Music for the (middle) ages

By Trevor Randall

As part of a medieval musical performance, students in Whatcom's ceramics class created ceramic art inspired by the period. Photo by Andrew Edwards.
As part of a medieval musical performance, students in Whatcom’s ceramics class created ceramic art inspired by the period. Photo by Andrew Edwards.

Whatcom Community College’s Heiner Theater was filled with sounds from the thirteenth century during a medieval music performance given by flautist Norbert Rodenkirchen Feb. 7. The performance, which was put on by the Programming and Diversity Board as well as the German Club, featured a display of medieval-themed ceramic art pieces made by students in Whatcom’s ceramics class. The pieces were all based on the items from the period and included creations such as knights, stone castles, and dragons.

 Rodenkirchen is a member of the musical group Sequentia, which Whatcom’s German teacher Ben Kohn wrote in an email is “the foremost medieval ensemble in the world.”

Rodenkirchen said he came to Bellingham from Cologne, Germany to give the performance as well as lecture on medieval music theory.

 “I am not an academic person, I am a musician,” Rodenkirchen said. He went on to discuss his background in music and said he is currently a flautist and composes film and theater scores. He added that he used to teach music and it was during his time teaching that he discovered his passion for the medieval era and his desire to gain a better understanding of the culture and music of the thirteenth century.

 Rodenkirchen talked about the struggles he had playing music from the time period because of the lack of written music and the difference between modern music theory and the music theories of the thirteenth century. “Medieval music is more rudimentary,” he said.

Rodenkirchen said music from the era was rarely written down and left him room for improvisation. Things such as tempo and notes, which are large components of today’s written music, did not even exist at the time, he said.

During the performance Rodenkirchen played a variety of different flutes, made of either bone or wood, which he said were common materials for making flutes during the time. The performance was entitled “On the Trail of the Pied Piper,” and was based off the thirteenth century German legend of the Pied Piper.

Rodenkirchen said the story of the Pied Piper has been performed many times throughout history, and since there is a lack of written music from the period it is really open to modification. Some songs could be slowed down or sped up depending on the musician performing the piece, he said.

Kohn aided Rodenkirchen’s performance on stage by reading the story of the Pied Piper in between Rodenkirchen’s playing. He gave the audience an understanding of what was happening in the story, while Rodenkirchen played his interpretation of the music from the period.

The story featured a style of music that, because of its repetitive nature, “had an almost hypnotic sound” said Grant Reierson, a student at Whatcom who attended the performance.

Ultimately the evening was filled with a style of music that many have never heard, and community members were able to learn about the culture of the thirteenth century.

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