the
strings are a bit closer together.
ED: What's different in the setup between plectrum and finger(picking??)
CY. Each string of the pair is closer to the other one of the pair. In
another word, within the pair they're closer.
ED: How close?
CY: I couldn't quote any numbers (around there). Just closer,,,,than ,,, you
If they're too close they will buzz. And if they're too wide you'll get a
double "ta-ka, ta-ka" when you play. So that's what I am using for, as my
plectrum lute and then I also have an A-Lute. A 6-course A-lute by Richard
Earle which I use for finger stuff. It's also (an) early Renaissance style
instrument. I've had different kinds of cittoles and guitterns over the
years but at the moment I am not playing any of them actively. I have either
gotten rid of them or , I'm just not using them for the projects that I m
ED: Can you describe the plectrum?
CY: The plectrum that I use, is the very tip end maybe 7 or 8 inches of a
large ostrich feather where I have shaved off the "feathery" bits and get it
down to a very thin, but very flexible, but also very strong for what it is,
ED: Have you tried a lot of different materials for plectrum?
CY: You name it I have tried it. I have tried everything from parchment to
bone, to woods, to old gut strings. I even had a section of a violone string
from the 18th century. I suppose I haven't tried a sharks tooth. I'm near,
pretty much you know, you name it, I've tried it. So it's (been) a purely
empirical process to end up playing with an ostrich feather. And it was only
in the past, I don't know, 5 to 10 years that I even noticed by chance that
the earliest instrument tutors for a plucked instrument. Where you played
with a plectrum. Where it really describes at all what is the plectrum, it
gives a picture of it, and technique like that is with Baroque mandolin.
There are Baroque mandolin tutors, right. and those, at least 2 of them,
describe the plectrum as being made from an ostrich feather. I thought that
that was, you know, it was just coincidence actually.
ED: Is there an earlier source for ostrich?
CY: Well, I mean not as a pedagogical document, let's say.
ED: How, about in pictures?
CY: In pictures, you see different things. Of course you see a wide variety.
The trend that I found in pictures, looking at 15th century Italian pictures
in particular was that they would usually be playing with quite a fine, thin
type of feather. Now whether,,, its an ostrich or a goose, or a peacock, who
ED: And how do you hold it?
CY: I just hold it, I grasp it between the thumb and the forefinger and let
the shaft of it go up through, between the ring finger and the middle
finger. And I normally keep my little finger on the top of the instrument
when I play. And yeah, I do it like that.
ED: Very similar to thumb under then.
CY: Very, very similar to thumb under and this also leaves your middle
finger and your ring finger free to use, to play if you wish. You can bring
them in as well. Of course the color that you'll get can be either similar
if you let your nails grow and come in at an angle with the nail. Then you
can really get a very close sound to the plectrum. Or, you can only use a
bit of nail or you can use no nails at all, have no nails, and then that
produces a bit of a different color. So you have to use that kind of
sparingly. Or you have to pick and chose the places that you use that. You
can't, kind of, indiscriminately play a note with your plectrum and play a
note with your finger without nail on it and then back and forth like that
because of that color difference. But as I say if you use it very discreetly
and judiciously it's amazing how, far you go in the direction of creating
two-part music, actually.
ED: Are you familiar with the description of Francesco playing with silver
CY: Yeah, I am. And I always have been interested in that. Whether it really
could be describing a kind of,, finger pick or "thing attached" to a
finger. By the way, the Irish banjo was played with a thimble on the finger,
in one style of playing. But whether it was that in Francesco's case, or
whether it's flowery humanistic.
CY: Exactly. Language, kind of, you know, saying that he is the ultimate.
But it certainly makes sense. Again, I can't stress enough that. They
explored every possibility. I mean techniquely (come on, you know)
Acoustically, Sonically. (you know) Give them credit. That was their big
thing and you can be sure they, sort of, tried everything. And I think we
can also take that with playing technique. Just like, for the left-hand you
see plenty of pictures where the thumb is hanging over, kind of "Jimi
Hendrix-style." And used to play notes on the low strings. And in other
pictures it looks like, (you know) Andres Segovia method. But, in terms of
producing a sound with a. Exciting the string by plucking it, you just have
to approach it with an open mind I would say. And similarly some lute
players would say that," They never, no one then ever, would have played
with any kind of hammer-on or pull-off in left hand." But can you really say
that? Sure, you can say, with the lute books that we have left over, we don't
get specific instructions in them to do that. Does that mean it was never
done? Is it possible that those lute books were, in general, directed at a
market, anyway. And a market which by in large was comprised of, let's face
it, amateurs. In some cases talented amateurs (or gifted) You know, "what" those professional lute players were playing, you can be sure it was not note-for-note what they had in those books. Again
give them a little bit of credit. Use your imagination a little bit.
ED: And the idea of tradition like you did what your father did, who did
what his father did. And guilds and passing on of secrets and so on. And the
isolation of different places. You just imagine it's much more like a folk or
jazz scene of today. Where we prize all these different, unique techniques.
CY: Exactly. Those people become famous. Wes Montgomery.
ED: Stanley Jordan.
CY: Absolutely. All those were. These guys. Put two and two together, just
apply the same thinking to then. "Then", is not so long ago. Time passes
quickly in a way
Anyway, I'm getting a little bit hoarse.
ED: Well, thank you so much.
CY: I don't know what you are going to use it for, anything. But you know,
if I die at least somewhere now I have told somebody my story.
ED: 500 years from now musicologists will be consulting this.
CY: Yeah that will be a real sought after document.
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