Go for Baroque: Pearl Pirie recounts Music at Noon concert series

Photo Credit: Michele Gavazza via Flickr

Pearl Pirie is a local arts enthusiast who arrived in Ottawa about 20 years ago for university. She blogs about the city’s literary events — in both word and image.  Her second full-length poetry collection is coming out this fall.

There’s something unavoidable about music coming at us from stores and radios and ads but music up close and performed live is special.

Steeple of the First Baptist Church (via Vince Alongi on Flickr)


Last Thursday, we heard the Music at Noon concerts at First Baptist off of Elgin. For $5, each Thursday in June, you can hear people moonlight their musical expertise. It was Kevin James on Baroque Violin and James Calkin on a Harpsichord.

James Calkin plays a number of series around town on organs. This time he played a harpsichord made for him in 1989 in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. It was recently retuned by a specialist in Montreal.

Having never seen that type of instrument before, it looked surprisingly like a piano with wooden keys but sounded more gentle. The strings are plucked with wood instead of struck. It is a far more pleasant sound than a piano or more pleasant to my ears than even a harp.

The baroque violin is a different instrument than one often used now with a heavier-ended bow and played across the strings going down only, not back and forth.

Harpsichord (via @chris on Flickr


They played Sonata quinta by G.B Fontana (c. 1571-c.1631), Sonata quarta by J.H. Schmelzer (c. 1620-1680), Sonata in G (BWV 1019) by J.S. Bach (1685-1750) and Sonata seconda by Dario Castello (c. 1590-c. 1630). The first I very much enjoyed but the last one was my favorite. There was such a range in it and it sounded so much more lively and fresh than anything I’d heard in music in some time. Both according to the notes were in “stile nuovo” where composers where playing with polyphonic rules, exploring dissonance and improvisations.

Giovanni Battista Fontana was a violin virtuoso and Dario Castello has almost no biographical information recorded for time but although his music which went into reprints and collections showed a primary love for the violin but he worked as a leader of a wind ensemble in Venice. Some things never change. Find your passion but work where work is.

What struck me in the concert was how directly music could communicate. It’s like time travel without the bother of trying to secure a time-space portal.

Photo credit: Paul Clark Images via Flickr

People centuries later could play the same instruments, not know the first language of the composers — if that could be said to be Italian rather than music itself — and communicate directly. How much more would we stumble to try to directly hear the word from the 1600s? The poetry seems more obscured than the sound. Perhaps the music too would have resonated more fiercely with that time than now. I don’t know but what a marvelous town that we can just dip into a bit of history so it lives.

This Thursday the Music at Noon concerts at the First Baptist Church on Elgin near the NAC will be Karen Holms & Damian Rivers-Moore on Organ & French Horn. There is also a Tuesday series starting September 18th with an organist and trumpeter in the St. Luke’s Recital Series. Admission is free will donation.

Thanks, Pearl! Anyone checking out today’s concert? It’s just a short stop from the National War Memorial, where the Royals will be laying a wreath at 2:35 p.m.