Concert offers ancient tales and tunes for the dark months

Gathered by the Fire begins at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday, Nov. 4, at Oak Bay United Church

The ensemble Banquo brings the concert Gathered by the Fire to Oak Bay United Church Friday

Venture back to medieval days with the Banquo Folk Ensemble, in concert at Oak Bay United Church Friday, Nov. 4.

The performance, Gathered by the Fire, is built around the theme of the dark days of winter, when, in ancient times, communities came together to share stories and music to help survive the harsh realities of an unforgiving season.

Myth, legends and the spirit world figure prominently in tales read by guest narrator and local singer Paul Boughen, accompanied by evocative music from those far-off times.

Known for bridging the gap between early music and folk, Banquo performs ancient and traditional music covering eight centuries, from the written and oral traditions.

“Music from the medieval and Renaissance periods, up to the 18th century, is usually seen as the dominion of the ‘historically informed’ early music world, who take a very scholarly approach to the music,” says Banquo member and Oak Bay resident Bill Jamieson.

“However, when it comes to secular music, that downplays the impact of oral traditions, wherein music was passed from musician to musician and generation to generation without being written down. Our goal is to try to connect to that long tradition.”

If that music was not written down, how do we know what it sounded like? “The honest answer is, we don’t,” says Jamieson. “But we can get really good clues from the music that has survived in written form, and from the oral musical traditions of more recent times.”

Drawing from these sources, Banquo puts their own stamp on ancient tunes, performing them on voice and a large array of over 25 exotic instruments, including recorders, cittern, several types of bagpipes, hurdy gurdy, shawm, vielle, crumhorn and percussion.

Many of these instruments are authentic reproductions of instruments used hundreds of years ago, while others are updated versions of the originals, including instruments made by Banquo member Eric Reiswig.

“The aim is to achieve a performance that reflects what the music might have sounded like when it was originally performed, rather than trying for the unreachable goal of absolute authenticity. Much of this music comes down to us through the ages with little or no information on how it was originally performed. This gives us the freedom to explore the many creative possibilities the music presents, while still honoring its origins.

“At the end of the day, we want to provide a concert that our audience will be able to relate to and that showcases this wonderful music, so rarely available to modern audiences.”

Gathered by the Fire begins at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday, Nov. 4, at Oak Bay United Church. Tickets are $20 at the door, or $18 in advance at Ivy’s Bookshop or online at www.brownpapertickets.com

For more information, visit www.banquo.com.