Piffaro - Introductions

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band

The music, instruments, and activities of Piffaro, The Renaissance Band

Introduction to Piffaro, the Renaissance Band
Under the direction of Artistic Directors Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemken, the world renowned pied-pipers of Early Music present an annual subscription concert series in the Philadelphia region; tour throughout the United States, Europe, Canada and South America; and appear as performers and instructors at major Early Music festivals. Recordings are a significant part of the ensemble’s work, and 16 CDs have been released since 1992, including 4 on the prestigious label Deutsche Grammophon/Archiv Produktion label. Please note that the music samples were not recorded at the same time and location as the photos, so instrumentation and musician lineup may vary.
Or udite el buono horare (Anonymous, early 16th c. Italy)
Ay, ay, ay, tres veces (Anonymous, 16th c Spain)

Concert at Christ Church Christiana Hundred in Greenville, DE

Introduction to Instruments of the Renaissance
Piffaro delights audiences with highly polished recreations of the rustic music of the peasantry and the elegant sounds of the official wind bands of the late Medieval and Renaissance periods.  Its ever-expanding instrumentarium includes shawms, dulcians, sackbuts, recorders, krumhorns, bagpipes, lutes, guitars, harps, and a variety of percussion — all careful reconstructions of instruments from the period. 

The Laughing Bird sings Cipriano de Rore madrigals at Trinity Center for Urban Life Piffaro in Philadelphia, PA

Greg Ingles introduces the slide trumpet, sackbut, and loud band

Alons ferons barbe (Loyset Compere, c. 1445-1518)
The Renaissance shawms that Piffaro play are double reed instruments that are thedirect ancestors of the modern oboe and English horn. They can trace their own ancestry back centuries to ancient Egypt, and have many cousins in the realm of folk music. With their large bells, they are brighter in timbre than their descendents, and were one of the primary instruments played by the 15th and 16th century wind bands.

Christa Patton intruduces the shawm

Deus in adiutorium meum intende (Juan Gutierez de Padilla, c. 1590-1664

Joan Kimball introduces the douçaine

The krumhorn is a capped double reed instrument, with the reed hiddenunderneath a cap through which the player directs the air. Its name is derived from its curved shape (krum means “curved” in German). Since the player’s lips never touch the reed to manipulate it, there is no possibility of loud/soft dynamics, and the range is limited to nine notes. While very popular during the Renaissance, it spawned no off-spring and went out of favor in the 17th century.

Joan Kimball introduces the krumhorn.

Presulem sanctissimum (Forster)
The dulcian, an early double reed instrument, is the direct ancestor of the modern bassoon. It was invented sometime in the early to mid 16th century, and with its doubled-over bore, it turned out to be a useful and flexible instrument that became the bass instrument of the 16th century windbands. It was played extensively throughout Europe well into the 17th century, frequently doubling the bass singers in church choirs.

Robert Wiemken introduces the dulcian

The bagpipe is common to just about every western culture, and its origins go back to Sumeria and ancient Greece. With a bag and a separate blowpipe, this allows the instrument to create a continuous sound and for the air to go through more than one pipe at a time. Most bagpipes have a chanter to create the melody and one or two drones that provide a single note, creating a rudimentary harmony with the melody. Bagpipes came in a wide variety of sizes, pitches and volume level in the Renaissance period.

Tom Zajac introduces the bagpipe.

Tant que notre argent dure
The recorder, a kind of whistle mouthpiece flute, comes from a family with an ancient lineage found in most cultures of the world. It became an extremely popular instrument in the Renaissance, and its sizes grew from the alto and tenor of the late medieval period, to a extended family ranging from the sopranino to the contrabass four octaves lower. The wind bands of the day played recorders in addition to their shawms, dulcians and sackbuts, and the players at Henry VIII’s court had a collection of 76 recorders at their disposal!

Priscilla Herreid (Smith) introduces the recorder

I come sweet birds (Robert Jones, fl 1597-1615)

Robert Wiemken introduces the rackett.

