James Strecker: I did quite a double take last year on discovering your Hammer Baroque series of musicians and singers all of international stature and just a mile from my home in Hamilton. Why exactly did you initially establish this musically rich series and what are your present goals with it?
Bud Roach: I love to hear stories about how people first come to know Hammer Baroque, because everyone talks about it as though they’ve found some sort of secret doorway, and this is part of the reason why I thought of creating a monthly series. My ensemble Capella Intima has been presenting some really great programmes in Hamilton since 2009, but not many people have been there to hear them. I accept much of the blame for that situation, because promotion is one of my weaker spots, but it has always seemed to me that Hamilton’s classical music scene was a bit disjointed.
Pockets of activity have always been going on, but we just aren’t a large enough city to support something like our own WholeNote Magazine. Or perhaps it’s not a question of population, but more one of proximity to one of the most vibrant music scenes in North America! At any rate, I felt that if a consistent early music audience could be cultivated by running a series, then Capella Intima concerts stood a better chance of being community events, rather than an ensemble that pops up three times a year, then slips back into obscurity.
Currently Hammer Baroque is a monthly concert series, and it is a huge undertaking. But the response of both the early music community and Hamilton audiences has been very enthusiastic. What I would like to see with Hammer Baroque is a “tiered” system of sponsorship, where a budget exists to bring in guests for a guaranteed fee. This way, more international artists could be booked. It would be nice to be able to form partnerships with organizations that are unable to take the risk involved by participating on the series.
Right now it operates on a “Fringe Festival” basis, where proceeds from the box office go directly to the artists. There is no budget, and the minimal expenses involved (thanks to the amazing generosity of the Church of St. John the Evangelist) are covered by about the first fifteen or eighteen patrons. After that point, what the people around you in the church have donated is what the artists are leaving with. So although artists will always walk away with some compensation for their efforts, it would be a risk for any group that doesn’t operate as a collective, and offers the performers a set fee. Having sponsorship for that would allow for a few more ensemble appearances that are out of reach at the moment.
JS: One thing I love about the series is the opportunity to get acquainted with composers, especially pre-classical, who are new to me. It reminds me of the good old days when I would buy LPs on the Vox label and make all manner of musical discoveries. What type of response have you had from your audiences regarding repertoire and performers in your series?
BR: Well, the goal was to increase Capella Intima’s audience, and that has certainly been achieved. The mandate of the quartet is to perform relatively unknown music from the early Baroque. Most of the time when people attend a Capella Intima concert, they are hearing music that has never been heard in Canada. Or, in more than a few cases, it’s likely that our repertoire has not been heard anywhere in the world for several hundred years! This makes for very special performances, in my opinion.
It is a very different feeling, for both performers and audiences, to experience music that is unfamiliar, and I really enjoy presenting programmes where no one really knows what’s coming next. There could be unexpected humour, or a surprisingly touching moment. The emotional heights of music from the Baroque era are the essence of its appeal, and there were many, many composers who were very good at conveying that drama. So having a wide array of performers and programmes to bring an historically informed sensibility to the music of the period (with a bit of stretching on both sides of the “Baroque” timeline) makes sense, and patrons seem to enjoy that as well.
We’ve had a medieval programme (Tales from the Decameron) presented by Sine Nomine, all the way to Beethoven with the Eybler String Quartet. Some patrons have made specific suggestions, and I always consider that in the programming of the series. As an example, the concert this weekend will feature the amazing Alison Melville on recorder. Alison is a friend and colleague, and I was really thrilled when she asked about performing, because Hammer Baroque patrons have requested a concert featuring the recorder since the very first event (Spoiler alert: Alison will be back next season with her recorder quartet!).
We present instrumental and vocal music, from solo voice to 18th-century choir and orchestra, from a wide swath of Western musical history. If I expect an audience to come each month, then care must be taken to ensure that the variety in the programming makes attendance worthwhile. As for your question about how the performers have been regarded, I can say that patrons have always been demonstrative in their praise. Spreading the word means larger audiences, and larger audiences lead to the highest level of performers, so Hammer Baroque’s growth is a very good thing for the quality of concert presentation in Hamilton.
JS: At a recent concert, one which featured violinist Edwin Huizinga and harpsichordist Philip Fournier, you referred with some delight to “Hammer Baroque audiences” and I wonder who the people who attend your concerts might be. Are you surprised by the obvious success of your series? How in fact, other than with your own efforts, do you make such a series happen?
BR: I am absolutely amazed at how the community has welcomed and embraced Hammer Baroque. Every concert has had a special kind of atmosphere, and no matter how much work is involved in putting things together, it’s a wonderful reward to have patrons thank me for organizing the series. But of course, it does not happen by my efforts alone. Steve McKay (formerly the Technical Director for Tafelmusik) and his family have a special relationship with the Rock on Locke venue, and he has guided the congregation through the process of becoming a serious venue for classical music in the city. He built the stage, and also installed the lighting, which happens to be Tafelmusik’s old lighting system from Trinity St. Paul’s in Toronto!
So Hammer Baroque came into existence because the Rock on Locke became a suitable, affordable venue, and I had the desire to start a monthly series. And as for making each concert a reality, I can say that it gets easier for almost every event, but is still a considerable investment of time and energy. The website must be updated, emails answered, Facebook page kept up to date, concert listings sent out, a monthly mass email, posters designed, printed, and posted locally, programmes designed and printed, slide projections for each concert designed, coordinating with the performers, contacting volunteers to help me with front-of-house….it is a lot of work, but with every concert, I feel as though the local audience for early music is being broadened, and that is a rewarding development.
I want the audience I sing and play for to be enthusiastic, open-minded, and educated, and by establishing a series like Hammer Baroque, that’s what I can help to build. The people you may see helping out with cash or selling cd’s, I should add, are not volunteers I have sought out. They are Hammer Baroque patrons who have shared with me that they are willing to help! My long-suffering partner has taken on the lion’s share of this, but there are many patrons who have offered their time and expertise. I’m still learning how to delegate, so some folks haven’t been called into service yet. However, with Tafelmusik returning in May, I think it will be an “all hands on deck” situation.