Sunday, July 25, 2010
Music making and symmetrical countenances
A few days ago I returned from the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute. This is a terrific one-week seminar aimed at helping teachers make history come alive for their students. It was a wonderful opportunity for me, and I had a great time! I saw one hunting horn in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, but other than that the music was all about fiddles, claviers, fifes and drums, and singing. Our second evening we had dinner at Christiana Campbell's Tavern, which I highly recommend -- get the crab cakes! A strolling violinist came into our dining room and played some Colonial-era tunes. I wish I had had the chance to talk with him, but he slipped away quietly. He was a very fine violinist and clearly enjoyed his work. During the week we saw other musicians and talked with the cabinet maker in his shop where the staff make claviers as well as other beautiful furniture.
As part of learning about daily life and the social classes of the 18th century, I learned that women of the time were restricted to learning only the instruments that would not distort their faces and cause them to appear asymmetrical. That means only clavier and harp. Only the gentry would have had the means to learn an instrument other than a folk instrument. It did make me a little sad to think that I would not have been able to play horn if I had lived in the 18th century, but then I probably would have had more than enough to contend with without worrying about musical instruments.
I went to the Chicago Symphony concert at Ravinia last night and as I watched Tzimon Barto play piano I wondered if the expressions on his face would have been considered distortions. He smiled, pursed his lips, sucked his lips in, and seemed to talk to himself as he played two Schumann works for piano and orchestra. Perhaps 18th century women were taught to play while maintaining a calm demeanor. (For me the highlight of the program was the Schumann Conzertstuck with Dale Clevenger, Dan Gingrich, James Smelser, David Griffin and Oto Carrillo as soloists. What an exciting piece and performance!)