baroque music, Uncategorized

Down, but not out!

Left to right: Maria Caswell, Gwyneth Davis, Judiyaba, Ruth Cunningham, Phebe Craig

Well! We never made it to hell, the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition, or Galway! We did, however, have wonderful audiences at Iota Press, the Throckmorton Theater, and the Westhaven Center for the Arts. I am happy to report that the Galway Early Music Festival has invited us for 2021, so we do have that to look forward to. Thank you, GEMF!

We remain safe in our homes, and trust that you are all as well. The music industry does not know what our future holds. The loss of our ability to play for live audiences is a gut punch, not to mention not being able to play in the same room together. And we watch with great sadness as the virus moves through our communities.

In the meantime, those of us that teach are doing virtual lessons. You can study violin or viola with Maria, Gamba or cello with Judiyaba and Gwyneth, and harpsichord or theory with Phebe (if she is not too crazy trying to teach her university courses online). Contact us through this web page. In addition, Ruth Cunningham, a sound healing practitioner, can teach the following: using voice as tool for meditation and relaxation, improvisation, singing poems/prayers, voice lessons specializing in chant, and recorder and baroque flute. Go to to contact her. Ruth has been posting lovely improvisations on prayers, hymns and poems on her Facebook page.

Best wishes to all of you! We are all in this together, and we look forward to playing for you once again when it is safe!

baroque music, Road to Hell

Galway Early Music Festival

Here is the whole ABC with Ruth Cunningham, relaxing on the porch at our February “rehearsal camp” in Sonoma County. Ruth flew in from New York City to spend a couple of days of intensive preparation for our trip to the Galway Early Music Festival.

We are very excited to be returning to Galway for the festival. Charlie Byrne’s Books! Sheridan’s Cheese! And a dynamite line up of events at the festival.

Galway Early Music ( is a not-for-profit voluntary arts organization in Galway, Ireland. They were founded in 1996 with the goal of promoting both Irish and European music of the 12th-17th centuries. The flagship production of Galway Early Music is the festival at the end of May. The festival incorporates workshops, an instrument maker exhibition, theater aimed at children, and main stage events with artists such as Jordi Savall, Andrew Lawrence King, Red Priest, Sequentia, and many other wonderful ensembles. They highlight Irish performers such as Siobhan Armstrong, Malcom Proud, Malachy Robinson and others.

Galway itself is a city bursting with the arts in all forms. Among other things there is a robust busking scene and several outstanding theater companies, such as the Druid and Moonfish Theatre. This year it is a European Capital of Culture with events happening all year. And Ireland now has The Irish Youth Baroque Orchestra in addition to many other excellent early music manifestations.

So, book your tickets and come to the festival with us!


Iota Press Concert a Success!

The Alphabet Baroque Club had a great first stop on the road to the flames! Huge thanks to Eric Johnson at Iota Press Workshop. His support and enthusiasm is a big boost for us. We were essentially sold out! The audience was attentive and had fun along with us. Sighs were heard at the right places, and thunderous applause where appropriate.

This concert has so much beautiful music! So many beautiful songs, alas without words! But, wait! Who is that flying in to rehearse with the ABC in February? It is Ruth Cunningham, sound healer and founding member of Anonymous 4! Ruth will be joining us in Galway, but, if you want a little foretaste, a select few can hear a house concert with the ABC and Ruth on February 21, venue TBA.


Musical Journeys

Just like now, composers and musicians traveled the world to work. The graphic below gives a simple idea of where our composers traveled to and from.

Most of our Italian composers, Donati, Gesualdo, Monteverdi and Falconieri, stayed within present day Italy, but traveled between principalities. Spaniard Cristobal de Morales traveled to Italy and back to Spain, but his music traveled as far as the New World. Tomas Torrejon y Velasco made the journey all the way from Spain to Peru.

Johann Sigismund Kusser’s brown lines above show his zig zagging career. Born in Bratislava, active in Stuttgart and Paris, and finally ending his life in Dublin, Ireland.

Speaking of Ireland, the ABC is absolutely delighted to be returning to the Galway Early Music Festival on May 23. The festival’s theme this year is Passagio: Musical Journeys in Time and Space. We will be joined in Galway by Ruth Cunningham of Anonymous 4. Our Road to Hell includes many Irish connections including Cormac Mac Dermott, an Irish harper at Queen Elizabeth I of England’s court (his is the green line above), Henry Madin, the son of some of the “Wild Geese” who worked in France at the Chapelle Royale under the patronage of Louis XV, and a little bit of George Handel, who, of course, premiered Messiah in Dublin.

Of our composers, the Germans traveled the most, the Spaniards traveled the furthest, the Irish traveled to England, and the Italians traveled the least. The music, however, travelled everywhere, through time and space.

baroque music, Road to Hell

Arranging music for the Road to Hell

The ABC always enjoys arranging music to fit our group. This program is no different. We have incorporated many transcriptions of vocal music in this program, largely because they speak to our theme, but also because we will be joined by Ruth Cunningham, sound healer and founding member of Anonymous 4, for our Galway Early Music Festival Program.

O porta Caeli by Ignatio Donati

One example is O Porta Caeli (O Gate of Heaven) by Ignatio Donati. In general we try to use the earliest edition we can easily find to work from. Then, if the clefs are wrong or the notation is too hard for us to read we make our own edition. If there are too many voices, as in the next example, we make an arrangement.

In order for us to play arrangements of pieces written for four or more separate parts Gwyneth must cover viola parts as well as bass parts, often in the same piece. And Phebe must play two distinct parts, instead of simply realizing the harmonies with the base line. Judiyaba is often stuck coping with violin parts that do not sit well on the treble viol. As usual, the violin player gets off easy, no clef switching, no two parts at once, just a nice treble clef melody!

Flight of Demons by Johann Kusser

Kusser’s Flight of Demons is a good example of all the above. The violin lines do not set well on treble viol, the bass viol must cover the viola part, the harpsichord is left alone to fend with the bass part, and the violin player gets away with murder. But the end result is a satisfying demonic affect.

Other pieces we have arranged for the Road to Hell are Carlo Gesualdo’s Io pur respiro in cosi Gran dolore, excerpts from Monteverde’s Orfeo, and the delightful Ciaccona di paradiso, e d’Inferno. Our road to hell will be paved with some breathtakingly beautiful melodies, along with all the good intentions!