Shelby Colgan: Can you tell us a little about what early music is?
Emily Davidson: We use the term "early music" to describe music from the Baroque (1600-1750) or earlier. Generally we're talking about Baroque, Renaissance, and Medieval music. Because so many of the instruments from these periods are uncommon in modern day, "early music" becomes a world of exploring and learning about old instruments and how to play them.
Early music specialists also immerse themselves in historical writings and treatises to learn about how these instruments were played and how the music was performed. Composers were far less explicit hundreds of years ago, so we have to do a certain amount of research just to grasp how a piece of music should be performed.
The easiest way to recognize early music is smaller orchestrations (usually less than 10 people) and unfamiliar instruments like harpsichord, viola da gamba, vielle, cornetto, lute, and many others.
SC: What makes the baroque cello different from the modern cello?
ED: The baroque cello was the first form of the cello. The cello we see in symphony orchestras today has evolved over hundreds of years to work better for more contemporary repertoire. The baroque cello was strung with gut strings (as opposed to steel), had no endpin, and a lighter bow with a different shape. The baroque cello was perfectly designed to play baroque repertoire, and I find that using these old replicas helps truly bring the music to life.
(You can watch Emily explain the difference below!)
SC: Was there a particular reason you chose to play the instruments that you do?
ED: I began strings in my public school in the 4th grade and chose the cello because it was "less screechy" than the violin and the viola. I didn't particularly enjoy it until the end of middle school. I began guitar in 3rd grade because my dad was a guitarist.
SC: Can you remember your first experience with music?
ED: My father was a composer and jazz guitarist, so I was exposed to music from a young age. In the first grade I asked my parents if I could take piano lessons, though that didn't last long; I found the lessons boring and tedious. In the third grade my dad taught me how to read chord charts on the guitar, and I immediately rushed to learn every Beatles song I could.
SC: What was your most memorable experience with a music teacher?
ED: My high school orchestra teacher was the teacher who encouraged me to take private lessons on the cello and essentially began my life as a cellist. She took our depressing, underdeveloped school orchestra and made it outstanding by restoring our technique, giving us exciting repertoire, and expecting a much higher standard from us.
SC: How has being a musician affected your everyday life? Has it changed how you view the world or interact with people?
ED: For one, I don't operate on the same 9-5 schedule as most of the world. I have much more freedom over my daily life since my work is a combination of teaching, rehearsing/performing, and putting together my own musical projects. When you're a performer, you often have the sensation of going to work when everyone else has their recreation time—on Saturday night when people might be going to a concert, you're warming up and getting ready to play that concert. It's a special privilege when your "work" is providing other people with entertainment/enjoyment; it often means work feels a lot less like work. That being said, the preparation that leads to that concert often feels a lot like work.
As a performer you often have to think of the needs and interests of your audience. This can be dismal for a classical musician since the general public is not particularly interested in sitting still at a concert of 200-year-old music. This "old" music flourishes tremendously in Europe, so it's my hope that we can turn American audiences on to it as well.
SC: What’s your best advice for kids just starting out in music?
ED: Let yourself get lost in it. Find pieces/songs/repertoire that speaks to you and explore them. Listen to recordings and watch videos from people who inspire you.
SC: Who has been your biggest influence?
ED: I have a very eclectic musical palate so I have a number of influences. In early music, Jordi Savall constantly inspires. He manages to preserve a tremendous amount of historical accuracy and stylistic knowledge while always making his performances exciting, expressive, and fresh. It's almost as though he speaks the "language" of every repertoire he performs.
In popular music, I'm very interested in the music and approach of hip hop artist Kanye West. As a mainstream artist, he strives to push musical boundaries and introduce new sounds and textures to a hip hop atmosphere.
SC: Do you have any upcoming gigs or projects in the works?
ED: My latest major project was the release of my self-produced solo album in February 2013, BASS SOUNDS: Music for Unaccompanied Cello from the Early Baroque.
I'm also putting together a period instrument chamber group that I'm really excited about. I'm not ready to formally announce it yet, but it's an ensemble that is currently lacking in the Boston early music scene, so I'm really looking forward to sharing it.