Let me tell you where to go...
Please keep in mind that we don’t know about
everything that is out there. If we leave something or someone out,
that doesn’t mean we don’t like it or him or her or
them. Order of appearance depends on when we remember or find out about
things (and get permission to link!), and not with any judgement on our
part. (Please contact us
and let us know about groups and resources we’ve missed.
The following are some links to information on early music,
period instruments, and sources of printed and recorded music.
Early Music FAQ is an excellent source of information on
early music, recordings, performers, and instruments.
& Bell publishes, among many other things, the
monumental collection Musica Britannica. They have
an extraordinary variety of music, and their site is well worth
- Head for your nearby bookstore and you may well be able to
find Early Music America magazine.
There’s a lot more to it than a magazine, though, excellent
as it is. Early Music
America is an organization that provides a variety of
benefits to its members. Make a point of visiting their site,
especially if you’re a performer or teacher. (Besides, anyone
whose phone number is 1-888-SACKBUT has my admiration...)
- The Early
Music Shop has been around since 1968, and has an enormous
selection of all kinds of instruments suitable for early music. One of
our dreams is to go to England to visit their recorder showrooms. (As
Dave Barry would say, we are not making that up.)
They also have an online database of CDs of music played on the
Early Music sells recorders, gemshorns, and assorted used
instruments. We’ve done business with them, and
they’ve saved our bacon on a couple of occasions. The
shop’s web site not only displays an inventory that
would make you drool, but also has an extensive set of links
to web sites with information on early music.
- The Boulder
Early Music Shop has been around for quite some time. They
offer a large variety of instruments, instrument kits, and music.
Though we have not done business with them, a very good, trusted friend
who is considerably more knowledgeable and experienced in early music
than we are recommends it.
Online is a good source for instruments, music, and even
online introductory recorder lessons. If the name Dolmetsch
doesn’t ring a bell now, it will if you proceed much further
into the history of the early music revival of the twentieth century,
because Arnold Dolmetsch was a major figure in that revival. His
descendants continue to contribute to the field.
Recorder Home Page has links to a vast amount of information
on the recorder. Quite respectable inexpensive plastic soprano
recorders and instructional material are nearly universally available,
so that if you don’t already play an instrument, it is an
ideal starting point.
is one of many recording labels that feature fine early music
performers. Magnatune’s enlightened policies and business
model distinguish it from others and make it worth your investigation
There are a lot of groups that perform early music. The Early Music FAQ
includes an extensive list of performing groups. At Renaissance fairs
one can often find many local high school and college choruses and
instrumental groups performing early music; check with your local
educational institutions for groups near you.
The following are some groups and individuals we know of that
perform early music at Renaissance fairs.
- Owain Phyfe and the New World Renaissance Band did what
some Renaissance fair performers say can’t be done. They
performed songs of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, often not in
and yet had, and still have, an enthusiastic fan base, and played to
audiences that filled
the available seating. (We’d say “packed
houses” but it’s not clear what that means
outdoors.) They recorded on the Nightwatch
label. The Owain
Phyfe Appreciative Listeners Society also has a lot of
information for fans, including tour dates. (UPDATE, 9-6-12: it is with
great sorrow that we change the verb tenses here; Owain Phyfe lost his
battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday. See the news page for more
Bar Nonne sing madrigals and other songs from the sixteenth
century and earlier, and do a fine job of it. We’ve seen them
several years at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival, and both
performers and audience clearly have a good time.
Antiqua, based at Iowa State University, plays early music on
replicas of instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and its
programs of early music, song, and dance are enjoyed across Iowa and
- An istanpitta (or estampie,
or even stantipes) is a medieval dance,
or the musical form of the music that presumably accompanied the dance.
is an instrumental ensemble
that plays music from the tenth to fourteenth centuries.
They've performed at a wide variety of venues, from Renaissance fairs
to more formal venues, and play with great verve, enthusiasm, and
& Trolles performs some music from the Middle Ages
and Renaissance and some later music. They describe themselves as an
“alternative madrigal” group, and have been
performing at Renaissance fairs in the Midwest for over a decade.
