Interview about "Rustic Classical" with the Worcester Telegram's Richard Duckett


Musicians of the Old Post Road Return to Worcester Historical Museum for Season Finale

by Richard Duckett
Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Published 5:04 a.m. ET April 12, 2024 Updated 5:04 a.m. ET April 12, 2024

Musicians of the Old Post Road intend to evoke “earthy” musical themes for the final concert of its 35th anniversary season on April 21 at the Worcester Historical Museum.

The Boston area classical music ensemble promises that the concert, titled “Earth: Rustic Classical,” will be "rollicking chamber music with a Bohemian flair for flute and strings." "It's fun. Down-to-earth," said Suzanne Stumpf, Musicians of the Old Post Road co-founder and co-artistic director with her husband, Daniel Ryan, about the program. "It's boisterous. Toe-tapping," said Ryan.

And why not? Musicians of the Old Post Road certainly has a lot to celebrate.


'It's a very large number'

"Thirty-five — it's a very large number," said Stumpf, who also plays the flute/traverso (baroque flute) in the ensemble while Ryan is the cellist. The season has included a big award and standing ovations.

The group specializes in period instrument performances of music from the Baroque, Classical and early Romantic periods. The historic Old Post Road was the primary route for travel and commerce between Boston and New York from the late 1680s through 1849.

But it is the forgotten byways that the ensemble has a particular fondness to explore as it has become well known for its rediscovery of lost musical treasures and their composers.

There will be a number of these to be found in "Earth: Rustic Classical." The program includes an arrangement for flute and strings of Mozart’s famous Rondo “alla Turca” from his Piano Sonata in A Major composed in 1800 by his friend and publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister. A Flute Quartet in G Major by Bohemian composer Adalbert Gyrowetz, also a friend of Mozart, includes a Rondo in the style of a rustic Hungarian dance. At one time Gyrowetz's music was performed throughout Europe, but he died in relative obscurity. Musicians of the Old Post Road first performed a Gyrowetz quartet in Worcester several years ago and received an enthusiastic review, Stumpf said. "We have been wanting to explore more of his quartets." Selected movements from Johann Evangelist Brandl’s Notturno in E-flat Major will highlight his musical expression and lively folkloric forms. Born in Bavaria, Brandl was a violinist, pianist, conductor and composer, known for his beautiful melodies.

The Notturno is a type of serenade very popular in southern Germany, Austria, and Bohemia and written for outdoor concerts held at 11pm at night or later, Stumpf said. The program will also include a Quintet for flute and strings by the little-known Andreas Lidl, an acclaimed player in his day of the viola de gamba and the baryton who was employed by Prince Nicholas at the Esterházy court in Hungary. A set of Hungarian dances reflecting the increased popularity of Hungarian Gypsy and Verbunkos styles in the early 19th century will round out the performance.

Besides Stumpf and Ryan, the musicians will be violinist and violist Sarah Darling, violinist Jesse Irons, and violist Marcia Cassidy.

Down to 'Earth'

The 35th anniversary season has been titled "Elements" and has explored little-known and rarely-performed works through the lens of the four Classical elements: water, air, fire, and earth for four concerts. The season began in October with "Water: Cascading Baroque Passion" with performances in Sudbury and Boston. "Air: Heavenly Baroque Christmas" came to First Unitarian Church of Worcester and Church of the Covent in Boston in December. "Fire" Blazing Italian Baroque" had concerts in First Parish, Wayland, and Old South Church, Boston, in March. "Earth: Rustic Classical" will also be performed April 19 in Old South Church.

"It's been going very well," Stumpf said of the season. "Our last concerts in March received multiple standing ovations," Ryan noted.

Musicians of the Old Post Road will have a 35th Anniversary Gala May 14 at The Nathaniel Allen House in Newton with emcee Laura Carlo of WCRB.
The ensemble's eight CD, "Into The Light: Unearthed Treasures by Christoph Graupner," will be released this summer.

