You’re in it for the music

Where did I hear or read that, that you need at least two out of three in order to make the job. And these three would be: quality, fun, and money. Anyway, even if I know my colleagues must be tired of this already, I keep quoting this a lot, and a second thought immediately comes along: “Most of the times, it’s just one”. Or, lately, something like “two halfs, or one and a half”. Something like that. Now, what is the work of a standard early music performer in Germany? You have your own projects if you got the ideas, the ambition and the energy, and a bit of luck. That’s great, it gives you two out of three, even all three, and it can make you happy or at least high. You got to get high, in order to cope with all the extra load which comes inevitably together with your activity as a performing musician: travelling a lot, sleeping way too little, rehearsing from eight to twelve hours a day, sometimes having to cope with inconvenient lodgings and lack of privacy. You can also cope with real discomfort, provided by inconsiderate concert hosts, conductors, colleagues or fans and poor concert locations. Such things are not often the case, but often enough to be mentioned. If you don’t get high, you can’t cope with any of this in the long run. Then, however, apart from performing as a soloist or with some great projects that are the fruits of your own mind and soul, or of some other colleagues you love to work with, there are the other jobs an early music performer in Germany does, and they are the majority. These are the gigs: one Christmas Oratorio here, one St Matthew Passion there, performed by freelancers just like yourself, some you know, some you don’t, under the direction of a first grade church musician, together with his choir and some hired vocal soloists. These gigs are our daily (or rather weekly, or monthly) bread. This is what feeds us and pays our bills. Providing that these gigs sometimes prove to be fun, challenging and sophisticated, in most cases you find yourself sitting on that chair of yours and trying to get high, on the music you actually love, but which is not happening the way you need it. You ask yourself if you can cope with it. How different is this music allowed to be, in order to still get you high? The porn scene you are forced to watch now, how different is it from the good sex adventures and romance in real life you have experienced and which you want to recall, in order to get high? How well are you able to accomodate with what’s going on? Can you still get high while watching that porn? Is anything going to happen in order to at least “push the button”? Well, you’re trying hard. Maybe it’s up to you to make that porn go away and turn it into real passion. And it’s exhausting, as seconds pass by in slow-motion. Your mind is at the music you play, while trying to get high, but one other thought is there as well: “It will be over soon”. In the concert, all musicians play better. We try to get high, and sometimes we can, but it required some energy. Then we think about getting to the station in time so that we can get the last train home, because no matter what waits for us there, it is better than the porn we left behind in that concert hall.
I wondered for so long if I were the only one who feels it this way – quite pretentious of me, I admit. Now I know better, there are many of us.
Last year one dear colleague announced his early retirement from the concert scene, I know of many who seriously consider quitting as well. Others got seriously ill. I may be a bit too forward to connect all these things, after all, I do not take the liberty to talk for others and some of them might, in good faith, not agree with me. It is for sure, in the world of the musical scene – very undemocratic as I see it – an unwise move to talk freely about such things. And yet I wish we did, to take into consideration that we may disagree, and eventually to find advice and solutions. I know I am not the only one who feels porn when it’s supposed to be passion, I cannot be.

Three Sides Of Me

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” Ansel Adams

Thank you, Leif Marcus, for the time, the distance, the attention, for the way you choose your moments to capture the light and the moments which pass by so quickly. For the talks we had and the cigarettes we smoked together on that sunny afternoon.
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_MG_7455photos © Leif Marcus

To think of harpsichords as lovers

This idea came to me – consciously, at least – not long ago, one stormy and pitch-dark evening while practising in a church for next-day’s big concert featuring Gesualdo Consort in Leer/East Frisia. Huge rain drops whipping the streets of this otherwise cosy nordic German town made an almost deafening noise and it was cold outside – not at all an unsuitable atmosphere to practice my Sweelinck. The solid, spacious church was friendly enough with just a few indecisive ghosts wandering around, I felt fine. Only my first „date“ with the instrument did not go the way I hoped. This harpsichord would not always do what I wanted, not immediately, or not the way I expected, leaving me a bit worried and tense. At that moment I remember thinking „it’s like a much older boyfriend with rusty habbits a half-open heart“ and that made me sad. Soon my mind became full of the pictures of some other significant harpsichords from my history, and they were a merry gathering wearing their human masks, as if they thought that was fun. And because music making and love making are so much alike – AND because one cannot approach a harpsichord properly except with tenderness, and because… because… who doesn’t “humanize” their instruments anyway? – I realized that seing harpsichords as lovers is one of the most natural things in the world. And if not a lover, then a friend – or an enemy, or a cold bastard at worst. For sure, a harpsichord, for me, is always a „he“. And where there are many harpsichords, or lovers, they fall into categories. Here the inspiring kind, which brings to light some hidden sparkling jewels in the music you’ve been playing for weeks, months or years, here’s the comforting kind which replies with grace to your imperfections, here’s the trustworthy kind you can rely on because it never changes, and here’s “the perfect lover”. Mine is the Neuchatel-Ruckers (1623/1745) who carried me on his golden arms to places I did not know before, leaving me completely changed, reborn! There’s also, of course, the reliable trophy „husband“ at home (like my double-manual French after Hemsch). Then there’s also the deceiving kind, the one which completely changes (in the concert), after he promised you not to (during the rehearsal), or the unsetteled, whiny wimp who needs constant tuning, adjusting, permanent assistance for a poor result in return and at last, there’s “the enemy”, the rude kind who declares war the very moment you lay your fingers on. Many of those leaving you with a bitter taste and the wish never to see them again.

The harpsichord from Leer proved itself to be an intriguing and consistent companion after all. During the concert he stayed with me and even allowed me here and then to sense his beating heart under my hands. Soon I’ll be seeing him again. I expect he will need to be reconquered from scratch but I’ll glady try.

Dowland. Willoughby. Heringman.

Last weekend I had the pleasure to meet “the best lutenist of all times” – (I know he’s blushing now for real) the way he is called by many, including myself. People are careless with such superlatives (or maybe just brave?) so that is why I try not to use them but the truth is, I really think that…well…! I do! What to do about that? Jacob Heringman’s musicianship is such a sensitive, honest, wise and technically brilliant one, that I simply feel helpless trying to describe it.

The first time I got to know his playing must be about two years ago when I was visiting friends, together with Jonas, having dinner in their kitchen. Our friends – lute maker Marcus Wesche together with his life partner, poet and playwright Schirin Nowrousian – were feeding us not only delicious Indian food but also different musical bites (predominantly lute recordings) from their huge collection, played on the little stereo on the shelf. After a while I lost track among all these recordings: good, bad, funny, boring… but at some point I noticed that the music was “extracting” me from the actual time and space with its long but tender arms. I could “escape” briefly now and then, only to find myself back in its warm and chrystal-clear waters again before I knew it. Then I remember saying: “This is the most beautiful lute playing I have heard in my life” and everyone at the table was nodding. And then I heard the name Jacob Heringman for the first time.

To make a long story short, last weekend Jacob and I finally met and started playing together. What should I say, well, I think that is actually what music is about. Meeting Jacob has definitely closed some doors for good.

We had two days to work on our “Mr. Dowland’s Midnight” project together. This project is now ready. During our rehearsals we shot some videos, here they are: Sir Henry Umptons Funerall, Mr. Dowland’s Midnight and My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home.