Classically UnconventionalAug 01, 2021 ● By Diann Nichols
Performing arts ensemble Lumedia Musicworks is dedicated to lending a unique twist to classical music.
Conceived in 2017 by a visionary group of like-minded musicians, its players bring classical music to life via live performances and original short films by taking an innovative and unconventional approach in presenting what is known as early music written before 1750.
The nonprofit organization marries 21st century technology with 18th century music, introducing silent films, graphics, poetry and dance to early music to turn the concept of a traditional classical music concert into a performance art piece.
Earlier this summer, Lumedia Musicworks performed at the George Purefoy Municipal Center as part of the City of Frisco’s Music in the Chamber concert series.
“Early music is all about theater, high drama, dance, even street music,” Dr. Julianna Emanski, a Frisco resident and Lumedia Musicworks’ artistic director, explained. “It covered sacred music, party music, music for special occasions — you name it. It wasn’t formal concert music.”
The organization “recognized the many tools and opportunities that no one was utilizing in the industry,” she said. “We realized there was unexplored territory for early music to be better understood, to transform audiences’ perception and show them that this music is anything but stuffy and boring. It is full of light, life and laughter, and is totally relevant if given the chance and approached with an open mind.”
Jendi Tarde, Lumedia Musicworks’ stories director, said, “We often think of classical music as this lofty, elitist thing, but early music is a unique offshoot of the classical music world.” She describes the ensemble’s productions as “relatable. It is high art, down-and-dirty fun, performance art and everything in between. There really aren’t a lot of barriers for the group in this genre.”
Thane Isaac, a baroque violin and dulcimer player, agrees. “While working with Lumedia, it’s hard not to notice that this group manages to do both – reimagining the presentation of baroque music while preserving the intent of its original composers,” he said. “That is a rare feat in such a specialized genre of music and is a large part of why working with this group has been so rewarding.”
Mr. Isaac hopes audiences take away a new appreciation for early music. He said Lumedia Musicworks holds “both a serious professionalism coupled with a solid sense of humor. For a working musician … it doesn’t get much better than that.”
To achieve this unique programming, the ensemble finds its inspiration in the music. “We perform musical works as they were written by the composers,” Dr. Emanski explained, “but oftentimes we create our own arrangements of those works, better known as mashups. For example, we take a couple of pieces of music, dismantle them somewhat, then put them back together in a way that suits our programming.”
With early music, she said, works may be combined for greater variety or to trim length. “We also call it `Frankensteining’ a piece. We’ll change the key, rearrange things. … It’s a more challenging kind of programming for the performers. They really have to pay attention to the road map in their scores.”
An example of this is Lumedia’s 50-minute concert film titled Welcome to the West, which incorporates cowboy poetry and ranching history in a visual portrayal of the American West. It consists of contemporary footage of Texas ranch life, as well as historical ranching footage from the Library of Congress, and musical selections that stretch more than 300 years with sonatas, concertos, traditional fiddling, folk tunes and 1940s western-swing music. It is performed by an ensemble of 10 instrumentalists, three vocalists, five videographers and cowboy poets.
Clips from Welcome to the West and other Lumedia Mediaworks productions and performances can be viewed on its YouTube channel, Lumedia Musicworks.
Creating these distinctive arrangements is only part of what makes Lumedia Musicworks’ performances work, Dr. Emanski said. “The right equipment is essential to capturing the unique sound quality. Our instruments are custom built to look and sound like the instruments from the time.”
The group’s considerable talents result in authenticity, Ms. Tarde explained. “You can’t understand Vivaldi until you’ve heard it on original instruments,” she said. “A Handel opera can be pretty dull without baroque gesture. The baroque music of Spain is rich with dances and rhythms of Christian, Jewish and Muslim music. The baroque music of New Spain has all that, plus an amazing incorporation of indigenous and African folk music. Baroque opera has its roots in the street theater performers of Commedia dell’arte,” an early form of professional theater that originated in Italy and was popular throughout 16th through 18th-century Europe.
Without all the knowledge and research and training we put into this,” Ms. Tarde said, “an audience wouldn’t be able to connect. It would just be a bunch of pretty sounds.”
Despite the strife that many performers encountered during the pandemic, the past year has been business as usual for Lumedia Musicworks, which boasts “a unique model of operation,” Dr. Emanski said.
“We do not have a performing home base/concert hall. We find unique spaces in the community where audiences can be relaxed and engaged. We perform live in our community half of the time and the other half we dedicate to creating digital content that fosters our online community,” she explained. “As a result, Lumedia established itself as a leader in navigating the unknown territory caused by the pandemic. We were already 50 percent digital content. It was easy to pivot to 100-percent digital.”
Although Lumedia Musicworks has always maintained an online presence, the group introduced several concert series for the 2020 season that were unique to the pandemic.
“We were able to give fellow artists a platform during that challenging time,” Dr. Emanski said. “As a result, we found ourselves to be fully immersed in the movie business. In fact, we created a whole new genre of concert film. It was no walk in the park though. It took thousands of hours to create a high-quality, entirely-digital season.”
The group’s 2020-2021 season wrapped up in July. Plans for the 2021-2022 season include five comedic mini-documentaries, two live performances in Frisco and Dallas and two short films. The season will begin in September with the story of Wilhelmina von Bayreuth, an 18th century composer, in a continuation of the group’s popular Stories: Early Women Composers series.
Although Lumedia Musicworks’ performers have lived and performed in many major cities, Frisco is the place they love.
Ms. Tarde, a trained classical singer, actor and stage director, was based for a time in Chicago and later New York City. However, she said, “My family is from Frisco, so relocating my husband and children to North Texas after all that time away was easy. I love the art scene here ... especially the early music. It is amazing how many great ensembles are based here.”
Dr. Emanski is a Pennsylvania transplant. “I love Frisco,” she said. “There are so many opportunities happening in this city. It’s a place that feels like anything can happen, and I get more inspired creatively being surrounded by that attitude. It is exciting to live in Frisco because of the growing arts culture.”
The group’s performances take them to other Texas cities, but Frisco remains home. “Frisco’s citizens have always been appreciative of the arts, but recently it seems that a lot more people are making their way to Frisco for these reasons,” Dr. Emanski said.
“It is not just one thing or event happening in this growing small town that has caused such an influx of interest. There are many different aspects contributing and will continue to contribute as time goes on. There’s plenty going on besides music — historical museums, galleries that house some interesting collections from local artists and great schools that provide educational arts programs for our kids.”