Graupner (1683-1760), a German composer and harpsichordist who had descended into obscurity until relatively recently is now receiving attention thanks to Stumpf and Ryan's meticulous research and concert showcasing. "We've been championing his works," Stumpf said. The group has performed Graupner's works at several concerts, including at the Worcester Historical Museum in 2023. Last November, Stumpf and Ryan received the prestigious 2023 Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society at its annual conference in Denver. Their work to bring attention to Graupner was cited as the
impetus for the award.

Ryan has said there are still likely plenty of musical gems waiting to be explored and rediscovered. The work has been made a little easier in recent years by museums posting musical scores online, he said.

'We think it's here to stay'

Musicians of the Old Post Road first came to Worcester to perform on Sept. 24, 1989, at the Salisbury Mansion with a program titled "Music of the Bach Family." Since then they have visited Worcester continuously, usually presenting two concerts a year.

One of those was at Salisbury Mansion annually in the early years, and then the ensemble moved those concerts to the Worcester Historical Museum (which owns Salisbury Mansion) to accommodate the demand for larger audiences, Stumpf said.

For the 2020-21 season the pandemic saw the group presenting pre-recorded concerts with live Zoom receptions and a concert live-streamed but with no in-person audience. As it resumed live in-person concerts, live-streaming remained an option for audiences.

All the programs this season have been available online. The April 19 performance of "Earth: Rustic Classical” will be live-streamed and also can be viewed later.

Ryan said the virtual performances are very appreciated by Musicians of Old Post Road followers who have moved out of the area, and also draws in new viewers from out of the area who might not otherwise catch one of the ensemble's concerts. "We think it's here to stay. It seems to be a service that people like and enables us to stay in touch," said Stumpf. By the same token, "It does seem like more people are coming back to live attendance," she
said of the post pandemic picture.

As for whether young people are viewing online or filling seats, Stumpf said "it's always a concern of ours. I'd say we're making a little bit of progress. We seem to be drawing more college students." Ryan said that there are several lower ticket price inducements for younger audiences, including $35 tickets for people under 35 (general admission tickets are $55). The group also does outreach to local schools, including regular visits to Hudson High School.
"The students are vey responsive and that encourages us to keep with this work," Stumpf said.

Musicians of the Old Post Road is already planning its 36th season, she said. The title will be "Flights of Fancy."

Earth: Rustic Classical — Musicians of the Old Post Road

When: 4 p.m. April 21
Where: Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm St., Worcester (And April 19 at Old South
Church, Boston, and online)
How much: $55 general admission; seniors, $50; under 35, $35; children 17 and under
with adult, free. Virtual single ticket, $35; virtual family ticket, $70; virtual student ticket,

“Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal”

By Suzanne Stumpf

This famous quote comes from Stravinsky, right? Or was it Picasso? T.S. Elliot? Or all of the above? (stealing this quote from each other, of course!!)

Much earlier, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

Sources of creative inspiration and the processes of learning itself are subject to influences from experiences across one’s entire lifetime. So much is subliminally processed or assimilated that it cannot always be ascertained if creative borrowings truly cross the boundaries of plagiarism or fraud or are instead just a kind of psychological disorderliness.

“Cryptonesia” is the term used to describe unconscious copying. “When people engage in creative activity, they are so involved in generating or coming up with something new or novel that they fail to protect against what they previously experienced," according to a leading researcher Richard L. Marsh, a professor of cognitive psychology.

The music world is no stranger to this phenomenon. Our Taking Inspiration chamber music concert on April 30 explores and celebrates the genius of one of classical music’s most notorious kleptomaniacs, George Frideric Handel.  

