Medieval music comes north

This weekend, Yukoners will get a chance to hear music the way it was likely played in noble courts more than 700 years ago.

This weekend, Yukoners will get a chance to hear music the way it was likely played in noble courts more than 700 years ago.

Katelyn Clark and Julie Ryning make up musica fantasia. The pair perform early secular music — anything from the 13th to 15th centuries — using instruments common to the era.

They’ll be taking the stage at the Yukon Arts Centre this Saturday at 8 p.m.

“I think for an audience coming into this music for the first time, they can expect to hear something they haven’t heard before, and also kind of have a different sense of time,” Clark said.

“It’s a sense of travelling to another place and travelling to a distant past.”

Ryning is a soprano, while Clark plays the clavicymbalum and the organetto. Both instruments have been specially built to match the ancient originals.

For those not well versed in medieval musicology, a clavicymbalum is an early, miniature ancestor of the piano. Unlike a modern piano, where music is created using small hammers inside the instrument, striking a key on the clavicymbalum plucks strings to create music.

The ancient variety also lacks any dampers. That means the strings continue to vibrate and create sound longer after they’re plucked.

The organetto is a smaller version of the modern organ found in churches around the world. The musician playing the organetto works a bellow with one hand and plays the keys with the other.

“The actual musicians playing and creating the music were really poets who also worked with sound,” Ryning said. “This is the type of music that you could hear amongst musicians or at court with a noble audience.”

While recordings of modern music have captured everything from a rock legend’s final concert to a five-year-old’s first foray into drumming, it’s harder to tell if you’ve got medieval music sounding right.

For Ryning and Clark, who met while pursuing music degrees from Montreal’s McGill University, putting together a show begins with finding copies of the ancient music that have survived through the centuries.

Most often what’s left is a simple melody that goes along with a very long poem or other type of text, they said.

From there the pair relies on their education, experience and skill to imagine what a full performance would have sounded like.

“From that starting point we collaborate and have to put together an entire musical interpretation of that. We improvise and we add ornaments,” Clark said.

“Of course Julie has to do a lot of work with the actual pronunciation, and the way that the text is delivered of course affects how the poetry is understood.”

Depending on which piece of music they’re working on, Ryning may find herself singing in ancient versions of languages including German, Italian and French.

Both women say they enjoy the amount of improvisation that comes with this type of performance.

“I think when you get a little bit later in history there’s much more of a canon that’s normally done,” Ryning said.

“Whereas in medieval music it’s almost always something unfamiliar, exciting and new.”

They’re trying to represent what a lot of the musicians would have done as professional working artists many hundreds of years ago, Clark added.

The Whitehorse show will feature songs primarily from the 14th century that focus on love, lust and sometimes betrayal, they said.

This is the pair’s first concert in the territory. They’re being presented by Whitehorse Concerts.

It’s about giving audiences a new experience and hopefully triggering their interest in the past, Clark said.

“I think it’s just such a jumping-off point for not just medieval music or early music but music in general,” Ryning added.

“It’s a new process, an instrument that people haven’t seen, singing styles that people haven’t necessarily heard. It’s a fun concert to come to.”

Tickets for Saturday’s show are available on the Yukon Arts Centre website.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read