The Early Music Festival: From England to America

The 2014 Early Music Festival promises to be a lively one. With instruments, scores, and performances of an 18th-century vintage, you’ll be surrounded by the sounds of another century. Enjoy this musical preview featuring Jane Hanson and Michael Monaco from the opera “Thomas and Sally.”

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Transcript

Untitled Document Harmony Hunter: Hi, welcome to the podcast. I’m Harmony Hunter. One of the events we look forward to all year at Colonial Williamsburg is the Early Music Festival. This year’s theme is “From England to America: Music, Musicians and Musical Events in Colonial Virginia.”
This year from September 23-26, you’ll enjoy four days of performances including a concert featuring rare instruments, a performance of the comedic opera “Thomas and Sally” and programs of favorite selections of our first Commander in Chief. And you can learn more about all of these programs at History.org or Colonial Williamsburg.com. Our guest today is Jane Hanson. Thank you for being here today, Jane.
Jane Hanson: Thank you Harmony.
Harmony: Tell us about your part in the music program.
Jane: Well, I am the Supervisor of Music and Dance and along with our Manager, Lance Pedigo, we’ve put together the Early Music Festival for this year. So it’s been a privilege to see it all come together. And as we get into the last few weeks put the final details into the production.
Harmony: And you’re no stranger to the podcast either. We’ve had the privilege of having you on this show to sing and perform for us before; an amazing voice that our guests get to hear in Colonial Williamsburg as well, so we’re glad to have you back. Well, tell us a little bit more about the Early Music Festival. Why it was conceived, what it’s about?
Jane: The festival is a way to sort of focus in on music of this period. Throughout the year we do have the resident performing ensemble, which I am a part of. The Governor's Musick has been part of life here in Colonial Williamsburg for well over 20, 25, 30 years as a regular, everyday part of the interpretation of music here at Colonial Williamsburg.
But because we normally just perform once a week or twice a week, this gives our guests a chance to really focus in on music over a four-day period. So that’s one of the reasons we really thought we wanted to do this. And it also gives us a chance to bring in guest performers as well.
Harmony: So tell us a little bit about this year’s theme, this year’s focus. What are you trying to really showcase?
Jane: I think with this year’s theme, the idea was to take events and musicians and even music that we can document here in colonial Virginia particularly and focus in on these particular events. We know there were concerts given in 18th-century Virginia. We know of various musicians who even lived here in town for a period of time and some of the music they owned. We know a little bit about what was going on musically in Jamestown and we’re going to bring that in this year as well. And of course, we have not only existing playbills of some of the plays, but we know who some of the founding fathers actually some of the plays they attended while they were here in Williamsburg. So that’s been fun to put all that together.
Harmony: So you are really hearing the same sounds that would have been in the air had you been here 300-400 years ago.
Jane: That’s right, that’s right.
Harmony: So what are some of the special programs, some of the highlights of this year’s Early Music Festival?
Jane: Well you mentioned some of them. We’re bringing back again “From the Collection,” which is the program where we focus in on instruments that belong in the Colonial Williamsburg collection; original instruments, but are not always played throughout the year. So we have this once-a-year period where we bring these instruments back. That program, this year, we’re also going to put together with an inventory that we own that belonged to a music teacher who was here in the 1750s and draw music from that. So it will be fun to put original instruments together with pieces we know were owned here.
Also, of course we have the theatrical piece, “Thomas and Sally,” which we’ll be doing a little piece from later on. But we know this play was done here in the 18th century, we know Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both were at the first performance when it was done here. It is a real look at an 18th century theatrical experience. Our guests are going to have a chance to sit and see the musicians in the pit, see the full costumes and the set. So it’s going to be a real special event.
Also our two guest performers are going to be joining us for that performance as well as our big Friday night gala Palace concert. We have a baroque oboist whose name is William Tower who will be joining us as well as a natural horn player, Paul Hopkins. And they’ll be playing in the orchestra for “Thomas and Sally” and then joining us at the Palace on Friday night.
