While looking through my Early Music America magazine at Peet's Coffee and Tea in Lexington, I realized I was listening to Classical music through the overhead speakers. I did not recognize the composer, but it was a pleasant surprise to hear something other than the “usual” coffee shop music. (On a similar note, Russo's Market in Watertown plays Classical music in their store and is partial to string quartets. I must say, it does make shopping for produce and cheese more enjoyable.)
Halfway through the magazine, I stumbled upon an article on the recent success of the early music scene in New York City. It has really taken off in the past few years and for the most part, performers do not outnumber the audience anymore! According to the article, early music began to gain popularity with the founding of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua in 1952. Its fan bases grew quickly in many large cities throughout the United States, but the growth was slow in New York until a few years ago. As of today, there are over 130 early music ensembles in New York City alone.
Numerous welcoming venues have sprung up, giving early music ensembles the opportunity to play to a new audience. Le Poisson Rouge, a popular club in Greenwich Village, really brings back the original Baroque scene by “serving art and alcohol.” Bargemusic, another popular concert venue and provider of the musical arts to the community, has also added a “There and Then” series that focuses on early music. Furthermore, exposure to early music has been aided by new organizations such as the Gotham Early Music Scene (GEMS) which is a non-profit working to promote early music and its culture. They work with institutions and artists to put together concerts, events, and educational programs as well as providing marketing services to the early music community. They even have a booking agency they run through their website: http://www.gemsny.org.
They also have a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/gothamearlymusicscene
As I read the article and sipped my coffee, I reflected on my most recent early music experience. I sang with the ensemble Jouyssance in West Los Angeles for the last two years I was in California. We performed works written before 1600, often a cappella, though we incorporated drums, recorders, and harpsichords when we could get our hands on them. At the majority of our concerts, the audience was maybe twice the size of us and we usually numbered around fourteen performers. Most of the audience members were regulars who had attended concerts for years. It was often difficult to build the audience, but it began to grow, albeit slowly, in the past year or so. Perhaps in the next few years or so, Los Angeles will see similar success with their early music scene.
Murrow, Gene. “Early Music in the city that never sleeps.” Early Music America 17, No. 3 (Fall 2011): 32-37.