NGI Recipient: Will Schwartz
Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - Early Music Week (2016)
Three years prior to coming to CDSS Early Music Week, pulled by an unsustainable teaching position and later by a partner who had developed a chronic illness, I decided that I could no longer find time to be part of the Tufts Early Music Ensemble, where I had played for five and a half years. Music seemed like a luxury as I sought to survive. I am grateful for Linda Henry’s persistence in emailing me each spring to invite me to Early Music Week and to apply for the NGI scholarship despite my annual insistence that this was not the year for me to attend.
In August, I packed a few bags and headed south on 93 not really knowing what to expect. I had decided on a whim to come to camp just days before the deadline, pretty much sight unseen. I was less concerned about the particulars than indulging a renewed sense of adventure and seizing the opportunity to learn the bagpipes — a lifelong dream.
What I found was one of the most amazing communities of people I had ever met. The first night I plunked myself down at a table not knowing anyone at the table. I had a momentary flashback to that first meal freshman year of college where I discovered you couldn’t really do that. But the feeling was fleeting and unfounded. I was welcomed and invited into their conversation. They told me about camp and about all of the strange traditions and opportunities that would await me. And I found this again and again at every meal, in my ensembles, at tea time, even during the… liberated… night time swimming after the dances. In retrospect, I should not have been so surprised. Even before I got to camp, I received so much support from so many people as I scrambled to find suitable instruments (after Pat von Huene looked at my hand-me-down recorders and deemed them to be worthless or at least worth less than the cost even to evaluate them).
I am grateful to the incredible faculty of the program. While I had played recorder for five years, the immersive nature of Early Music Week allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of early music. In Eric Haas’s recorder class, I learned new techniques to express on recorder the way in which text is set to music. I learned that it was not only where I took breaths, but that each tonguing on the recorder, like the up and down and down bow of a stringed instrument, could create a long or short stress thereby mimicking the natural stresses of language. In my bagpipe class, Joan Kimball was a patient and supportive teacher who managed to get all of us piping even through our many false starts and strange noises. She often said I was a natural and had been a piper in another life. Practicing whenever I found a moment, I found the experience of playing the pipes every bit as wonderful as I had imagined it, and to my delight and surprise so did many of the people who passed my practice sessions. I feel grateful to have had Joan also during loud band, which was much more challenging. Being attracted to the loud and quacky side of Early Music, I was excited to be able to play shawm. Soon I discovered that not only was I the least experienced player in the group, but that much of what I thought I understood about playing shawm was a bit of sham, setting me back just a bit further. And yet, neither Joan nor any of the other players dwelled on those moments when my playing was not quite up to snuff. Over the course of this week, I gained a deeper appreciation of the complexity of early music and its instruments. I had long heard about tempering and tuning and instruments in G and D and 415 and how you could get two viols to play in turn by burning one of them. While I know embarrassingly little about music theory, I do know physics, and so Emily’s talk finally helped make sense of this.
Beyond my classes, I found still more amazing and supportive people. I may have groaned to my tablemates each time the bell rang summoning me to dishwashing duty morbidly intoning to them, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” But not so secretly I looked forward to it. We had the best cheerleaders ever in our kitchen overlords, and through my job I got to know another camper, who after hearing me sing while scraping oatmeal from breakfast bowls kept insisting that I should sing a duet with her on harp, until, as with Linda, I finally acquiesced. She simply would not humor my protestations that I did not know how to sing from music. We worked up a few different settings of “Quant je suis mis au retour,” and then gave a small concert as people were lining up for dinner. And when I insisted that I didn’t waltz, the person who asked me also didn’t care, and so I asked her to lead and she graciously agreed. And when I showed up to the Krumhorn Konclave sans instrument, I was greeted with open arms. In each of these moments, I was simultaneously reminded of the joy I found in this music and how tentative it felt after so much time away.
I will be forever grateful for the many kind and encouraging people who helped me find music again. I spent so much time worrying about being good enough, but I learned that for this community, it’s not about the talent, it’s about the music. As I return to the joys and stresses of the school year, I am buoyed and reassured by a renewed commitment to playing. I plan on joining the Boston Recorder Society monthly meetings, attending a contra dance at least once a month, and as I get settled, meeting up with the Bartletts to learn some more about sight singing. I never want to have to demur when someone offers me an opportunity to sing.
On the penultimate night of camp, I sat on one of the deck chairs looking down on the lake the full moon reflected in the water, a cool breeze rustling the leaves of the trees above, and the dulcet sound of a concertina wafting out of the camphouse. I sat there reading, relaxing, exhaling after the fun fatigue of another joyous music filled day, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by a sense of the familiar. It is a strange experience to be jarred by the feeling of belonging, and yet I sat there with this feeling as though I had been coming to CDSS Early Music Week at Pinewoods for a lifetime. It was as reassuring as it was confusing, but perhaps it was a sense of the future rather than the past. I hope to make many happy returns to this most magical and musical of places.