The majestic metre and a half long span of the archlute's extended neck instantaneously transforms into an awkward and ridiculous burden when it's put in its case to be carted around town. In particular, the lute I am frequently using (property of McGill) is equipped with what is perhaps the most dreadful, large and unappealing case possible. It's as if I were dutifully taking up the yoke of obscurity, and being punished for my interest in something that hardly anyone else knows to even care about.
Well, at least this is what I thought as I limped home from a rehearsal in the Plateau du Mont-Royal-thrusting this mighty case forward, letting my body swing after it with the forward momentum. But that evening something funny happened. Really it was quite bizarre, and I don't know if I will ever experience something like it ever again. I had crossed Ave du Mont-Royal, heading south on Garnier, eagerly rushing forward knowing that I only had a few blocks to go before I could open the front door to my apartment, set my burden down on the floor, and collapse in my armchair, when a man came running up behind me, shouting (politely) at me to stop.
"Is that an archlute?" he panted.
I didn't understand him at first. I was utterly unprepared for that question.
"Sorry?" I said.
So again he asked me "Is that an archlute?"
Understanding his question, I chuckled a little bit and said "YES! This is an archlute."
"WOW, archlute is my absolute favourite instrument, I have never seen one in real life before!"
Now this *really* got my head spinning in circles. He knew what this obscure instrument from the 17th century was called, he loved it, yet he had never actually seen one in person. This must be someone who has explored a lot of music and was passionate about it. It being a mild summer evening, I offered to show him the instrument, opened the case and gave my lute spiel. He was delighted. He told me how he discovered this instrument through a recording a friend of his owned and had been fascinated with the sound of the archlute ever since. We talked for maybe five minutes, it was brief, and then we went our opposite ways. I was altogether in a better mood after the encounter, and I imagine he was happy to have finally seen this instrument. ....it reminds of the time I saw a unicorn running around town........but that's another story.
What struck me, and still strikes me about this experience, was the enthusiasm this man had, and his excitement at the experience. As someone who has made music a profession, and spends so much time being critical about small details, it seems easier to lose it's sense of wonder and enjoyment. But in realizing that simply walking around town can created this meaningful moment in my life, I can understand how everything I do is thrilling. It *is* possible to feel the way I did when on my childhood visit to Canada's Atlantic Coast I truly believed that by squinted hard enough at the ocean, I would be able to see England. Every moment is full of possibility, and you can bet that next time I'm on the coast I will be looking expectantly into the horizon. This is the feeling I want to share when I perform; it's a sense that what you are experiencing somehow is something you've been unconsciously desiring and unknowingly expecting all along. A perfect mix of novelty and familiarity.
So to my friend I met on the street, if you are out there, thanks for helping me rediscover this perspective.
Next week I'm going to be talking more specifically about the "performance" part of performance artist, with my guest Sylvain Bergeron. Sylvain is a renowned Canadian lutenist, and also happens to be my lute instructor at McGill University. He has many years of experience performing that have taken him around the globe and continues to maintain a busy performing career. You can visit his website https://www.sylvain-bergeron.com/ to learn about him and listen some of his music.
For any of you reading this story and thinking, "nice story, but I really don't know about this archlute thing is." You can listen to my recording of Toccata septima from Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger's first book of lute tablature, which is attached to this blog.
Please feel free to comment or contact me if you want to continue the conversation.