As the snow fell Sunday night, many of us in Johnson City were sitting inside the packed, cobblestone church of St. John’s while classical music sounded throughout the sanctuary.
The LeStrange Viols are a group of six American violists who came together to revive the Renaissance music of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Though this classical music was performed using different instruments than what our generations are accustomed to hearing. These musicians used a collection of instruments called a consort and is made up of viols, or violas da gamba.
Viols are six-stringed musical instruments held vertically and played with a bow. All forms vary in size from small, medium and large.
Treble viol player Loren Ludwig and bass viol player Douglas Kelley gave a bit of insight into their lives. They refer to themselves as the “LeStrangers.”
Both men’s passion for the viols began during their childhood, describing their discovery of the viols as a fortunate event of being at “a very impressionable age at just the right time,” Ludwig said.
Kelley found viols through a local museum and through the countless books he constantly read. Ludwig, on the other hand, found the viols in a French film called (in English) “All the Mornings of the World.”
“Doug’s an outlier,” Ludwig said. “Almost everybody in our generation that plays this instrument plays it because this movie came out in the early 90s that had this wonderful soundtrack …”
Since their passion was ignited, they lived their lives learning how to play and perfect the viols.
In fact, most of the LeStrangers went to the same college — Oberlin College and Conservatory. That’s how they came together as a group, through the connections they made during their college years.
Though playing in the LeStrange Viols group is what they love to do, the musicians do have another career. Ludwig teaches college courses, and Kelley is in business.
When they’re not in the real world, the LeStrange Viols take the audience back to the Renaissance, during a time of romantic imagination.
“There are moments when you can just sail on the music that you’re playing,” Ludwig said. “That’s wonderful when it happens, and that happens at least a couple times in every piece, but it’s mixed in with all the concentration.”
Since the pieces are typically comprised using six instruments, Kelley said the harmony they create takes a lot of brain power.
“Very often it looks like we’re completely engrossed in the music,” Kelley said. “But, in fact, we tend to be connected in this little space in front of us, which is where all the sound is happening and where all the articulation is happening.”
Their efforts are not in vain, though.
When I sat in that church and watched as the snow fell outside, I couldn’t help but think of Shakespeare’s plays, fairies in the woods and other scenes of serenity and mystic adventure.