A Mummer Renaissance

Piffaro's musicians playing at St. Andrew & Matthew Church, Del.  Photo by Kelly Witman
Piffaro’s musicians playing at St. Andrew & Matthew Church, Del.
Photo by Kelly Witman

Piffaro, the Renaissance band, presented the show Mummer’s Delight to 100 people on March 20, at 3 p.m., at Sts. Andrew & Matthew Church in Wilmington, Del.

Using historical instruments, six musicians played Renaissance songs written to evoke sounds of birds, beasts and battles while two actors, inspired by the music, performed dances and animal movements.

“I love this music,” said David Smith, professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “Renaissance music is so lively. You can begin to see the start of western music, the use of the percussion, the wooden instruments, and a little bit of the brass. It is sort of the history of musical development and it is just fun to listen to.”

The shawn, dulcian, recorder, bagpipe, krumhorn, harp, the slide trumpet, sackbut, and other instruments were all custom made for the musicians. “You cannot just walk into a music store and buy these instruments,” said Shannon Cline, Piffaro’s executive director, about the instruments used in the show.

Although actors interacted with the audience and made them laugh in some parts of the show, at other times they just watched the band with the audience members.

Actress Sabrina Mandell said it would be overkill to do too much. “Some music you just need to listen to,” Mandell added.

The show began with the musicians and actors entering the church and walking through the audience playing Renaissance music.

Cline said the acoustic in churches are perfect for this type of music. “The Renaissance music was written in large part for churches. Back in the Renaissance period, they were the gathering places,” Cline added.

Later, Joan Kimball, musician, artistic co-director and founding member of Piffaro, and the other musicians switched instruments and kept playing.

Kimball said she played three different sizes of recorders from little to big, the dulcian, the shawn, the krumhorn and the bagpipe.

Meanwhile, inspired by the name and lyrics of the songs, the actors performed animal movements of a mouse, a bird, a crocodile, a cat, a dog, an owl, and a bear.

“We found out what were the animals represented in the music,” Mendell said. “We found poems and texts related to the animals in different ways.”

During the show, some of the audience had their eyes closed. “The actors were great,” said Suzanne Zeleznik, retired French teacher. “But sometimes, I just want to listen to the music. So I close my eyes for a couple of minutes.”

At the end of the concert, all the instruments were displayed next to the musicians and actors who stayed in the church to talk to some of the audience about Renaissance music and history.

“When you are a Renaissance musician, you are not only a musician,” Kimball said, “You are a scholar, a historian, and an arranger. You have all those different roles.”

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, holds four concerts a year in three different locations: Chestnut Hill, Center City Philadelphia and Delaware. The next performance will take place at Temple University on May 14.

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