For this concert, we take delight in juxtaposing works by Scarlatti, Telemann, Rameau and Kaiser with those of Handel — it seems that Handel was clearly influenced by beautifully-turned melodies and ear-catching motifs by these colleague composers. Listeners will hear the origins of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah in a fugue by Corelli, a Telemann concerto for three violins that sparked Handel’s lovely and lively Adagio and Allegro for flute and strings, HWV 338, and one of Rameau’s Pièces de Clavecin en Concerts for harpsichord, flute, and violin, a movement of which appears to have been admiringly imitated in Handel’s overture to Joseph and his Brethren.

HandelJoin us on April 30 at Harvard-Epworth Church in Cambridge or watch the livestream online to experience these and more delights and to ponder the questions of the workings of the creative subconscious!Goethe

Gifts of Nature through Chamber Music - Planet Earth is on our Minds!

carrotsEarth’s miraculous serendipity of a cooperative and perfectly distanced sun, a magnetic field, generous availability of water, and a moon that stabilizes earth’s wobble has given us the gift of habitat and life - for humans and an incredibly diverse plant and animal world, all intertwined and surviving in delicate, fragile balance. As gardeners, foragers, and birdwatchers, we are in reverent awe of the rhythms, pulsing, and songs of our planet.

birdsOur Earthly Baroque concert celebrates this serendipity and how nature has inspired the human spirit in musical creativity for centuries. From the plethora of musical bird calls found in chamber music by Vivaldi, Lampe, Couperin, and Williams, to a whole cacophony of critters in Biber’s over-the-top inventive Sonata Representativa, to the forces of the weather in Werner’s suite for November, we as performing musicians have the joyful opportunity to bring to life artistic imaginings inspired by nature hundreds of years prior.

As we savor this beauty, this joy with our audiences, we now ask: what will things look like for our serendipitously miraculous planet in coming decades? What can we each do to preserve and encourage attention to the survival of all these gifts of nature that are so symbiotically vital to humankind’s own survival?

Please join us on March 12 for “Earthly Baroque” online or in-person in Wayland to celebrate Earth’s inspiring miracles through music. Then, to celebrate more completely, we encourage you to also visit websites of your most trusted and treasured environmental organizations and make a gift today. There are so many terrific land trust organizations in towns across New England along with others orEBganizations stewarding our planet internationally. If you don’t mind, please tell them we sent you!

Suzanne Stumpf and Dan Ryan
Artistic Directors

PS - Here are a few in our immediate MetroWest Boston area:
Sudbury Valley Trustees
Mass Audubon
Trustees of Reservations
Charles River Watershed Association
Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter



Check out this review of our "Sites and Sounds" film and rediscovered chamber music!

This review is from the Boston Musical Intelligencer.

IN: Reviews

Sites, Sounds Around the Corner


Musicians of the Old Post Road teamed up with the Sudbury Historical Society for the streamed “Sites and Sounds of Early Sudbury.” Their exploring the town’s historical sites and performing modern-day premieres of 18th-century works tied to Massachusetts and New England brought home music largely unheard. A dozen or so short tunes offered with a New England purity in a vivid historical context found authentic meaning. Co-Artistic Directors Suzanne Stumpf and Daniel Ryan made good use of the streaming medium. Fine, even audio, whether indoors or outside of the different locations, surprised. While the tunes found a home, too many dates and details in the narrative dizzied.

First stop was the Rice Tavern site where only parts of the foundation remain. “Scotch Cap,” heard throughout the English colonies, had special guest Vincent Canciello perched on old stones with fife in hand. His sonorous gently lilting refrains, birdlike amidst the trees, enlightened.

The Loring Parsonage is the new home of the Sudbury Historical Society. In Handel’s Water Piece, arranged by Samuel Holyoke from the North Shore of Massachusetts and New Hamphire, Stumpf (flute), Ryan (church bass), and Darling (violin) played the upbeat arrangement in front of a fireplace lending warmth to the past.

William Shield’s Air in Rosina, also arranged by Holyoke, rocked sweetly by the trio, then half cadences with silences broke into the refrains. “Perfect for the parsonage,” “Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself,” from the Framingham Singing Society manuscript, danced brightly in gigue style.

