Echo Location: Ronn McFarlane’s 21st Century Lute

It’s not your ancient Renaissance lute anymore when Ronn McFarlane creates new music for an ancient instrument.

(You can hear an Audio Version of this blog, with music.)

Songs from the Labyrinth (Music by John Dowland) In 2006, Sting put out an album of tunes by 16th century composer John Dowland called Songs from the Labyrinth. Sting not only sang Dowland’s songs, but played a renaissance instrument called the lute. He plucked it convincingly, unless you happen to be a virtuoso renaissance lutenist.

Lutenist Ronn McFarlane at Echoes

Lutenist Ronn McFarlane at Echoes

Ronn McFarlane: I think he has fairly modest abilities on the lute but he does what he needs to do, and the most intricate lute playing tends to be done by his partner, Edin Karamozov, and he’s, you know, quite a fine player and quite brilliant.

Ronn McFarlane has been playing the lute for over 3 decades, much of it with the Baltimore Consort. What appealed to him in Sting’s music was less the Dowland pieces, and more, Sting’s own music.

Ronn McFarlane: One of my favorites was actually one of Sting’s original pieces, “Fields of Gold.” When they arranged that for two lutes and voice, I thought it was a haunting arrangement, quite beautiful, and I would have loved to have heard more contemporary music played on the lute.

So Ronn McFarlane decided to create his own repertoire. He’s been writing original compositions for about a decade and collected several of his tunes on an album called Indigo Road.

Ronn McFarlane-Indigo Road

Ronn McFarlane-Indigo Road

If you listen close to McFarlane’s music, you’ll hear techniques like harmonics and glissandos that weren’t part of the renaissance arsenal. Ronn got some of them from his days as a rocker, but also from listening to contemporary acoustic guitarists like the late Michael Hedges. Like Michael Hedges, Ronn McFarlane is an eclectic. Celtic influences infuse some tunes, while on others he sounds like a bluegrass player.

Ronn McFarlane isn’t ready to give up his classical career with the Baltimore Consort, but he has opened up new possibilities for an instrument that, with the exception of Sting, hasn’t seen much new music for a few hundred years.

There will be a full interview with Ronn McFarlane Wednesday 9/03 and you can hear Ronn McFarlane playing live on Echoes on Tuesday, 9/16. More Info on the Echoes website

This has been an Echo Location, Soundings for New Music, heard on Wednesday mornings on 88.5 WXPN Philadephia and other enlightened Echoes affiliate stations.

(You can hear an Audio Version of this blog, with music.)

John Diliberto ((( Echoes )))

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