New Pennsic Class: My Guitar’s Persona Is a Lute

So I’m introducing a new class at Pennsic this year, and I’ve just submitted it. My intention is to teach it twice, during Peace Week and War Week (or possibly Middle Weekend, which in my experience can produce some great turnout). Here’s my writeup:

How do you play authentic lute music if your instrument is a modern guitar? The good news is, the instruments are very closely related. Learn how to tune and play your guitar as if it were a lute, how to interpret lute tablature, how to find authentic period composers, songs, and arrangements. The skills are highly transferrable, and while lute music has a different feel and sound, the rewards for your investment of time and effort are great. This is a one-hour lecture class, so you are welcome to bring your guitar to experiment on, but this is not a music lesson so it is not required.

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7 thoughts on “New Pennsic Class: My Guitar’s Persona Is a Lute

  1. What I don’t understand, and I’ve been following your blog for awhile, is why you don’t get a real lute and play it instead of a modern guitar?

    I’ve played Renaissance lute for 50 years now, since I was 16. It is much more rewarding to play for things such as my repertoire of Elizabethan lute songs, which I know you also like, than a modern guitar.

    I considered offering a similar class to the one you are proposing to teach at Pennsic, because I refuse to subject my Hiro Watanabe lute to camping conditions, but then I thought better of the whole thing. But if you’d like any advice on your class, I’d be happy to offer mine. I’ve taught Renaissance lute to students for 30 years now. Most of them did/do not own lutes. I have a standard, published text and curricula that I use.

    I hope to hear from you! My own WordPress blog is at timitownsend51.me. Check out my post entitled “My Life As A Musician,” as well as one called “Kingdom 12th Night 2017.”

    Ta ta for now and best wishes!

    Y.I.S.,
    Lady Unnr Olafsdottir
    Marche of Tirnewydd
    Barony of Middle Marches
    Midrealm Kingdom
    mka Timi

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    • Hi Unnr,

      So, I do have a “real” lute, a 7-course Elizabethan lute. I got it a year and a half ago. It’s lovely, but there are some reasons I’m not playing it currently. The main reason is that it has a slight issue with the bridge where the middle pair of strings don’t slide properly, so it’s really difficult to tune them, and if I leave the lute without playing it for a few weeks, those strings snap. Until I get a little machining done to fix this problem, I’m not looking to have to keep replacing the strings, and it’s not a top priority for me.

      Because, contra your experience, I find the thing quite challenging to play. A classic lute is hard to keep in tune, and holding down both strings from a course with one finger is not trivial, and the width of the neck takes considerable getting used to. I intend to learn to play it, but I’m not a natural guitarist to begin with, so just learning to play it on a lute backed guitar is quite challenging enough for me.

      I am at pains to choose instruments that don’t look like a modern guitar. And for the moment, my lute guitar produces beautiful sound, stays in tune, and feels more than authentic enough for my purposes.

      None of this addresses the question of why I’m offering a class called “My Guitar’s Persona Is a Lute,” which is not for my benefit, but for the benefit of other SCA musicians. My objective is to lower the barriers to playing authentic period music, not to discourage others from trying their hand at it until they get a “real” instrument. Many people can’t afford that sort of investment, and if you read my blog regularly, I imagine you’ve figured out that my goal is always to encourage people to perform and find bliss in it first, and work on growing in their art and authenticity as they grow more comfortable. I make no apologies for that, since that to me is the epitome of what I love best about the SCA. People encounter too many barriers to trying out things and finding what brings them joy in my experience, I’m not interested in adding weight to that.

      I’m happy to see your class notes if you wish to share them, though I’m pretty confident that I can fill an informative hour-long class with what I’ve learned to this point.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Y.I.S.,
      Drake

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      • Hi Drake!

        I’m afraid that my comment offended you, which was not at all my intention. I had composed in m head a much more diplomatic comment that didn’t make it to the keyboard, and instead blurted out the awkward one that confronted you and perhaps disconcerted you, as well.

        I was simply curious, because it seemed as though you did not have a lute, although you love the repertoire, and I wondered why you hadn’t made the investment. I’m afraid that I haven’t followed your blog for long enough or consistently enough, to know what is going on with you.