On to the Revolutionary War Cemetery for Death of General Wolfe. Vincent Canciello stood in costume of the time. The mournful melody from his fife wafting among the gravestones touched deeply. Off to the Old Burial Ground on the west side of the river with the oldest gravestone, and in the background cars and trucks motoring by! “Coryon’s Ghost” (Framingham Singing Society) from Stumpf and Ryan also affected.

The flute pair of Stumpf and Canciello softened sad synchrony in Shield’s “When the Rosy morn,” this, against the background of the Hearse House’s plain exterior.

“Stray animals were a problem to farmers,” thus the Town Pound and “Hunt the Squirrel,” a Scottish tune with that rhythmic snap. Suddenly appearing in the pound made of stone walls topped with chestnut sill, Darling, then Ryan, gigue-d away.

Next, the Hosmer House, located in the center of town. The Musicians of the Old Post Road played in its famous upstairs ballroom with a keyboard and paintings by Hosmer. “Washington Minuet and Gavotte,” by French-born American dancing master Pierre Landrin Duport, who worked in Boston, naturally felt at home. Jeremy Irons joined in with the others, emphasizing civility, excluding anything adventurous.

The beautiful First Parish, where these musicians have performed for many years, became the venue for Shepherds, Rejoice by Isaac Lane, who worked in and around Bedford, MA. They stood before an 1899 pump organ in history discussion. “We like this instrument very much.” Also accompanying the singing was a church bass, a bit bigger than the cello. The flute and string trio pronounced the mixed-tempo Christmas anthem in front of the plain pulpit. Some stateliness and a blink-of-an-eye bass cello figuration shifted the program toward complexity.

The remains of the Rice Tavern offerd the site for Oliver Shaw’s arrangement Mr. Augustus. The flute and string duo returned to the forest, some sky and sunlight. The music’s ballroom gestures could not summon, even faintly, a ghost of a tavern in this wooded landscape.

Going now to the pub side of the Wayside Inn for J.C. Pepusch’s Overture and Air from The Beggar’s Opera, its tunes appeared in many contemporary American manuscript sources. Darling recited Longfellow. Video panned the inn’s Longfellow signage. The trio energized the streaming see-and-hear outing. Robustness, sweeping melodic curves, dance flavoring, fashioned trills, a surprising false ending, were all balanced with ensemble precision. Nothing exaggerated, though; all musicians played with refinement as in American purity and simplicity.

Oliver Shaw’s sendup of John Stanford Smith’s Adams and Liberty comes out of the collection, The American Musical Miscellany, Northampton, MA. This old English tune, surviving a plentiful history, made the closer. It later transformed itself into the first political campaign song in this country and, subsequently, our first national anthem. What an exuberant, inspiring finale from loyal Musicians of the Old Post Road on their traversi, fifes, church bass, and violin remakes.

The show continues to stream HERE.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, earned a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

How do we choose to interact with history every day?

DD animation
By Sarah Darling

How do we choose to interact with history every day?

It’s a question whose answers are many and nuanced, especially in a location like the Boston area. The past surrounds us in so many ways, large and small, that not being affected by it is not an option. What is very much an option is what we choose to do with its presence. Do we center it or treat it as a support? Do we attempt to re-create it,or do we attempt to enter into dialogue with it? Do we learn about it intellectually, or try to experience it with our own bodies?

As far as I’m concerned, the answer is - yes. Almost any way in will work, and the more simultaneous paths you take, the more likely it is that the past will take on the same nuance and complexity that the present holds, which it richly deserves. Early musicians are time travelers (time tourists, perhaps), and the more we can do to make the music we play exist in an era that feels like it could have been real,the better.

This intention was firing on all cylinders when Musicians of the Old Post Road decided to delve into a project that brought together historical sites in Sudbury with the “tunes of the time.” Taking a page from the pandemic video productions that we all know so well at this point, the group resolved to do something it could never do in a typical concert; move from space to space, playing music suited to each venue as we went. The end result is an offering which is part concert, part documentary, and which aspires to bring audience members as close in to this living history as possible.

