We must not let the value of early music be forgotten.
The medieval period, also known as the Middle Ages, is estimated to have lasted from approximately 500 to 1500. During that time there was an abundance of music composed with the express purpose of celebrating the Christian faith, but these songs are also significant in that each one of them furthered the development of Western music.
Countless compositions were written in this thousand-year period, but today they have become largely forgotten in favor of the more modern hymns we sing today. This is certainly not to say that there is little value in the modern hymns, but we also must remember the value in the works that came before us. They are, after all, the songs that developed our traditions to where they are today.
Thankfully, we don’t have to take on the monumental task of preserving medieval musical traditions through performance, because the Cleveland based Early Music group Trobár has already made it their mission. They describe themselves as a small band of voices and instruments dedicated to bringing medieval music to modern audiences.
The group is quite small, with just three members, but each one of them is a talented musician. Allison Monroe, Elena Mullins, and Karin Weston are each trained professional singers in their own right, but for Trobár, they also break out some authentic medieval instruments. Weston plays the harp, Mullins plays ancient percussion instruments, and Monroe impressed us with a wide array of early instrument specializations, including the vielle and the rebec, two predecessors of the modern violin.
The aim of the band is to produce authentic performances in order to give life to music long forgotten, and they accomplish this feat with just three performers. Their concerts educate as well as entertain, as they organize their touring programs by composer, era, and songbook.
Their program “Songbook for a King,” for example, brings together the works contained in the 13th-century Manuscrit du Roi. This 700-year-old songbook features secular and sacred songs in three languages, while their presentation takes you through the history of the manuscript, as well as the beautiful illuminations found within.
Another program, A Room of Her Own, highlights the works of the medieval author Christine de Pizan. Christine was a trailblazer for women’s rights long before the concept became a movement, and she produced many works of poetry and wrote a manual on war and chivalry in her life’s work as a professional writer. She even worked as a political consultant to kings.
While Christine was not a musical composer, this program explores the music that she would have heard and which may have inspired her in her endeavors.
Trobár lists six programs, each with an extensive presentation of history as well as beautiful performances of some of the most elegant, forgotten music. These programs can all be explored during their regular season in Cleveland, their home base of operation. They are also more than willing to travel all across the country to spread awareness of this beautiful and sacred art form.
For more information, or to contact them for a performance, visit their website here.