        And of course,”curiosity killed the cat.” I hope that my own curiosity hasn’t killed what could be a musical friendship between us here in the blogosphere and also at Pennsic this summer….

        Now, after your response above, I know that you do indeed have a lute, and one that is even more challenging than Renaissance lutes normally are: which is quite challenging! I would never underestimate the difficulty of playing the Renaissance lute. The only thing harder in the category of fretted string insturments, in my estimation, is the Baroque lute, with its monstrous number of strings (although at least many of them are not fingered in the left hand) and its reentrant tuning.

        I decided not to offer at Pennsic basically the same class that you are going to offer, except in a two-hour format, with an hour of background, history, tablature-reading, tuning, etc, and then an hour of actual practice, hopefully including singers too.

        The reason I decided not to offer the class was simply practical. I’m an older woman, I haven’t camped in 15 years, this will be my first Pennsic, I’m bringing my harp and psaltery and travel guitar, as well as all the books and materials for my two classes on characters from the Icelandic family sagas, my main area of interest in both the SCA and in academe. There would just be too much stuff to haul around in my tiny Honda Fit if I were also to bring along my lute/guitar-teaching materials.

        But I laud your intention to give the class, and your reasons behind it, which were my own: that is, to popularize this gorgeous repertoire and make it more accessible to the instrumentalists and singers of today.

        Let me dig around in my teaching materials to see if I have anything that might assist you. As you say, I’m quite sure that you can more than adequately fill an hour with your knowledge of the repertoire and how to convert it to be playable on a modern guitar. (Speaking of the class I was thinking of offering, I was also going to invite cittern players: have you considered that as well?).

        By the way, I originally encountered your blog through the Reader, which directed me to one of your posts about your composition of music and lyrics for a polyphonic lute song (in the style of Dowland, I believe), with an arrangement for several voices. I watched the video of the performance and looked at your manuscript. I was very favorably impressed with the entire endeavor!

        But for some reason either WordPress itself, or else your blog settings, or the Reader, would not let me comment. So here is my very belated comment. 🙂 Then it took quite awhile for me to actually locate your blog. Hence the reason that I have not read as many of your posts as I think your blog and your musical efforts deserve. I am very interested in your musical work and your enthusiasm to share it with others and to kindle a similar enthusiasm in them.

        Y.I.S.
        Unnr/Timi

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      • Thanks for the reply. I’m sorry I wasn’t more gracious in my response. I’m perfectly okay with legitimate curiosity, and this medium of communication often doesn’t get our best intentions across. Consider it bygones. I look forward to further conversations.

        Y.I.S.
        Drake

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  2. Thanks, Drake! Bygones have hereby been considered, hopefully on both our parts.

    Meanwhile, I saw the listing for your class in The Thing. It looks great! I hope you won’t mind if I sit in if my schedule permits? I promise not to put in my two cents’ worth, because that would be rude indeed!

    Have you been to Pennsic before? This coming August will be my first time. Indeed I only joined the SCA in September 2016. My own classes at Pennsic are back to back on Monday the 6th. They are probably not of much interest to you, being fairly narrowly focused on the Icelandic family sagas. I teach a lot of Viking studies, from the Rus’ to Constantinople to Scandinavia and Iceland and Greenland and North America. I focus on studies of women. These areas of interest arise from my life as an academic.

    Right now, though, I’m continuing my reading and research on William Marshal of 12th and 13th C. England. I became intrigued by him through a class at Ohio State in the MedRen Studies Center called Gothic Paris:1100-1300, which kept swirling around Eleanor of Aquitaine, who has always interested me.

    In preparing to teach about her, though, I discovered that I was even more drawn to the life of the fourth son of a minor English nobleman who rose to an Earldom and the Regency of England, along the way being dubbed The Greatest Knight and The Flower of Chivalry. I hope to have a class ready to teach about him in my Barony by the fall and perhaps at Pennsic in 2019.

    Now I must cease running off at the keyboard, to which I am wont, as you have seen, because I have to get ready to go to another Ohio city for a Hootenanny! What a delightful throwback, although not as far back as our favored Elizabethan era of music. 🙂

    Are you a member of the Lute Society of America? If not, you might well want to join. I think you would be very interested in its written output and of course the Summer Seminars.

    Take care and make much lovely music!

    Y.I.S.
    Unnr/Timi

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