As a musician engaged in this work, it was a wild ride to film and perform! Each venue hosts a conversation with a member of the Sudbury Historical Society as well as a musical offering. Creating a sense of unity and flow, so that the audience members feel that they are present in these spaces, requires an entire other level of extra consideration, before one even reaches the “heart” of the experience. Walking through the spaces, followed by the camera, is key for this. We logged a lot of hours strolling through rooms, opening doors, thinking about positions. I recall the feeling of floorboards creaking under my feet,  heavy doors swinging, shifts of light as we went inside and outside, the smell of dust.

The initial inspiration for this project came from a walk taken by the group’s Artistic Directors, Dan Ryan and Suzanne  Stumpf. They were at the Assabet River Wildlife Refuge when they came across a stone foundation half buried in the ground, likely an old cellar, and a marker that introduced the location as the Rice Tavern, active from 1700-1815. There’s nothing that marks the passage of time so clearly - so indelibly - as a ruin. You construct the rooms in your mind, the people and histories, the politics and commerce that must have run through this location during its extraordinarily long tenure.

One of the treats of this project was to have the chance to superimpose that silent vine-twined woodside foundation with a
bustling inn that has managed to survive intact from 1716 all the way to the present day - Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. Here, no mental building up is necessary, but instead a subtraction of sorts; a moving of the modern aspects of the building back into the technology and aesthetic of the past. The brilliant fact of Longfellow’s poem, the classic “Tales  of a Wayside Inn” is helpful for placing it in a particular point in time, although it also creates a certain manufactured nostalgia that adds yet another layer to our relationship with the past.

Nearly every site that we interacted with required its own kind of mental activity before we could really inhabit it. Some - like Sudbury’s First Parish, where we regularly play concerts - are “regular” locations that offer up secrets in plain sight as you get to know them better and better. Others - like the Loring Parsonage and the Hosmer House - are fascinating, beautifully maintained true historical sites, intended to welcome the visitor directly into another world. Still others, the outdoor ones such as the Revolutionary War Cemetery and the Town Pound - read like artifacts. You can walk your body through them at any point, they are always open to the elements and constantly interacting with the present moment, but only as reminders of what has been.

Fortunately, as musicians, we have another way of interacting with these spaces. By playing our instruments inside each of them, we can both be present in them and, as much as possible, be in dialogue. Through some significant scholarly effort, the Old Post Road directors were able to uncover works by composers like Samuel Holyoke, Oliver Shaw, and Isaac Lane - Massachusetts musicians who were either writing or arranging at the various times that each of the historical sites were flourishing. We ended up doing everything from local arrangements of the Water Music (dubbed “Handel’s Water Piece”) to a period dance work called “Washington’s Minuet and Gavotte” to various fiddle tunes to a patriotic hymn entitled “Adams and Liberty” that forecast the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. The ways that these works are disseminated and transported are extremely interesting; at once similar and completely different to the modes of transmission we are now accustomed to.

It was a fascinating project, a really unique blend of many different aspects of music, history, architecture, and storytelling. But the most telling result for me personally is a lingering feeling that I now get as soon as I drive over the Sudbury Town Line. I am in this time, yes, but no longer only here.

Feeling Joyful and "Sounding Joy"

The return to performing for audiences in person in October was thrilling! Indeed our Dramatic Return program with soprano Teresa Wakim was aptly named. We are so grateful to all who joined us in-person at First Parish in Sudbury as well as fans who watched virtually from around the globe.

Audiences responded enthusiastically to this program curated around the theme of reunification. One attendee wrote, the concert was not just a dramatic return, but “a triumphal return to live performance.” For us, the audience shouts of “bravo” throughout the concert and multiple standing ovations were inspiring accolades that deepened the already powerful experience of performing in a room with audience present for the first time in 18 months.