The following are some early music groups that
don’t, as far as we know, perform at Renaissance fairs, but
whom we’d be remiss not to mention. If you’ve not
heard their work, you owe it to yourself to give them a listen.
(We’re unlikely to ever be very thorough here, especially
because of the growing numbers of ensembles that specialize in early
music. We refer you once again to the Early Music FAQ and its
far more complete list of performing groups, and to the many
ensembles and individual performers reviewed, written about, and
advertising in Early Music America.)
Waverly Consort is a world-famous early music consort,
founded in 1964. Foolscap here—I’ve been lucky
enough to have seen them live twice: around the time of the Columbus
quincentennial, and for their millenium tour. If you have any chance
whatsoever to hear the Waverly Consort perform, take it.
Boston Camerata is also an early music consort of long
standing and wide renown. They not only perform music of the Middle
Ages and Renaissance, but also music from the early days of the
Americas, and recorded a fascinating and beautiful collaboration with
Todd Wachover, Angels. (Foolscap again—a
personal favorite is the charming “Tura lura lura, lo gau
canto” from their album A Renaissance Christmas.
Also, Joel Cohen, the Camerata’s director, wrote a delightful
overview of the history of the early music movement, Reprise:
the Extraordinary Revival of Early Music. The book is, alas,
out of print, but it is worth your while to track it down at your local
library, via interlibrary loan, or via one of the many convenient
online facilities for finding used books.)
There’s more than one way to support Renaissance fair performers you
Performing at Renaissance fairs is not a path to riches;
it’s a labor of love, and those who do it aren’t necessarily able to
The RESCU Foundation,
to quote their mission statement,
“is a non-profit organization established to promote and maintain
the health and medical well-being of the participants of Renaissance
historical performances and other artistic events
through financial assistance, advocacy, education and preventative
Please visit their web site, read about how you can help, and consider
Other Musical Information
- In passing we mentioned the matter of
“temperament,” or how one chooses pitches for the
notes of the scale. Alternate
Temperaments: Theory and Philosophy is the clearest
explanation of the subject we’ve found.
- If you are interested in shape note singing, fasola.org is an
excellent place to start.
has lyrics and .mp3 and .wav files for well over two hundred songs. The
songs include traditional English, Scottish, and Irish songs, and a
small but growing number of songs from before 1600.
As people have more and more available bandwidth,
the net has become a source of music.
In addition to simply downloading music files containing sound data,
there are two popular ways of grabbing multimedia content online:
- streaming, in which your computer grabs
the content and
decodes it for your listening or viewing pleasure as pieces of it
arrive, discarding the data after it’s been decoded and
played. Often streaming audio is set up like traditional broadcasting
pre-VCR or TiVo, so that either you’re there at the listed
time and place to hear it or you don’t hear it.
- podcasting, in which your computer
downloads the content
and saves it for your later enjoyment on the computer or on
a portable media player that in turn retrieves the content from your
As others have pointed out,
the net is an ideal medium for “narrowcasting”.
(At least, it is now; see this
discussion of “net neutrality”.)
A net broadcaster doesn’t need a mass audience, and thus can
cater to the interests
of possibly small groups—and despite the increase in
popularity of early music,
compared with rock, hip-hop, country, et al.
we’re still a small group.
(See Chris Anderson’s book
Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More
and the associated blog.)
There are now several audio streams and podcasts that feature
early music and/or what we will call
“Renaissance fair music” for purposes of
categorization (but see our manifesto):
Renaissance Festival Podcast
is a weekly podcast specializing in Renaissance fair
music, cohosted by Kristen Roger and the irrepressible autoharpist,
marketing maven, and Brobdingnagian
Bard Marc Gunn.
has both streaming audio
and podcasts for the various genres of music its artists perform,
including a podcast specializing in lute music as well as music of the
Renaissance and Middle Ages..
Renaissance Fair Information
The following are some sites that have gathered information
about fairs and festivals that are inspired by the Middle Ages and
features information on Renaissance fairs in the Midwest and
performers, and photos taken at such fairs.
Directorie of Renaissance Faires lists not only fairs (and
gives an impressive amount of information on them), but also
Renaissance fair performers. The site is also a pleasure to behold.
© 2003-2010 Concentio Agnorum