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Piffaro and Don Quixote, Not an Impossible Dream

Piffaro, Philadelphia’s Renaissance band, is taking Don Quixote back to his 17th-century roots in a pair of concerts this weekend at the Episcopal Cathedral titled The Musical World of Don Quixote. What might those roots sound like? A lot like ours, says the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns. 
David Patrick Stearns: In the 900-page literary fantasia that is Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, it’s easy to forget that, while the title character is being knocked around in nearly every conceivable 17th-century way, there are songs without tunes, gossiping horses, and the implications of music everywhere.

Joan Kimball: You read it and you think, what is this? You feel, what now is this guy going to do? How is he going to get slammed next?

Robert Wiemken: Well, I think that what we need to do in this concert is capture that, capture the earthiness, capture the common man element.

They were holding ancient manuscripts in the very church where they were used four centuries ago.

DPS: Piffaro co-founders Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemken went to the various Cervantes landmarks in Spain to make the kind of scholarly and intuitive decisions needed to reconstruct that lost musical world. At times, they were holding ancient manuscripts in the very church where they were used four centuries ago. That sense of bridging two different eras showed how much the meaning of cultural artifacts can change.

RW: It’s hard to describe the sensation that you’re actually looking at the same music and in the same format that’s telling you the same thing, and not telling you the same things.

DPS: But being an instrumentalist, Joan Kimball wasn’t about to attempt any song reconstructions in the novel. That task fell to Piffaro member Grant Herreid.

JK: There are poems in the novel that were clearly sung but there was no indication of what the music was. And Grant is really good at finding music that fits the poetry.

DPS: Singing that poetry, as well as Spanish choral music, is the foursome known as New York Polyphony. Indeed, this Don Quixote project is perhaps the biggest one of Piffaro’s 31-year existence, with a choreographer, director, and script, but not costumes.

JK: I think it detracts from the music. It makes it too much of a...

RW: sideshow.

DPS: After all, the program is a speculative look backward, not time travel. That’s truly an impossible dream.