Feeling joyful and feeling gratitude!


Next up is our festive seasonal offering Sounding Joy. For this program, we’re excited to let you in on some of the Classical period’s well kept musical secrets! In addition to Mozart’s beloved Exsultate Jubilate, we'll bring you charming instrumental pastorellas by the excellent but little-known German composers Bernhard Hupfeld and Gregor Joseph Werner. We're also including a couple of folksy Christmas arias by Haydn, and a new-to-us (and you!) “Musical Sleigh Ride” by Leopold Mozart. Soprano Jessica Petrus joins us for this jubilant concert on Sat., Dec. 18, 7:30pm EDT. Whether you join us in-person at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester or online, we’ll be glad to celebrate the holiday season with you!

PS - If you live on the North Shore of Massachusetts, you can catch the concert in-person on the Gloucester Meetinghouse's series on Friday December 17 at 7:30pm


Gratitude and Opportunity


Our “Seize the Moment” online season of concerts concluded this past weekend with “C’est Magnifique” - our first live-streamed concert ever! Trinity Lutheran Church graciously welcomed us into their beautiful sanctuary and with the possibility of using Covid testing for all the musicians to help determine safety, we were most excited to try this format.

Although we had you in our hearts and heads when we pre-recorded our earlier concerts this season making use of outdoor rehearsing last summer and very short indoor recording sessions, the dramatic move to livestream felt very different - somehow more “normal” and more exotic.

We were delighted to hear enthusiastic audience feedback at the post-concert zoom reception. And we also very happy to receive this wonderful review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer:

If you missed “C’est Magnifique,” the good news is that it is not too late to catch the concert or any of our other six concerts/events from the season! Our flexible and generous Premier Subscriptions allow viewing of all seven programs through June 30. View as often as you like!

This has certainly been a season of gratitude and opportunity. We are so grateful for your patronage, belief in us, and encouragement! And we are so pleased that our “Seizing the Moment” gave us the opportunity to learn new ways to stay connected with you, including reconnecting with old friends who had moved from Massachusetts and connecting with new friends we have met nationally and internationally. We have learned so much this year, including the importance of our online presence! Thank you!

History has its eyes on you.

This blog was written by Sarah Darling on March 12, 2021, the eve of our "Forgotten Voices" concert.

Sirmen and Chevalier

That's what George Washington said to Alexander Hamilton, in one of the most moving songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda's lightning bolt of a musical. Hamilton was stepping into the flow of history, at that moment - preparing to participate in a decisive battle for the new nation that was coming into being. Washington knew that recognition and fame were about to wash over him - for better, for worse, he was a player now, he would be remembered for his actions. 

Miranda's Washington was right. That moment did change the young Hamilton's fate, forever. But was he right about history? 

What is history, after all? What does it value? What does it mark? What does it conceal? What does it reveal? Whose history are we talking about here? 

Battles, royal dynasties, pandemics, legislation, discoveries. Sure. What about recipes? Farming practices? Patterns of speech? Ways of interacting? Perceptions of worth? What about the things that weren't written down? What about the things that might have come to pass, but could not come to pass because they were prevented - actively, or passively? And what about the history that was erased? 

There are so many ways to frame and re-frame this topic. An endless amount to think about. Obviously I can't address it here in any way that would even pretend to be conclusive. But I want to introduce two works of music that exist at the intersection of questions like these... and highlight two works of literature that make the questions spring to life. 

The two works of music are both on a concert that Musicians of the Old Post Road will be presenting tonight, called "Forgotten Voices". One is a string quartet by Joseph Bologne, also known as the Chevalier de St-Georges, the other is a string trio by Maddalena Sirmen. They are both incredible pieces - quirky, virtuosic, fun, and very powerful. What they are not is in the standard repertoire. Not because they couldn't be, but because until recently, no one really bothered to remember them. 

