by Gus Denhard, March 8, 2021
Deep Roots, New Branches, Early Music Seattle’s spring 2021 interactive series, invites musicians and audiences to explore the awe-inspiring tangles that shape what we call “early music,” and follow its many offshoots. On-going virtual presentations and dialogues will guide participants through a musical forest where newer genres shoot up like seedlings from the nurse logs of historic tradition.
“Yeah, we’ll get a little lost, but it’s on purpose,” says lead presenter Antonio M. Gómez, who suggests that the woods are a perfect metaphor for an exploration that will touch not only on medieval and renaissance Europe, but traverse the Silk Road during the Golden Age of Islam, endure the Middle Passage from West Africa, and find its footing in the multiracial realities of the Americas.
“Our musical heritage is very much like a forest: unorganized, diverse and a little wild. There’s symbiosis, interdependency, competition and both new, and ancient species co-existing. That sense of heterogeneity is something we have overlooked too often.”
The virtual series launches on March 10 with Saffron & Honey: Muslims, Jews and Christians in Medieval Spain, exploring a time of both coexistence and conflict when Al-Andalus stood as an exception to the cultural rigidity surrounding it – as well as a font of innovation in the arts and sciences.
Voices of Longing: Medieval Troubadours of Spain and France continues the story on March 31, exploring how cultural currents continued to churn as the conceits and precise beauty of Arabic poetry helped shape both a rebirth of Hebrew letters among the Sephardim and the afflictions of love voiced by emergent poets of Western Europe.
Mapping Latino Musical Migrations moves the program across the Atlantic on April 14, where the encounter of the “Old World” with First Nations, coupled with horrific trafficking of Africans generated new artistic expression born of tragedy, resilience and innovation.
Indomitable Spirit: Music of the African Diaspora in the Americas (May 12) takes a deeper look at the African roots of American music – from spirituals, jazz and blues, to Afro-Peruvian landó, Mexican son jarocho and Brazilian samba. Tracing a story of music as resistance that ultimately shaped cultural meaning for all peoples across the hemisphere and beyond.
The series concludes on June 9 with Arte & Justicia in Latinoamérica, which examines the intersection between artistic expression and social change, both in Latin America and among U.S. Latinos. Examining the ways in which the arts formally and informally challenge power structures.
Several of the presentations are programs Gómez developed for Humanities Washington and Tacoma Arts Live, where he is Associate Director of Education, or as part of his work on exhibitions and public media projects. For this series he has reshaped them to focus on the assertion that “early music” is better framed as “early musics.”
“There are so many reasons to strive for equity and multiple perspectives in early music. Of course, we do this as a matter of justice, but it is also necessary as a matter of accuracy. Culturally, early music is much more multi-faceted than it is monolithic. It tells the stories of how different peoples encountered each other and how each one was forever changed.”
The series will include presentations of music, video, maps, literature and more. Tony will be joined by colleagues whose stories reach across multiple continents, and will be in conversation with participants who can watch and comment via Zoom (at earlymusicseattle.org) or through Facebook Live.
“I can’t wait to take this journey with friends new and old,” says the educator and musician who came to early music by way pursuing his own roots in Latin American and the Mediterranean. “One minute you’re a kid playing ska in a garage band; the next minute you’re a mid-career crossover musician studying shabia with a housekeeper at a riad in Fez, trying to understand the roots of the Cantigas de Santa Maria. That’s why I love early music. It transports you.”