Musical ensemble’s leader finds time in present for future, past

During the day, Al Cofrin’s head is in outer space. On the weekends, his heart is in the Middle Ages.

The Houston-based NASA flight controller for the International Space Station will be in Jacksonville on Saturday for a storytelling concert reminiscent of those that might have been performed by medieval bards.

“We’re very much a storytelling ensemble,” Cofrin said of his musical group Istanpitta — the name means “little stepping dance” — which performs European and Middle Eastern music of the Middle Ages from the 10th to 14th centuries. “We’re not an ensemble that just sits down and does tune after tune. We want to take the audience along on that journey.”

Saturday’s journey at Illinois College’s Rammelkamp Chapel will follow Tristan and Isolde, characters  in a medieval romance based on Celtic legend. Istanpitta’s performance, “Chevrefoil,” is based on Marie de France’s “Lai du chevrefoil,” or “The Tale of the Honeysuckle.”

“In the Middle Ages, Marie de France was a traveling storyteller,” Cofrin said. “She was very popular in England. … Essentially she was a female bard. Her stories got published and well-distributed. While she was alive, she did a lot of touring.”

Tristan and Isolde are “star-crossed lovers,” Cofrin said. “Kind of like Romeo and Juliet, with a little bit different background.”

Tristan, as the story goes, is a knight who travels to Ireland and returns to his king with tales of an Irish princess. Intrigued, the king sends Tristan back to negotiate a marriage proposal.

Because the king is very old and Isolde is to be a very young bride, her mother concocts a love potion to be given to the king and her daughter on their wedding night.

But, on the return journey, Tristan and Isolde accidentally drink the potion and fall madly in love.

“For some reason, tragic stories were just really, really popular in the Middle Ages,” Cofrin said.

While Istanpitta’s performance will not tell the entire story of Tristan and Isolde, it will feature the entire de France poem in medieval French with English translations and music from the poem’s original time period. A few dances will be interspersed amid the music.

“I think that is much more entertaining, when you get to hear a story performed on stage and with music,” Cofrin said. 

So, what is the connection between futuristic NASA and centuries-old medieval music?

For Cofrin, it’s math. He studied jazz theory and aerospace engineering in college before completing a graduate degree in music. Along with the medieval-style instruments he plays with Istanpitta, he also plays upright bass in jazz ensembles on weekends. 

“I’m one of those guys,” he said. “I was in school for a long time. … Working on the space program was something I wanted to do since I was 13. I picked up music in undergrad. … Math is the link. I definitely think of music mathematically.”

A graduate school professor got him interested in medieval music.

“Most of what the emphasis was on in my thesis was medieval French and Italian instrumental music” and dance, Cofrin said, noting that he ended up publishing two books on the subject, three if you consider that one of them is a two-volume set.

“I love the repertoire” he said of Istanpitta’s performances. “It captures a lot of aspects that we don’t necessarily hear in classical music. It’s earthier, a lot more primitive.”

It also provides a glimpse into a prior time period.

“This gives you an idea, if you were living in a castle, what the instruments, what the vocal performance would sound like,” Cofrin said, adding that it’s not a sound all that common in contemporary movies set in medieval times. “None of these instruments survived. They’re not in museums anywhere.”

Cofrin will play lute, bagpipes and vielle and provide narration. Chris LeCluyse will provide voice and percussion, Michelle O’Connor will play vielle and Therese Honey will be on harp.

“There’s always a fascination after a concert,” Cofrin said. “Hordes of people will come up just to look at these instruments. They’re not easy to acquire. My medieval lute was a six-year wait. There just aren’t many makers and there’s a waiting list.”

He considers it a privilege to be able to perform with Istanpitta.

“Medieval music is not easily accessible,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s a treat to actually be able to present this program so a modern audience can get a taste of what we think that music was like.”

Istanpitta will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Illinois College’s Rammelkamp Chapel as part of the Illinois College Fine Arts Series. Tickets, which are $15 for adults and free for students of all ages, are available at the door or in advance by calling 217-245-3192.

Source link

Tags: No tags

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *