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September 17, 2020

Why Now is the Perfect Time To Introduce People to the Viol and Early Music

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In the months to come, this blog will explore a variety of subject matters related to and influenced by Parthenia; everything from topics of particular interest to fellow musicians to fascinating insider details about the history of the ensemble.  There’s a great deal to look forward to!

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a fan of early music in general, and the viol specifically.  Chances are that you even play the viol yourself.  That’s precisely why our debut blog focuses on a question that, at one time or another, every fan of viol music has likely wrestled with:  How can we cultivate a bigger audience for this art form that we all share a mutual passion for?  Strangely enough, the traumatic events of 2020 have provided an unexpected window of opportunity.

The Changes of 2020

2020 has been a year of disruption.  The challenges of dealing with COVID-19, economic uncertainty, and political upheaval have spurred people to reevaluate their lives and make changes.  Rather than racing to a crowded movie theater, people are staying in to enjoy Netflix on the couch.  Instead of suffering through a long, frustrating commute, people are discovering the flexibility and advantages of working from home.  Cooking from scratch has all but replaced ordering food for delivery. Examples like these are often cited as evidence that people want to cut expenses.  That much is certainly true, but there’s something else at play here–a need to simplify.

Stepping back for a moment, this makes perfect sense.  Like the characters in Ready Player One, we now live in a bewildering universe of high technology and virtual interaction.  Zoom meetings, Animal Crossing, Discord; it’s all wonderfully convenient, ruthlessly efficient and, unfortunately, deeply alienating.  Given that, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that people now crave simpler pleasures.  Case in point:  in 2020, vinyl records outsold compact discs for the first time in roughly forty years.  In a world of uncertainly and doubt, the mere process of cleaning a vinyl record to a high shine and lowering a tonearm yourself to hear the familiar “pop” of a needle finding the groove is reassuringly basic.  The longing for musical simplicity doesn’t stop there, however.


Anyone familiar with past hits like Macarena or Call Me Maybe might find it difficult to comprehend, but the summer music fad this year wasn’t so much as a song or a dance as a style; welcome to Bardcore!

What is Bardcore? For the benefit of the uninitiated, Bardcore is modern music performed with medieval instruments like lutes and lyres. Bardcore tunes incorporate lyrics (gently) tweaked to affect a kind of faux-Shakespearean, Iambic pentameter delivery.  On the surface, it’s an amusing way to reinterpret pop tunes that had become overly familiar, but there is a deeper significance.

Bardcore is sometimes also referred to as Tavernwave. In the medieval period taverns were places where people could gather together, drink and laugh. In other words, Bardcore is more evidence that people yearn for a simpler time before the internet, before smartphones, before electricity, even. Even musicologists recognize the significance of this.

Viol music fits into this paradigm beautifully.  It already is, in a sense, Bardcore’s secret sharerThe viol is both a remnant of the medieval era and also throughly currentThe sound of the viol–simultaneously ethereal and plangent–encourages a meditative state and what can only be adequately described as deeper listening. The viol is the sound of peace and community, and who doesn’t want more of that in 2020?

Suggested Starting Points

So where to begin?  There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but our newly-revamped website includes a wealth of links–both music and video–that you can explore, including several of Parthenia’s most successful collaborations with modern composers who have written new pieces for the viol in the style of medieval music (Bardcore turned inside-out if you like).

More importantly, in just two weeks Parthenia will be hosting a webcast appropriately entitled Theatrical Music for Dramatic TimesIn particular, the question and answer session with all four members of Parthenia is a perfect way to introduce newcomers to both the music and the people who create it. We hope you can join us for this event, and for additional blogs in the future. We’re glad you’re here!

About Kieran Walsh
Kieran Walsh is an author, musician and filmmaker residing in New York City.