September 15, 2023 | by Teresa Deskur
If, in the last thirty-five years, you’ve found yourself wandering the third floor of Peabody’s Leakin Hall, there’s a good chance you’ve heard them—lutes, recorders, and viols; harpsichord, harp, and hurdy-gurdy; maybe even cittern, rebec, and crumhorns—all working together in harmony. You’d be forgiven for wondering if you’d somehow fallen back in time to the Medieval, Renaissance, or Baroque eras when these instruments were commonplace, and not the relative rarities they are today. There aren’t too many venues today in contemporary America where you can find such historical instruments, as well as musicians who know how to play them.
For over three decades, Peabody has been a hub for these historically informed performers, providing the resources and opportunities to explore music from these bygone times together. The Historical Performance Department is small but mighty, training students to perform repertoire from as early as 1300 to the late nineteenth century on period instruments. It has accomplished this task with aplomb, sending alumni out into the world to perform with major historical ensembles including Tempesta di Mare, Apollo’s Fire, Hesperus, and the Folger Consort. The continued strength of this department is exemplified by the robust showing of Peabody performers in two performances at Indianapolis Early Music Festival’s opening weekend. Both performances featured JHU alumni making music with groups founded during their time at Peabody, whose melodies have echoed through Leakin Hall on many previous occasions.
Every other year since 1966, the Indianapolis Early Music Festival (IEMF) “present[s] artists from North America and Europe in an unusual way that brings the audience and performers together.” The festival takes place over several weekends during the summer, each featuring two performances that showcase both established and emerging ensembles. The concerts draw in audiences from all over the state and worldwide, with the help of NPR station WFYI’s live-streaming services. This year’s opening weekend featured two ensembles with Peabody ties—the Peabody Consort and Musica Spira. I performed with both groups for the June 23-25 concerts and enjoyed reconnecting with Peabody faculty and alumni in the process. For a glimpse of the music we performed, check out the promotional videos for the concerts below.
In the early music world, it’s a safe bet that you’ll run into a Peabody alum (or two, or twelve!) at any given performance or festival. This meant that the Indiana History Center served not only as that weekend’s concert venue, but also as the gracious host for a quasi-Peabody reunion. The musicians spent the weekend practicing in Basile Theater, both shivering from the AC and aglow with the joy of making music with former classmates and teachers. One benefit of nearly every musician on stage having received Peabody training was that we all had the same musical foundations to draw upon. Rehearsing together was immediately reminiscent of Tuesday nights with Renaissance Ensemble in Leakin Hall Room 414, and chamber coachings with Historical Performance faculty. We had all taken the same theory and performance practice courses and could communicate easily with one another.
Mira Huang (MM ’22, Historical Performance Voice) remarks that at Peabody, she “felt like [she] had the space and comfort to make lasting connections with other students and teachers in the department.” The welcoming environment and strong musical bonds forged within this department help set the tone for a lifetime of strong professional relationships. On a personal note, I felt immediately comfortable working with all my fellow musicians at the festival, even those whom I had not met before, knowing we had this strong shared background of musical preparation from Peabody.
The Peabody Consort opened the weekend with its Friday night performance of A Tale of Two Centuries: Music from England, France, Italy, Scotland, and Spain. The concert explored the development of Renaissance music over several hundred years, featuring members of the consort with solo works from this period, as well as rousing group numbers. On Sunday afternoon, Musica Spira presented its program An Extraordinary Innovation, celebrating the virtuosic music written for trios of soprano singers at the Italian court of the Duke of Ferrara. Complete with insightful program notes about the fascinating history of the concerto delle donne (more information here), Musica Spira deftly showcased the vocal talents of its three sopranos. Both groups enjoyed engaging with audience members during pre-concert chats and a reception following the performances.
This successful opening weekend at IEMF is a great example of how Peabody prepares its early music students for life and work after graduation. “Peabody’s Historical Performance Department provided the essential practical training and professional connections to help me build my performing career,” writes Musica Spira co-director Dr. Paula Maust (MM ’16, DMA ’19, Harpsichord). Maust continues, “my professors recommended me for important professional engagements, thereby helping me to begin forming relationships with conductors who continue to hire me each season.” These connections with performers, conductors, and artistic administrators are invaluable, and set Peabody students up to make a name for themselves as emerging artists. Musica Spira co-director Grace Srinivasan (MM ’16, Voice) echoes this idea, noting, “as I look back on the professional opportunities I have had in the years since graduating, I can trace most of them back to the colleagues and friends I made through the department.” Though students may only spend two, three, or four years with the Peabody Historical Performance Department, the knowledge and network it provides lasts a lifetime.
Professional-quality recordings of the Peabody Consort and Musica Spira at IEMF (as well as concerts from the other two weekends) are available for purchase at http://www.iemusic.org/live-streaming.
Teresa Deskur is a graduate of Peabody's horn, music education, and historical performance departments. She currently directs jazz and concert bands at Owego Middle School, and is a freelance early wind musician.