Early MusiChicago

[This is an article from the October 2002 Recorder Reporter, the official newsletter of the Chicago Chapter of the American Recorder Society and the West Suburban Early Music Society.  The author, Laura Osterlund, is an 8th grader at Emerson Middle School in Oak Park, Illinois, and is an avid recorder player and early musician.]

Before I went to Whitewater, I really didn't know what to expect.  If I had only known about the great experience I would have, the knowledge I would gain, and the memories I would take home with me, I would have been a lot more excited in the days leading up to it.

Once there, I was like a "kid in a candy store."  Picture this:  An entire building full of early music fanatics just like me--all enjoying themselves, eager to play, eager to attend classes, eager to learn and improve themselves in the oh-too-short span of time.

And not just that.  On both sides of the Arts Center lobby---tables heaped with quality music, the best the attending stores had to offer.  Never had I seen so much recorder music all at once!  My father and I just couldn't keep our hands off those books of music.  (Would you believe we spent over $200 on sheet music alone?!  Not to mention a good deal more money than that on a new Coolsma alto recorder for me.)  And, get this:  two tables lined with instruments, from plastic flageolets to wooden garkleins, ebony altos, massive great basses, crumhorns, and percussion instruments.  Also CDs.  A veritable Candy Land.

A typical day at Whitewater for me consisted of waking up, showering, attending the morning classes, going back to the dorm and practicing, attending the afternoon classes, going back to the dorm and practicing, eating dinner at a local restaurant, going back to the dorm and practicing, possibly attending a special evening function, going back to the dorm and practicing, jamming in the basement until 1:00 in the morning, then finally getting some well deserved sleep.

It was as if the world outside the Arts Center didn't exist.  I was focused on the simple, pleasurable tasks of getting to my classes on time, cleaning and putting away my recorders, playing with other people, learning, and preparing for the culminating concert.  I didn't think about what went on in the outside world.  To tell you the truth, for those three days, I didn't care.  I seriously didn't even miss the rest of my family back in Oak Park.  (Sorry, Mom!).  It was really nice, because I got the chance to get away from the everyday distractions of television, Internet, and telephone.  I didn't miss them one bit.  It was actually kind of spiritually cleansing.

Time didn't matter. The entire day was enjoyable.  From sunup to sundown, I was making music.  I was in my natural element.  In the end, though, it seemed all too short.

Among the many people attending Whitewater were young people just like me.  To think--YOUNG PEOPLE.  This may not seem too special to some of you, but to me it was a breath of fresh air.  As a young early musician, I wasn't alone.  People my age were actually taking the recorder, viola da gamba, and other early instruments seriously.  Let me tell you, I didn't expect at all to meet so many kids.  Many were beginners, or hadn't been playing too long.  Some of the kids, though, were in fact very good.  Who knows how far they might go.  I have my fingers crossed.

I remember feeling such joy, peace, camaraderie, and even love for my fellow players.  It was almost like I had reached Nirvana, a state of absolute harmony and bliss.  Whitewater reminds and underscores for us that music is a simply beautiful way to bring together people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, creeds, and social backgrounds.  To think, the same people I would have overlooked had I passed them on the street, I embraced through music.  It was great, because I felt that a real age barrier had been broken.  The fact that I was a minor and they were adults and some of them senior citizens didn't matter.  What mattered was the music, and I got to see people in a new light because of that.

Another important thing is the fact that in regular, ordinary, everyday life, I am an extremely shy and quiet person and have a lot of trouble expressing myself with words.  Because of this, I have few friends.  At Whitewater, though I was still a bit shy, I felt like a changed person. I had a way to express my thoughts and emotions--with music--and I seemed to be much warmer and friendlier.  Also, at the time of Whitewater, I was still sort of getting to know my fellow Oak Park Recorder Society members and be accepted by them.  Whitewater gave me the opportunity to talk with them, ask them questions, and become a bit more "chummy" with them.  Most everyone was kind and welcoming.  I felt like I really fit in.

From the first day, the late evenings were filled with music making in the dormitory basement.  I was jamming late into the night with good, experienced players like Carol Stanger, Kim Katulka, Ed Green (who had decided to come to Whitewater on a whim, despite his being new to the Oak Park Recorder Society and just hearing about Whitewater only a week or so before--bless his soul), and many others.  Playing and sight reading in a small ensemble was a very good experience for me because we all had to "stay on our toes" in order to sound good and actually make music.  It also taught and reinforced the valuable lessons of listening to my ensemble mates, *counting* (like mad sometimes), being musical, and communicating with the other players.

For these late night playing sessions, Dave Fitzgerald pulled out a wide variety of fun, challenging, interesting, often beautiful, sometimes thrilling music.  A high point for me was when he took out Planxty Connor and Carolan's Receipt--two pieces that I had stumbled on before when I had just started playing with the Oak Park Recorder Society (and wasn't very good at all).  I took the first soprano part, and to my great joy and satisfaction, was able to pull it off and play it "near perfectly."  I often played soprano recorder during those jam sessions--an instrument that I came to fear in my first months with the OPRS.  I was glad finally to be able to sight read on it without fear.

Not only did I get to play alongside many talented, proficient recorder players, but also crumhorn players, sackbut players, cornett players, viol players, transverse flute players, hammered dulcimer players, hurdy-gurdy players, etc.  The entire scope of early music was represented at Whitewater.  During the nightly jam sessions, a harpist and a violinist played with us.  People also sang and played crumhorns.  In the room next to us, a small group of sackbut and cornett players met and jammed as well, creating an interesting and diverse musical experience within that relatively small space.

In the formal classes, not only did I learn about various trills, playing styles, and pieces, I also--thanks to Kim Katulka and others--learned a considerable amount about the history of medieval to baroque music and was introduced to many different forms and styles of music.  I learned so much just by observing the more experienced players around me.

Lisette Kielson was a real joy to work with.  Thanks to the thirty minutes or so I spent in her master class, I was finally able to perfect a piece that was quite dear to my heart but which I still had not gotten a complete hold on.  Ironically, I was scared stiff before I took part in her master class, my very first.  Too tell the truth, I didn't even fully understand the concept of a master class at the time.

The Clea Galhano class was an absolute blast, even though, doubting myself, I was reluctant to take part in it at first.  I found Clea's class to be a real joy and challenge.  I was really impressed by the amount of knowledge she had to impart to the other players and me.  She made the piece we performed at the final concert breathtakingly musical.

This was the first time I had met Louise Austin.  I soon got to know her as a warm, cheerful, spunky lady.  At the dance, she was the life of the party.  I can truly understand how people will miss her leadership next year.

There's no place like Whitewater.  Oh, how incredibly true that is.  Whitewater is a wonderful starting point for a young person beginning the journey into the world of early music.  It opened my eyes to the broader early music scene.  For the first time, I was able to really look objectively at myself and my proficiency as a recorder player and say, "I have a chance."  If I really work hard...  Who knows what might happen?  Thanks to Whitewater, I now have a new perspective on life, early music, and myself.  Believe it or not, Whitewater has changed my life for the better!

Laura Osterlund