For several seasons the Newberry Consort has helped emerging musicians through our Young Artist Mentorship Program. We’d like you to meet our Kemp’s Jig mentee Brandon Acker, who was kind enough to answer a few questions. Did you know a lutenist can also be a rock star and YouTube phenomenon? Read on!
How did you start playing historical plucked strings? What sparked your interest?
While studying classical guitar in college, I developed a passion for music for voice and guitar. I then discovered the wonderful treasure of music written in the Renaissance and Baroque periods for singers accompanied by early plucked instruments. In the process I fell in love with the lute song repertoire, early opera and the sound of these early instruments.
My biggest turning point was attending the Madison Early Music Festival three summers in a row. There I finally got to play instruments like the theorbo, lute, and baroque guitar. Studying these instruments with the virtuoso lutenists on faculty inspired me to specialize in early music.
I noticed from you very successful YouTube page that you have wide-ranging interests in music. How does your interest in early music affect your performance of other styles, and vice versa?
I’ve always felt that for every new style I learn, my understanding of the styles I already play increases. For instance, when I play electric guitar or bass in rock or music theater concerts, I draw from my experience playing early music, which has given me a more sophisticated understanding of harmony and improvisation. And vice versa, when I play pieces for early instruments like baroque guitar, I believe my years of playing in hard rock bands informs my ability to breath power and feeling into the music.
How did you benefit from working with very established artists like Ellen Hargis, David Douglass and Steve Player?
I could easily write an essay about the things I learned working with these world class musicians and all around great people. The most noticeable part of being in rehearsal with these three was just how much creative energy was in the room. Brilliant changes and additions were being made right up to the performances.
For example, Steve, being a genius improviser, would decide to add things in the middle of the concert and the rest of us had to roll with the punches. Learning to keep up in this environment was challenging but the resulting energy of each performance was spontaneous and incredibly rewarding. I’m a better musician for having worked with them.
What was your favorite moment on stage while performing “Kemp’s Jig”?
There was this unforgettable moment in our last performance. The house was packed. Steve spontaneously decided to have a competition with David, who was playing lightning fast divisions on the violin. Steve, staring down David, danced faster and David, staring right back, would respond.
The tension increased as they began inching closer and closer together until both broke a sweat. Then in a moment of unplanned brilliance, as David struck the last note of the piece, his glasses flew off his face followed by beads of sweat. The audience erupted with applause and everyone on stage broke out in laughter!