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My Tunes: Shira Kammen On "Shuffle"

Shira Kammen.

This hour, we're bringing you another installment of what we call "My Tunes," in which we ask people who work and play in the field of early music this simple question: What are you listening to right now?

This time around we're focusing on multi-instrumentalist Shira Kammen, and we have a wonderfully eclectic variety of music to share with you. Plus we'll feature a recording by the London-based early music ensemble Joglaresa.

We'll start with a traditional Finnish tune; its title translates as "the village awaited the new moon." It was performed by the Scandinavian folk band Värttinä, one such artist that may show up on an mp3 player belonging to Shira Kammen.

Shira Kammen

Here's a question… How do you discover new music? You might listen to a podcast or a program (…like Harmonia!), or may you ask some friends what they've been jamming out to lately.

We're often curious about what music our friends who work in the early music field are listening to. So we occasionally ask someone and share it with you in a segment we like to call "My Tunes." This time around we contacted the multi-faceted musician Shira Kammen.

Shira performs a diverse range of music, with deep roots in early and traditional repertoire. For many years she was a member of several early music groups including Ensemble Alcatraz and Project Ars Nova, and she's worked with Sequentia, Hesperion XX, the Balkan group Kitka, the Newberry Consort, just to name a few.

She currently performs with several groups; she coaches and instructs at multiple universities, workshops and seminars, as well as composes and collaborates. She's also the founder of Class V Music, an ensemble dedicated to providing music on river rafting trips!

With her busy schedule, we knew it would be difficult to pin her down for a conversation about her music listening habits. And it was, but we managed to get the inside scoop about what we might hear "shuffling" on her iPod®.

Let's start with music by this composer…as Shira puts it: "anything Dufay."


Shira Kammen's eclectic range of repertory includes a lot of traditional and "ethnic" musics, and she's interested in new and traditional Scandinavian performers. Väsen is one such group.

The founding members of this Swedish trio, (sometimes quartet), have been playing music together since the 1980s. They're veterans in the Swedish folk music world, touring extensively all over the globe, and they have 15 albums under their belts. Let's hear music from the most recent, Mindset, a 2013 release of new works, followed by a traditional piece from their 2003 recording entitled Trio.

The Unicorn, the Gorgon & the Manticore

Welcome back. We've set early music performer Shira Kammen's mp3 player on the "shuffle" setting this hour. So far, we've heard music by Dufay and some traditional Scandinavian tunes, and now for another eclectic turn.

Shira mixes some "later" works into her digital playlists, like contemporary Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti's madrigal fable The Unicorn, the Gorgon & the Manticore.

Menotti modeled this dramatic work a madrigal comedy from the late renaissance-most likely Orazio Vecchi's L'Amfiparnaso. It consists of an introduction and twelve madrigals with instrumental interludes performed by a chorus, nine instruments, and ten dancers, and it premiered in 1956 to much fanfare.

The Unicorn, the Gorgon & the Manticore tells the story of a reclusive poet who keeps as pets these legendary creatures, which represent different stages in the poet's life. The narrative is a scathing critique of bourgeois society.

Let's hear the first madrigal from Menotti's work. For the sake of contrast, we'll follow it by playing Act 1 of Vecchi's L'Amfiparnaso (or Twin Peaks of Parnassus).

Joglaresa's Roses & Nuns

We continue to explore what early music multi-instrumentalist Shira Kammen's been listening to in our featured recording. The 2014 CD Nuns & Roses is by a group found in Shira's playlist.

Joglaresa is an early music ensemble…with a twist of "historically informed electro-medieval performance practice." By the way, "Joglaresa" was a medieval Spanish word for a professional singing girl in Arab-ruled Andalusia.

The recording has the subtitle: Medieval Songs of Sin & Subversion and contains pieces that were born out the social tension of the late-Middle Ages between the haves and the have-nots, so to speak, or the "saints" and the "sinners." Many works are obvious in their satire, either being scathing social commentaries in and of themselves, or by employing the technique of setting new words to popular melodies (also termed contrafactum).

Let's hear a track-a piece from the 14th-century French allegorical poem Roman de Fauvel that rails against the corruption in the church and state. Following that, we'll hear a piece that re-purposes a melody by the medieval German lyric poet Walther von der Vogelweide. The original words to the popular melody celebrate the Crusades, but here they are replaced with lyrics mocking military adventurism.

(There's a fun music video of this track on You Tube, if you're interested.)

We'll conclude with a beautiful track in which the Virgin Mary turns the tables on all of these subversive contrafacta. This piece from the Cantigas de Santa Maria glorifies Mary, yet it uses musical elements from an adulterous love song by the troubadour Cadenet.

Break and theme music

:30, Llibre Vermell De Montserrat, S. XIV, Ensemble Micrologus & Capella De Música De Santa Maria Del Mar, Discant 2005, Tr. 7 Stella Splendens - Ad Trepudium Rotundum (excerpt of 10:34)

:60, Nuns & Roses: Medieval Songs of Sin and Subversion, (Historically informed electro-medieval performance practice), Joglaresa / Belinda Sykes, Jogaresa JOG005 2013, Anonymous, Tr. 4: Lay of the Shepherdess (Li lai de las pastourelle) (excerpt of 3:11)

:30, Nuns & Roses: Medieval Songs of Sin and Subversion, (Historically informed electro-medieval performance practice), Joglaresa / Belinda Sykes, Jogaresa JOG005 2013, Tr. 5: Bella Doman (excerpt of 3:54)

Theme:Â Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer and producer for this edition of Harmonia is LuAnn Johnson.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at harmonia early music dot org.

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