By Alyssa Gautieri
Contemporary music performer and adjunct professor at the College Kivie Cahn-Lipman closed his eyes as his fingers moved rhythmically across the strings of his rare gamba, his body rocking to the tone of the music. The gamba, similar to the violin, was popular in the 18th century. Cahn-Lipman performed, focused and precise, as students filled Mayo Concert Hall on Friday, Feb. 5, to view the Brown Bag series presentation “Welcome to the Renaissance.”
A different instrument called the lirone that Cahn-Lipman brought on stage was so rare that he said “there was a time that no one knew how to play it.”
One British woman taught herself. She then taught five people and those five people taught five more. “And that is everyone that knows how to play,” Cahn-Lipman said jokingly. Popular from 1550 to 1650, this instrument is now nearly unheard of.
Cahn-Lipman focuses on the forgotten music of composer Giovanni Valentini. While Valentini once had a very important career in the 16th century, “it is almost entirely forgot(ten) about,” Cahn-Lipman said.
While a lot of Valentini’s music has sat in manuscripts for centuries, it is finally starting to become digitized.
“I focus on finding these forgotten gems,” he said.
He said it excites him to record and perform these manuscripts for the first time in hundreds of years.
“I was always into things that were new,” Cahn-Lipman said. In college he “felt like (he) couldn’t say anything new with (popular music) that hadn’t already been said.” It was in college that his interest in forgotten contemporary music grew.
Cahn-Lipman wanted to be able to say something a little different about music and it was once he began to record the music of Valentini that it felt to him like his work had real value behind it, aside from the fact that he was creating beautiful music.
Cahn-Lipman and his contemporary music group, ACRONYM, recreate what music may have sounded like at the time when it was initially created, which sometimes includes recreating the instrument themselves. Instruments have evolved since the 16th and 17th centuries, but the group aims to use instruments closest to the ones composers like Valentini would have used.
According to Cahn-Lipman, over the last 50 years, contemporary music has almost come full circle. That means modern contemporary music now shares more in common with 17th century music than it does with music from the 19th and 20th centuries. This serves as all the more reason for Cahn-Lipman’s revival of 17th century music.
Contemporary music audiences appeal to “pretty much anyone,” according to Cahn-Lipman. There are two entirely different set of audiences — one that comes to see contemporary music performed at concert halls and one that comes to see it at bars and clubs.
According to Cahn-Lipman, at clubs, a lot of young people will be in attendance that don’t necessarily have any musical education or experience. On the contrast, at concert halls, Cahn-Lipman performs for an older, wealthier crowd with a higher academic background.
As a new faculty member at the College, Cahn-Lipman’s students were able to see him in his natural element. Sophomore music education major Zena Merhi was excited to see her cello teacher practice on the instruments she had heard so much about.
“He always talks about his instruments during my lessons and seeing them and seeing how they work in person was really interesting,” Merhi said. “I’m excited to see him perform on Sunday.”
On Sunday, Feb. 14, there will be three groups: Les Canards, Chantants (translated as “The Singing Ducks”) and Cahn-Lipman’s group, ACRONYM.
“These groups will actually come together to perform some of Valentini’s different sonatas,” the College’s Center for the Arts Community and Outreach Coordinator Brenda Sewell said. “It will be really interesting to see the performance vocally, as well as instrumentally.”
Cahn-Lipman’s performance will help to kick off the series of eight other musicians the College is hosting throughout the semester, and his invitation to speak about his involvement with historic contemporary music is just a preview of what is to come on the evening of Valentine’s Day.