This is interesting in part because - history has layers and layers! - it's not the case that either composer was unknown during their lifetime. Bologne radiated "the most interesting man in the world" energy for his entire life, excelling in fencing and music-making of all kinds, leading a renowned orchestra, becoming a special favorite of Marie Antoinette, I mean, come on! Violin virtuoso Sirmentoured all over Europe after beginning as an orphan in Venice and eventually becoming a student of Tartini - I mean, come ON. 

That being said, it has to also be said that no matter how brightly their lights shone, they could have ascended even higher without question, if Bologne were not Black and Sirmen were not female. No question. Bologne came within a breath of directing the Paris opera, before having his candidacy sunk by some of the leading ladies who wrote to Marie Antoinette directly, saying that they could never consent to "obey the orders of a mulatto." Instead of cementing his role in the musical life of the eighteenth century, Bologne had to watch it slip away, and it comes as no surprise today to find that many of his compositions did not survive the following years. After all, back then, it was easy to destroy music, if you wanted to. 

In Sirmen's case, we know even less about why her brilliant compositions didn't gain any long-term traction. It probably just wasn't important enough for anyone to defend them, end of story. If I were going to cast a jaded eye on the picture, I'd say it probably seemed a whole lot more fun to present a virtuoso woman who was right there, playing up a storm, than it was to continue to champion her music. And art needs resources and advocates if it's going to survive. Particularly if the art in question is a little "strange" to begin with.  

It's maddening - because the "smoothing out" of history erases these voices so easily. The pernicious combination of active erasure, erasure by neglect, and the long tail of passive erasure that follows, brings us to a vanishing point where the incredible achievements of musicians like these (who also had to struggle in their own lives, to be sure, but who largely triumphed, and were seen and heard) become invisible - as if they were never there. 

History is not impartial. History is bent and warped by human forces - has always been and will always be, and then is described as inevitable. Even the words of the historians are a part of this, of course. 

I want to take a little time, though, to think through two other ways of approaching the past, two frames that can help us think through some of what is lost - and how to look for it. Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain both played with an idea that I love, which is to search for the history that could not be. 

In Mark Twain's "Captain Stormfield's Visit To Heaven" a fellow who finds his way up there learns quite a lot about Heaven's value system, and how it honors all creative endeavours, not just the ones that History spots. 

“Was Shakespeare a prophet?”

“Of course he was; and so was Homer, and heaps more.  But Shakespeare and the rest have to walk behind a common tailor from Tennessee, by the name of Billings; and behind a horse-doctor named Sakka, from Afghanistan. Jeremiah, and Billings and Buddha walk together, side by side, right behind a crowd from planets not in our astronomy... then there is a long string, and after them, away down toward the bottom, come Shakespeare and Homer, and a shoemaker named Marais, from the back settlements of France... they warn’t rewarded according to their deserts, on earth, but here they get their rightful rank.  That tailor Billings, from Tennessee, wrote poetry that Homer and Shakespeare couldn’t begin to come up to; but nobody would print it, nobody read it but his neighbors, an ignorant lot, and they laughed at it... He wasn’t ever expecting to go to heaven, much less that there was going to be any fuss made over him, so I reckon he was a good deal surprised when the reception broke on him.”

Moving one level further, in "A Room of One's Own" Virginia Woolf imagines an artist who wasn't even able to get to the point where she would be able to fulfill her potential (as it seems that our tailor Billings was able to do, at least.) She creates the character of Shakespeare's sister, Judith. Just as eager, just as talented, as her brother. But facing a world of barriers that prevent her not just from seeking fame, but from even becoming the artist that she could be. 

"Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers... Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly, but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighboring wool-stapler... The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer's night and took the road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother's, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face... She could get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? Yet her genius was for fiction and lusted to feed abundantly upon the lives of men and women and the study of their ways...

I read words like these, and I think about Joseph Bologne and Maddelena Sirmen. They were able to make it through the gauntlet that crushed Shakespeare's sister. They were able to make it - for a while, at least. And certainly, up there in Mark Twain's Heaven, their compositions are ringing out. 

