Gramophone guest blog

Breaking out of the genre box

Bjarte EikeFri 19th May 2017

Exploring our genre-less musical past with The Alehouse Sessions

Although I am a violinist specializing in Baroque music I have always considered myself as something of a free spirit and so, when I found myself increasingly engaged to follow the notes written on the page, I realized it was time to break loose and start my own ensemble. I came up with the idea of Barokksolistene - a musical platform, based on the foundations of early music but designed as an open space where I could hand-pick my musicians and explore different aspects of presenting music, through unusual programming, a focus on improvisation and collaborations with various people from different fields. Our aim is not simply to be 'virtuoso' but also to step out of our comfort zones and really let rip.

For me music has always simply been music - it doesn’t need to be labelled or categorized and by doing so I think we risk making it elite. So when I was putting together a programme in 2007 for a Norwegian Festival which had an English theme, I started to do some research and became fascinated by the London pub scene of the 17th century - a period when the theatres were forcibly closed during the Reformation and both composers and musicians such as Henry Purcell came into the pubs and started improvised sessions, which became concerts in their own right - open to everyone and an enjoyment for people from all walks of life.

With The Alehouse Sessions we are trying to recreate the feeling and ambience that the old English taverns used to have using the material, music and stories that originated from that time but making them our own through new arrangements and improvisation. It is flexible, and can be presented in many different concert-venues. It can be an enlightenment project, music theatre, an improvised happening, and it is like an organic, living organism that never stands still. 

Little did I realize that, 10 years on, this project would still be growing and that it would not only have so much importance for me personally but also a relevance to the problems we have in society today. The English public house is the symbol of where people have traditionally met to escape and take time out to discuss everything from world politics to personal problems. Too often nowadays, when we want to escape from reality we do so in cyberspace - you select a group of people you want to be friends with and you share everything with them online but you aren’t actually talking and communicating directly. When we are performing The Alehouse Sessions I like to invite the audience to not only sit back and listen, but also to participate. We want it to be a totally absorbing atmosphere for everyone both on and off stage. It should be a live experience, happening right there and now – not on facebook, not on Twitter, not on Netflix – live and together.

When we then went on to record The Alehouse Sessions live we also created something of a social experiment. Just as I hand-pick the musicians for each project, on this occasion I also hand-picked the audience. None of them had any idea what they were going to hear and some only came just to give support even though they didn’t have any interest in 'classical music'. My yoga teacher came, my dentist, a couple of lawyers, some neighbours and everyone was blown away by the experience. It proved the validity of this project in its ability to break down walls. Most importantly it proved a valuable moment where we could come together as people from different backgrounds to share an experience through both music and social interaction.

The Alehouse Sessions is a tale of how music and culture survives and adapts despite censorship, political movements and lack of money - the project has developed into becoming the essence of what Barokksolistene’s function aims to be: a creative energy-centre where strong, virtuosic individuals meet to collectively create something unique, timeless, present, genre-breaking, which communicates to a wide audience across all layers and ages in society. As Louis Armstrong said: 'All music is folk-music! Hell, I ain’t seen no horse sing.'

'The Alehouse Sessions' album will be released on June 9. Pre-order from Amazon

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