The last night of the event always ends not only with a concert but with a reception. And that allows us to mix and mingle with all our guests and for them to have a chance to, in a more relaxed atmosphere, ask questions and really sort of sum up the week. We’ve had a lot of great feedback at those little receptions that happen at the end of the four days. Each event is ticketed individually so they can choose to go to all or just a select number of events.
Harmony: This might not be the most dignified metaphor, but as I’m hearing you talk about this, it makes me think it’s almost like time travel. What a special experience to be able to sit in the theater, to hear the sounds, to hear the performance that you know is just as much like as it would have been when George Washington himself sat there.
Jane: It allows you to really immerse yourself emotionally in the 18th century. You’re drawn in by what you hear. You’re drawn in by what you see and your emotions are drawn in, too, by the music itself. Music is an emotional expression and so it really blossoms. I think it allows the guests to really see a full picture of the experience of the time.
In the 18th century, music was a much more of a participatory activity for our forefathers. They didn’t have the professional music to draw upon that we have today. So, though we can’t often allow them to perform, we have our guests sing with us sometimes to add that element to their experience as well. I think it helps them to experience what people wanted then.
People wanted the same things then as we want now, and they express that in their music. They express their joys, their sorrows, their humor, their, even their political leanings, their faith, all in their music. So I think it helps the 21st century guest come alongside the 18th century individual.
Harmony: And there’s something so special about music, too, because you’ve got antique music, you’ve got antique instruments, but it’s new, every time you perform it it’s new. It comes to life in a way that so many other artifacts of the past can’t. And I think that’s something that’s so special about the music program here at Colonial Williamsburg.
Jane: Yes, I’ve often said that I think music helps to make a house come alive. Like when we’re in a space, it adds to that element that you’re seeing the furnishings, you’re hearing the interpretation. But with music, more of you is being drawn to the space by hearing that sound.
Do you know people often tell me “Oh, this makes the house come alive.” To hear a harpsichord, how often are you going to hear that in 21st century life? To hear a wooden flute or a violin with gut strings. These sounds are sounds that identify a time period, if you will. And so I think that’s one of the things we feel very strongly about as being a musical presence in the Historic Area.
Harmony: Well this is a wonderful segue into the next segment of the show, because you’re going to share a musical performance with us. Tell us what you’re going to share, why you’ve chosen it and who’s going to be accompanying you?
Jane: Well, Michael Monaco, who is our keyboard specialist and is also going to be heading up the little orchestra for “Thomas and Sally.” We’re going to be singing a duet from the play “Thomas and Sally” by Thomas Arne.
As we mentioned, this play was performed here in Williamsburg, June 20, 1770. So in this particular song we have the Squire talking about how he comes upon Sally, who is a milkmaid, and he’s trying to draw her into the grove where the nightingale sings. Now, apparently to an 18th-century audience, this was a very common theme. Nightingales tend to be in shady places, secluded places. So for a man to want to draw a woman to hear where a nightingale sings is, you know, people would get that. They would know what it was talking about. But Sally keeps responding, “No, I want to go where I hear the lark because larks are in open sunny places.” So it’s humorous today but it probably had deeper meaning to somebody hearing it in the 18th century.
Harmony: Well that’s wonderful. I can’t wait to hear it.
Jane: So Michael will be playing the harpsichord and we’ll be doing this duet together.

AIR XII
‘Squire, Sally

‘Squire
Well met, pretty maid, nay don’t be afraid
I mean you no mischief, I vow.
Pshaw! What is’t you ail, come give me your pail
And I’ll carry it up to your cow.

Sally
Pray let it alone, I’ve hands of my own
Nor need yours to help me forbear.
How can you persist? I won’t, sir, be kissed
Nor teaz’d---thus go trifle elsewhere!

‘Squire
In yon lonely grove I saw an alcove,
All round the sweet violet springs;
And there was a thrush hard by in a bush.
‘Twould charm you to hear how he sings.

Sally
But hark!  Prithee hark! Look yonder’s a lark!
It warbles and pleases me so.
To hear the soft tale of the sweet nightingale
O would not be tempted to go.

Harmony: Jane, thank you so much for being our guest today, and Michael, thank you for joining us for the performance. To learn more about the Early Music Festival, you can visit history.org or Colonial Williamsburg.com to find out more about tickets and the programs that will be available.