But so many others like them never even had the chance.

Yes, the fact that these musicians existed tells us that history is more interesting than it makes itself out to be. But it also tells us a lot about how narrow the path was, even for them. Bologne was born into slavery before taken to France. Sirmen left the orphanage by marriage to another musician, which was probably the only reason she could perform publicly or perhaps practice her art at all. A chance in a thousand, for both of them. 

Who else is out there?
Who else could have been out there? 
Whose voices will we never get a chance to hear? 

All my best, 


A special message from the Artistic Directors

We hope you are all keeping well and safe. As we enter our fourth month of necessary social-distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, we remain committed to keeping our connection with you as strong as possible despite the mandated safe distance we must maintain. We hope you have been able to take in and enjoy our educational video podcasts and short concert excerpts as a relief from new stresses or as touchstones to a cherished cultural experience. We thank you for your appreciative and encouraging messages and other means of support to us - you inspire us to keep going!

With every crisis comes opportunity: we are poised to learn so much at this time, especially as this crisis pulls back the curtain on profound systemic pain within our society. We are hopeful that broader and more complete awareness of the excruciating oppression of people of color and other marginalized groups will bring everyone to a better place as we find our way and make vital changes at this crossroad.

Right now, so much remains in flux throughout so many facets of our lives. And there is no known or even approximate “end date,” like we might have experienced in previous crisis situations. For professional musicians, this means we are unable to do what we are called to do, and we are learning to sit zen-like, not asking the unanswerable question “for how long?” (it will be very long), and instead needing to seek new ways to create and to survive.

For all of us, having the “assumed” and routines of “normal” suddenly vanished from our day-to-day has been challenging, to say the least. But there have been silver linings: we are given the opportunity to learn what is important - what we value most - as we each have the chance to notice what we notice.

One of the things we have noticed is a heightened awareness of person-to-person relatedness. Have you, too, felt and noticed a new sense of connectedness (albeit socially-distanced) with fellow humans as you go out for walks or do your necessary errands? “We are all in this together,” is the loving mantra. We believe that this increasing awareness - recognition - of each person as an individual may be helping our collective understanding of how inequitable societal structures have so hurtfully impacted disadvantaged groups which are comprised of real individuals. Real. Individuals. Fellow humans. This can be the underpinnings for true progress.

In considering this opportunity for positive change, one of our colleagues pointed out that Old Post Road’s mission from the outset has been a positive force in our own (admittedly relatively small) corner of contribution to society. We endeavor to bring a fuller picture of the past to audiences today - we reveal the broader creative forces at work in Classical music of past centuries by including in our programs little-known or rediscovered composers, lost to audiences for centuries, rather than just performing works by the composers whose busts wind up on mantelpieces. Each of those beloved masters worked within a community or communities of other cutting-edge musicians who were each pioneering the way forward with their own unique voices, imbued with daring, new ideas. Without a doubt, this atmosphere  collectively challenged and inspired everyone’s development. We thus believe that the experience of any particular Age is enriched by including more creative voices than those who remain in the current cultural vernacular.

As we navigate our way forward into the 2020-21 season, we are quite aware that we will not be able to bring you the fascinating and exciting  four programs we had originally planned for our subscription series of public concerts. Those programs may go on hold until 2021-22 or may be  re-tooled spontaneously as the in-flux state of things evolves.  It feels cruelly ironic that singing, playing the flute, and gathering in historic intimate spaces for more than 10 minutes - all things which usually provide uplifting experiences and promote emotional well-being -  are precisely some of the things that put all at the greatest risk for the spread of the Covid-19 virus. We therefore are turning our creative  attention to bringing you new music-making through online means for at least the start of the upcoming season. Stay tuned for more on this as summer approaches!

Suzanne Stumpf and Daniel Ryan
Artistic Directors