This month, Elizabethtown College will have the privilege of having Piffaro, the Renaissance Band travel to Etown from Philadelphia to perform for faculty, students and local residents.
The Philadelphia-based band was formed in 1980 and has performed their concert series since 1985. “We are comprised of anywhere from six to eight musicians, depending on the kind of program we’re doing,” original member and co-director of the band, Joan Kimball said. “Most of the artists come from out of town — they’re early music specialists from around the country. We have two from California, one from Boston and three from the New York area. So we’re definitely a national group in that regards.”
In the early eighties, Kimball and four of her colleagues played in the Collegium Musicum for the University of Pennsylvania. They decided, after this, that they wanted to go off on their own to form their own group. “We wanted to really specialize in the double reed instruments of the Renaissance,” Kimball said.
After working with her colleagues, Piffaro was born. However, the band didn’t always have its current name. “We were originally just the Renaissance Wind Band, and then we attached Philadelphia to it so we were the Philadelphia Renaissance Wind Band,” Kimball said. “And then in the early 90s we signed a contract with the European label, and they decided that we needed a new name, and that’s when we came up with Piffaro.” According to Kimball, Piffaro is “an old Italian word that means either a wind instrument, a pipe or a wind player. It’s a name that goes back to the fifteenth century.”
The band consists of many different instruments. Each member plays multiple instruments, depending on the performance. “One of my specialties is the double reeds. I play the shawm and dulcian, I play recorder — my very first instrument,” Kimball said. “Everybody in the group plays different instruments. We all have one of our favorites or our specialty, but everybody in the group plays recorder, and about five people in the group play double reeds. Two people in the group specialize in the brass, and there’s one person who, in addition to winds, plays harp. We’re all multi-instrumentalist.”
Recently the group decided to add dancers to their performance. “A woman named Dorothy Olson, who is the director of the New York Historical dance company. She and her partner will be dancing some of the dances that we will be playing the music for,” Kimball said. “People don’t only get to hear the music but get to see one of the ways music at this time was used.”
According to Kimball, “One of the things that’s important about Renaissance music is that at that time period, it was really functional music used for ceremony or for church or for entertainment. And they didn’t have concerts back then the way we do today. It’s fun, I think, for people to see the dancing that goes along with some of the music that we play.”
When Piffaro comes to visit, the dancers will be coming as well. They will be dressed in Renaissance costumes and will really give the audience a taste of the Renaissance with their graceful and historic dancing.
Students on campus are excited about Piffaro’s arrival. “I am really looking forward to this,” junior clarinet player Jackie Feizet said. “I’ve read a little about them and researched some of their music; it should be a really enjoyable experience,” Fiezet added.
Piffaro has performed worldwide in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Columbia and Berlin, among others. They have recorded many CD’s and can be heard on various radio stations. In addition to performing around the world, the band takes the time to perform in local elementary and high schools. They also hold workshops for adults and college students and offer lessons, teaching the youth early Renaissance dance and how to play instruments such as the recorder.
Piffaro’s music is unique and offers a sample of what it was like to live during the Renaissance. Students and faculty alike are encouraged to come out and watch Piffaro, the Renaissance Band perform on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. A dinner will also be offered in Leffler Chapel, where the performance will take place. Before the show, concert-goers can enjoy a choice of two entrees, desserts, sides and drinks. Advance ticket reservations are only $22 and can be purchased by calling 717-361-1508.