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Through Vielle and Song: Exploring Medieval Music and Trobairitz Canso

For my final project, I decided to go through the process of learning and performing a trobairitz song (A chantar by Comtessa de Dia). As a violinist, I also took to learning the vielle, and although this recorded audio file shows the many more hours I need to spend on the instrument before playing it well, it was a very informative experience in the sound and creation of troubadour/trobairitz music. This project was particularly important to me because it allowed me to organically explore medieval music and the acoustic spaces of it (through our chateau visits) without trying to produce a superficial analysis or speculation of “what might have been.” From the beginning, I had absolutely no intention of “recreating” exactly what the troubadours and trobairitz sung  simply because it would be impossible to do so. We don’t know exactly what the acoustics were like in the cold stone fortresses (was there anything covering the walls? how many people were in the space with the troubador? etc.), we don’t know how exactly the instruments and their gut strings sounded, and we don’t know the exact ornamentations that the singers used to embellish their basic melodic line. There are so many unknowns in exploring the medieval music world, that everything we do is like a reincarnation of the music in the current 21st century world. That being said, there are many things to be learned through physically performing a song, and particularly for the troubadour/trobairitz genre that explores and intertwines the physical and the spiritual, performing a canso is the only way to truly begin to understand it. I had the good fortune to be able to sing and play with Gérard, Sandra, and the rest of the Trobadour Arts Ensemble and was able to catch glimpses of the liveliness of this music and begin to comprehend that by innovating and improvising on thoroughly researched lyrics and manuscripts, we can create something that brings the tradition alive in ways that are not possible through mere “imitation” of what might have been. It was through performance that I discovered the certain truth to the Occitan saying that their culture and language is “inoxidizable.” 

The Other France: Troubadours and the Politics of Cultural Heritage
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