Bloomington Romantic courthouse concert in February to feature unusual instruments

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Wendy Gillespie, Alchymy member and a retired professor of viola da gamba at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, poses with different sizes of viola da gambas in a consort. Gillespie is one of several musicians who will be performing Feb. 6.
Wendy Gillespie, Alchymy member and a retired professor of viola da gamba at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, poses with different sizes of viola da gambas in a consort. Gillespie is one of several musicians who will be performing Feb. 6.

Kissing is better in February; music is better heard live. Add songs about kisses to a grouping of instruments perhaps never heard before in Bloomington, and a lovers' concert will burst forth at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Monroe County Courthouse.

A song-cycle concert, "Colin's Kisses," will include three d'amore instruments — these are the ones that are rarely heard together — flute d'amore, oboe d'amore and a viola d'amore. They, along with a counter tenor, will carry the melodies, accompanied by a harpsichord and a consort of viola da gambas. The concert is a collaboration between the Indianapolis music group Alchemy Viols (which has some Bloomington connections) and Bloomington musicians.

"This is a combination of instruments rarely heard, and this is most likely the first time that these three instruments will be heard together ever in Bloomington," said Leighann Daihl Ragusa, Baroque flute competitions coordinator for the National Flute Association. She received a grant from the Bloomington Arts Commission to organize the concert and is also playing the flute d'amore in it. She owns one of the only flute d'amores in the United States.

A viola d'amore.
A viola d'amore.

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"Most people don't know what they are," she said. "My mission is to bring them back." They're not alto flutes but are similar.

Alchemy Viols got its name from modern chemistry's medieval beginnings and supports combining elements not normally thought of as going together. Alchemy once meant a mystical transformation. Today's Alchemy Viols gathers world renowned viol players, and they perform with other ensembles to create new sounds.

The Feb. 6 concert's Scottish baroque songs come mostly from a collection published in 1743 by James Oswald entitled "Colin's Kisses." Representing the different types of kisses, titles to be performed include "The Meeting Kiss," "The Secret Kiss," "The Reconciling Kiss." And there are more.

James Oswald was an 18th century Scottish cellist, composer and arranger who also published music. In 1761 King George III appointed Oswald as chamber composer, but he also wrote variations on Scottish folk tunes.

"There used to be a bigger variety of musical instruments," said Phill Spray, Alchemy Viol's director and past Indiana University student, over the phone. With the arrival of the French Academy and, later, the modern symphony, Spray said some instruments faded away.

An oboe d'amore.
An oboe d'amore.

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A French organization originally intended to standardize literary quality, the French Academy (Académie Française) began in 1634, inspired by Cardinal Richelieu. It persists even today, having paused during the French Revolution period.

The Feb. 6 concert is a premiere, and Spray said Ragusa wanted to combine the viola da gambas with the three d'amore instruments.

"Historically, this type of concert hasn't been done," Spray said. "By the 1700s, the viola da gamba consort had kind of died out, by the time these three d'amore instruments were popular."

The musicians are Wendy Gillespie, Joanna Blendulf and Phil Spray on viola da gambas, Leighann Daihl Ragusa on flute d'amore, Sarah Huebsch Schilling on oboe d'amore and Martie Perry, on viola d'amore. Hsuan Chang Kitano will play harpsichord, and the countertenor is Thomas Aláan.

A viola da gamba.
A viola da gamba.

If you go

WHAT: "Colin's Kisses," a love-themed concert with a countertenor and an unusual mix of instruments.

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Feb. 6.

WHERE: Monroe County Courthouse, upstairs,100 W. Kirkwood Ave.

COST: Free.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Bloomington romantic courthouse concert to feature unusual instruments

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