When I wrote in my Sweet Honey” post that I had “at least 10 T-shirts directly related to music,” I was thinking strictly of my D.C. days. I’ve got a bunch more from after I moved to Martha’s Vineyard, but I haven’t counted them yet.

Anyway, this is an odd-shirt-out from my years in Washington: it has nothing to do with women’s music. Well, almost nothing: At the moment I’m playing a Musical Heritage record: A Feather on the Breath of God: Sequences and Hymns by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, which features soprano Emma Kirkby and the ensemble Gothic Voices, directed by Christopher Page.

I didn’t learn much about classical music growing up, but I liked it. A friend of the family introduced me to the Musical Heritage Society, a subscription service that operated like the Book-of-the-Month Club. Each month a new recording was featured, which you could take or waive, and you could also order from their extensive catalogue. This spared me the angst of browsing the offerings at local shops without knowing what I was doing — although there was a sales clerk at a record shop on Connecticut Ave. who knew I liked early music and usually had a recommendation for me whenever I walked in.1

My tastes were fairly eclectic but I was particularly drawn to music of the medieval period, the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and anything choral. While living in England (1974–75), I even came to enjoy opera. It wasn’t hard to find full-length performances on TV, and all things classical could be found on the radio.2

Back in the States, I became a regular listener of Robert J. Lurtsema’s Morning pro Musica show on public radio. Based in Boston, it was carried by one of the D.C. stations, but I can’t remember which one. WETA-FM? WGMS-FM? I vividly recall waking one morning in the early 1980s to a eureka! moment: Robert J. was playing Sydney Carter’s “Lord of the Dance.” Oh my God, thought I. Someone’s put Jesus in the pagan tradition from whence he came, of the dying god who rises again in the dance.

The singer (you may have guessed this already) was John Langstaff and the recording was from the Christmas Revels, of which up to that moment I knew nothing. This was long before search engines could tell you anything you wanted to know in seconds — I was several years away from even owning my own PC — so it took me a while to put it all together, but Robert J. was crucial: year after year he was a regular performer at the Revels in Cambridge. Before I left town, I managed to see the D.C. Revels company at (IIRC) George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium and to dance with the rest of the sell-out crowd to “Lord of the Dance.”

At the end of the decade, on Martha’s Vineyard, I got to perform in a local version of the Revels, directed by Mary Payne — to sing those songs and dance the sword dance. Serious thrill, and a connection between my various worlds.

No, the Revels never appeared on a Musical Heritage Society recording, but my Revels collection spans several media, from LP to cassette to CD to MP3. Feel free to blame this digression on Robert J. Lurtsema (1931–2000).

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notes

1. Memory tells me this record shop was part of Kramerbooks, but I can’t find any confirmation that Kramerbooks ever carried LPs, so it might have been a separate shop in the same block of Conn. Ave., below Dupont Circle.

2. I may have discovered Steeleye Span and the Chieftains during my time in the UK, or I may have been aware of them earlier. What I know for sure is that their earliest LPs in my collection came back with me from England.

6 thoughts on “Musical Heritage Society

  1. Many parallels between you and I Susanna!! I also attended the Cambridge Christmas Revels (I met my husband there in December 1982!). We were present on the night the “Christmas tree” misjudged the edge of the stage and fell into the orchestra pit!! John Langstaff was brilliant!! And I LOVE early music! Did you ever go to the Early Music Festival in Marlboro Mass? It was run by lutenist Joe Iadone, and people flocked to it. Recorders of all shapes and sizes, sackbutts and harpsichordists. It was wonderful. I wonder if it is still active? I am certain Joe Iadone is not with us these days, but perhaps some of his group kept it going?

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    1. Never made it to the Early Music Festival. 😦 Once I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in mid-1985, the rest of the world was pretty much “you can’t get there from here,” especially in the summer, when ferry reservations are expensive and hard to get. And for my first decade here or so, we had a flourishing local music and theater scene, in which I was involved in various ways (much more about that as this blog progresses!).

      Much later, like in 2010, Paul Levine, a retired Stanford professor with a passion for the culture of early Provence, started “The World of the Troubadours and Trobairitz,” featuring the music and poetry of Provence in the 11th through 13th centuries. It brought some stellar early instrumentalists and singers to the Vineyard. It became an annual summer event (skipping one year), with Troubadours & Trobairitz IX held in July 2019: I was a reader in all of them. It’s been on hiatus during Covid-19, and I don’t know if it’ll be back because Paul, the master organizer, is in his 90s.

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  2. Back to repair an error!! The Early Music Festival was NOT at Marlboro, Mass. Instead, it was at Putney, Vermont. I believe my ex-husband first met Joseph Iadone at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, CT, and followed him into Putney for the Music Festival! Now that I think of it, there WERE a lot of Hartt School alums at Putney. πŸ™‚

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    1. Trying to track the Early Music Festival, I turned up links to one Susan Iadone, also a specialist in early and baroque music. Hmm, thought I. An obit for Joe Iadone identifies a Susan Iadone as his former wife, but could they possibly be the same person? Since he died in 2004, age 89, and Susan was still active in 2013, Susan the ex-wife would have had to be a lot younger. Not much biographical info about Susan out there, though one article does mention Joe as a musical influence.

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  3. I knew a Susan Zimmerman, who played the flute and recorders at the Early Music Festival. Don’t really know if she was ever romantically linked to Mr. Iadone. When I knew her she was dating a harpsichordist, although that relationship didn’t look as though it was an enduring alliance. 😦

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    1. I don’t see any connection between Susan Iadone and the name Zimmerman, though truth to tell, there’s not much info out there. Susan Iadone seems to be a multi-instrumentalist but her #1 is the viola da gamba. I’m still a little bit curious because I don’t think Iadone is that common a name and to have two of them circulating in the Early Music world . . . ? Hmm!

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