You might remember in an earlier blog where I mentioned that I wanted to make more trips to the Dallas Museum of Art? Well, it turns out I have an excuse to not only go more often, but to become a member as well, if last night was any indication. Last night was so much fun! It turns out that on the 3rd Friday of every month, except December, the DMA does an after hours social night that they call DMA Late Nights. We’re talking drinks, food, the exhibits, concerts, and all manner of other stuff that I’ll touch on in this post. The reason this ended up on my radar at all is that one of my favorite bands from Scarborough Renaissance Festival — Saxon Moon — took the stage. Miss an opportunity to hear these guys perform? No, not a chance. I had to be there.
A little aside, it turns out Saxon Moon will not be at Scarborough this year. There’s an overlap with their “home faire” Sherwood, and Scarborough has instituted some kind of nonsense where they are not welcoming any performers for partial commitments. Since Sherwood is a rather massive and growing all the time faire (as in, they have an air-conditioned castle you can book rooms in and everything), it means that Scarborough is essentially stabbing themselves in the foot. Anyway, enough about that, and more on Saxon Moon when I get there.
We got to the DMA early because parking is somewhat limited, and the city was exploding into “peaceful” protests over the Trump inauguration. They had one across the street from my job site, which prompted me to leave work early to avoid the traffic nightmare that was already ensuing. The big fear was that we’d get stuck in traffic downtown on the way there and become part of a crime scene on the way home. The first happened, but not to any serious extent, and the latter was thankfully missed completely. In between was quite possibly the best evening I’ve ever had outside of Scarborough, and it was right up my alley given my interest in all things Medieval.
First, I needed food. I was starving, and this was going to be a long evening. The DMA Cafe is largely on the fru-fru side when it comes to selection and presentation, but they do make one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, and the fries were on par with that. I don’t say this lightly. So right out of the gate, I’m surprised, hunger is sated, and I’m almost purring because it was that good. Immediately following, we hit the special exhibit because now I could concentrate on something other than how hungry I was.
The special exhibit was entitled Art and Nature in the Middle Ages. It’s exactly what you’d hope it would be. We’re talking column capitals where you can still see remnants of the repair work and the original paint, reliquaires and boxes of all shapes and styles, jewelry, medallions, statuary, wood carvings, pottery, stained glass (lit from behind!), tapestries(!), and illuminated manuscripts(!). To say I was in heaven is understatement. I’ve seen illuminated manuscripts and Books of Hours before, and I will never tire of such things. You think your Kindle will hold up like these? Not a chance. Love went into these. The sculpture and stained glass was exquisite. And the tapestries? I’ve never seen Medieval tapestries outside of a picture before. This is the pinnacle of the art of the era, taking upwards of a month to weave a square yard on something like this. Some of these were twice my height, and the craftsmanship is divine. Have some pictures! These aren’t all I took, and they certainly will not do justice to the originals, but it’ll give you some idea of what I saw.
We had four different concert performances. Count ’em — one, two, three, four! All of them were remarkable, and I could gush a bluestreak.
First was Trio Giocoso. This ensemble featured Medieval flutes, aka recorders, and a selection of music from the early Middle Ages. Their work is polyphonic and considerably more complex than I would have expected from music of the earlier era. Turns out, this group is part of a local group, the Dallas Recorder Society. Did you know this was a thing? I didn’t know this was a thing. I have to admit, I’m intrigued. And I will need to hunt down their music because I totally spaced and didn’t buy it right there. Thankfully this is easy to do in the age of the internet. And being local, I’m sure I’ll bump into them again now that I know about them.
Following this, there was a lecture in the lecture hall by Dr. Danielle Joyner, visiting assistant professor in Art History (specializing in all things Medieval) at SMU. She was an enthusiastic speaker and after going over the history and process of how illuminated manuscripts and codices were made, she tied it all in to specific examples on display.
It was nothing but more music from this point on. We managed to get front and not-quite-center next to the stage, and I’m so glad we did.
Next was Istanpitta. We had a trio on stage, but looking at the liner notes of the CDs I purchased, the ensemble is considerably larger than this. The group we had consisted of vielle (the predecessor of the violin), flat drum, and the lead player who played lute and two styles of bagpipe. Their work is monophonic, meaning all instruments play the same part, and the group really plays off one another very well moving back and forth between which instrument is highlighted. The woman paying the drum, Abby Green, is an amazing vocalist, which cinched the music sales. I’d have bought their albums anyway just because they are fantastic, but I’m a sucker for a beautiful voice.
Then it was Saxon Moon‘s turn. I thought these guys were beyond amazing at Scarborough. Turns out, they’re even better in a controlled environment. You know how some bands make things look easy? This isn’t one of them. To watch these guys perform is to be awed by complexity of their music. Interestingly, the audience really filled out by the time they took the stage, and it seems they’ve generated quite the Scarborough following. It felt like a rock concert at this point, which it kind of was in a way. I got to talking to Paul (the bass and rhythm player) before the show, and he informed me of the Scarborough debacle this year while I was buying a t-shirt (because I already have all their albums), and Dave (the lead player) filled me on the details after the show. Their frontman / percussionist Josh is new. The original guy was good, but Josh is funny, and his precision and enthusiasm is every bit the equal of Dave and Paul. It’s a good fit. And looking at their site, it seems that they’ve got a new album in the works for this year, so I’ll have to stay on top of this and snag it when it’s available.
Here’s a trip… Dave remembered me from the Templar uniform I wore to Scarborough last year. Did not expect that. Like me, he’s terrible with names, but it seems he’s pretty good with faces.
The final show was held in the European gallery. Jacob Johnson played Renaissance lute, specifically the works of the great John Dowland, whose works epitomized the Renaissance lute in my humble opinion. Johnson’s is the kind of precision you get from Saxon Moon, but the works he’s performing are considerably more mellow as befitting the time period. Very peaceful, and a really good way to round out the evening. Turns out, he’s a local performer and doubles as a classical guitarist, so I’m hoping to run into him again. I will hunt down his music as well because I saw no option to purchase any while I was there.
There was a lot that I didn’t see simply because there was no time, and they have several things going on at once. Apparently both the knights and the falcons from nearby Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament were there, there was a craft project for people to bejewel some paper crowns, a calligraphy demo (which I do regret missing, but… music!), a screening of Disney’s The Sword and the Stone, a screening of Ladyhawke, at least three different guided tours of the exhibition and other points in the museum, a scavenger hunt or two, and of course the lounge where people drink and socialize (totally not my thing). Regardless, it turns out this was in celebration of the DMA’s 114th anniversary, so I don’t know if they go all out like this every month. All I know is that while I probably won’t go every month, I’d love to attend more of these. Although… it’ll be tough to compete with all this Medieval awesomeness.
Suffice it to say, this evening completely made up for the suckdom of last weekend and then some. If I had to criticize anything, it’s that the audience is accustomed to holding conversations and such while the music is going on. And the museum staff is bussing tables and moving around large and noisy carts. This is why I was glad I was next to the stage. Not only did I get to see the fingers move on those instruments, but the speaker system helped to drown out the background stuff.
The monthly sci-fi meetup isn’t happening for me this time around, but I’ll be headed to the comic shop anyway before long to pick up my stash and enjoy some top quality Italian food… which is really the primary reason I go to meetup anyway. :P