The lute, due to its humanistic association with Orpheus and the power of music,was one of the most aristocratic instruments of Renaissance Europe. Study on the instrument was an essential part of the education of Renaissance nobles and monarchs. The lute had its origins in the Arabic Ud, brought into Spain by the Moors in the Middle Ages. It is distinguished by its pear shape and rounded back, made wood strips glued together over a mold. The strings are made of gut, strung on the instrument in pairs, with a single top string known as the chanterelle, or “singing string”. The Renaissance guitar was a smaller sized instrument than its modern counterpart,with four courses tuned much like a ukelele. It was popular in the Renaissance with the middle class, and was frequently used to accompany dances. It achieved prominence in Spain, especially in the Spanish theater. By the time Louis XIV decided to play the guiter, bringing the most famous Italian guitar virtuoso to Paris to teach him, it had supplanted the lute as instrument of choice among the aristocracy. Harps of many sizes and shapes were played for millenia throughout the ancientworld. The first depictions of harps in European iconography date from the 8th century, and from sources through the Middle Ages it seems that most harps at that time were small and portable. The stringing was most commonly of gut or brass. The last harp to emerge in Renaissance Europe was the large cross-strung harp of Spain and the arpa doppia of Italy. Both were gut strung and fully chromatic, but not yet equipped with pedals. They were played as solo instruments or used to accompany voices and instruments.

Grant Herreid introduces the lute and Christa Patton introduces the harp.

Grant Herreid introduces the Renaissance guitar.

Rossignol (Anonymous, 16th c. English)
Paintings, manuscripts and prints indicate the use of percussion throughout theMedieval and Renaissance periods. Drums, called tabors, were made of wood, with skin heads. They had ropes strung on the sides between the two heads, which could be tightened or loosened to raise or lower the pitch.

Tom Zajac introduces the pipe and tabor.

La galioxia (Anonymous, late 15th c. Italy, arr. Piffaro)

Piffaro at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia

Chacona:"Un sarao de la chacona" (Juan Aranes, d. 1649)

Lute, Harp, and Recorder

Piffaro in Rehearsal
Behind the scenes photos of Piffaro preparing for concerts.

Piffaro rehearsing in Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA

Piffaro and the Laughing Bird Singers collaborate during rehearsal.

Piffaro and the Laughing Bird singers rehearsing in Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA

Educational and Youth Programs
Piffaro has been active in the field of education since its inception in 1980, and has been honored twice for its work by Early Music America, receiving the “Early Music Brings History Alive” award in 2003, and the Laurette Goldberg “Lifetime Achievement Award in Early Music Outreach” in 2011.

Artistic Director Joan Kimball

Young musicians at 2015 Recorder Festival

Martin Bernstein performing at the Recorder Festival

First place winner, Martin Bernstein competing in the National Recorder Competition

Artistic Director Robert Wiemken leads a Collegium Musicum concert

The Laughing Bird and Piffaro in concert.

Vieni, dolce Himineo
Credits: Story

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band
Artistic Co-Directors, Joan Kimball & Robert Wiemken
Executive Director, Shannon Cline

Grant Herreid, lute, guitar, recorder, shawm, percussion, krumhorn
Priscilla Herreid, shawm, recorder, dulcian, bagpipe, krumhorn
Greg Ingles, sackbut, recorder, krumhorn, percussion
Joan Kimball, shawm, dulcian, recorder, bagpipe, krumhorn
Christa Patton, shawm, harp, bagpipe, recorder, krumhorn
Robert Wiemken, dulcian, recorder, percussion, krumhorn
Tom Zajac, sackbut, recorder, bagpipe, pipe & tabor, krumhorn, percussion

With guests
Garrett Lahr, sackbut
Liza Malamud, sackbut
Adam Bregman, sackbut

William DiCecca
Sharon Torello

Video recordings:
Glenn Holsten

Curator of exhibit:
Sharon Torello

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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