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The Renaissance Band Piffaro and Google Cultural Institute - An Important Partnership

A group of Philadelphia-area musicians who share a love of early music, made Renaissance bands new 30 years ago. Their range of instruments? It includes shawms, dulcians, sackbuts, recorders, krumhorns, bagpipes, lutes, guitars, harps, and a variety of percussion.  Earlier this year, the artistic directors of Piffaro, The Renaissance Band provided WRTI's Meridee Duddleston with a glimpse of their musical roots.

Last week, Internet behemoth Google launched a new online performing-arts initiative based on collaborations with 60 of the world’s foremost cultural organizations. Piffaro is among the 13 American arts groups partnering with the Google Cultural Institute on the project, which also includes Carnegie Hall, The Metropolitan Opera, American Ballet Theatre, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The Google-led effort is designed to proliferate art far beyond the concert hall or performance space.  The Google Cultural Institute is showcasing what the collaborators do – with interactive video, photos, documents, interviews, demonstrations, and camera shots that put a viewer onstage.

In its first Google-led “exhibition,” Piffaro shows the world the ancestors of many of the instruments we have today. We see and hear the musicians talk about, and play, sackbuts, dulcians, recorders, krumhorns, and lutes. Take a look at it here!

There’s more online viewing to come from Piffaro as it gets ready to present its upcoming The Musical World of Don Quixote. Pifarro’s co-director Joan Kimball says there’s something enchanting about the world’s first novel. And Piffaro’s role in that enchantment will capitalize on the band’s unique ability to make Don Quixote come alive through the music heard in his time.

Piffaro musicians Bob Wiemken, Grant Herreid, and Joan Kimball in concert.

Hear more about Piffaro, the manuscript found in a Spanish church, and an upcoming Piffaro project in this extended conversation with Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemken.

Meridee Duddleston: Around the time Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, musicians playing the wind instruments of old serenaded the residents of Rome.

Music: Piffaro playing Fernandes: Pois Con Tanta Graca

The players were distinguished by their common last name…Piffaro.

Bob Wiemken: It was sort of the surname for a wind player in that period. So if you were a wind player, and a professional wind player, you might be known as ‘Roberto Piffaro" or 'Robert the wind player.’ 

Piffaro's players

MD: Bob Wiemken is a co-director of Piffaro, the Philadelphia-based Renaissance band – a group of  seven core musicians who play an astonishing array of early instruments, including shawms and dulcians, the ancestors of oboes and bassoons.

A sense of discovery accompanies these sounds, and hearing their music - Medieval, Renaissance, or early Baroque - as originally written, is like finding a treasure.

Joan Kimball: There is a manuscript that is of great importance for wind players, that is housed in a collegiate church, in a town called Lerma.

MD: Piffaro co-director Joan Kimball says the rare manuscript was found in an organ chest over 50 years ago. A professional wind band from Madrid carried the music with them when the relatively new Duke of Lerma brought them in to enhance the status of his town. 

On a recent trip to Spain, Kimball and Wiemken traveled to the little town for a first-hand look.

JK: We had the privilege of being actually able to look at and turn the pages of this manuscript, which is in a very clear, readable hand. 

MD: Piffaro has played selections from it before. There’s a transcription, but it’s not on the Internet. And for those who stay close to authenticity, the original can be magical.