Ronn McFarlane and Carolyn Surrick: And So Flows the River (Flowerpot Productions)
“The music that we're doing is music that's really a part of us,” viola da gamba player Carolyn Surrick says. “It's like music inside of us, the way that the deciduous forest is inside of us, because this is where we're from.”
Surrick and Ronn McFarlane have both lived in Maryland for most of their lives. Their careers have run somewhat parallel, with Surrick playing viola da gamba in the Ensemble Galilei, which she founded in 1990, and McFarlane playing lute with the Baltimore Consort and the folk trio Ayreheart, the ensemble he founded. Three years ago, when touring came to a halt during the global pandemic, they finally had the time to make music together, and they’ve been doing so ever since. They’ve just released their third recording, And So Flows the River.
Surrick: “This is the music of our lives. We're both over 60, and we’ve had a lot of time to incorporate music into our lives, to have music become central to our being. And so I wanted to bring the idea that as our lives are flowing along, we're accumulating music, we're accumulating things that we love along the way and bringing them to this project.”
How did you decide on the title And So Flows the River? How does it reflect what we're hearing on the recording?
McFarlane: “In terms of flowing, the repertory itself was a real flow state for each of us. It brought music that each of us loved, regardless of the genre that it came from. So I think we kind of get into a flow state when we're deciding what to play, bringing up pieces from any memory, any part of our lives, anything we might have heard of, or maybe we're just discovering something for the first time.”
The album features Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies. What is your relationship to the pieces?
Surrick: “I think we both remember hearing them for the first time in the 1970s and thinking this music is so special. I mean, so simple and so beautiful. It has so much in it. So when we were casting about for what to put on this new recording, I said, ‘what about the Gymnopedies?’ And it was kind of like, ‘Well, why not?’”
McFarlane: “My first experience of them was in the 1970s, but I didn't hear it on the piano at first. I heard it live in a guitar recital played by Christopher Parkening, who made some excellent arrangements of them. But I was so captivated hearing the first Gymnopedie for the first time that I really fell in love with it.”
You both also heard about Bach’s Sinfonia in the 1970s. What is your relationship with that piece?
McFarlane: “Yes, I first heard it when I went to a record store. That was back when they had records around 1968 or ‘69. I got the first Led Zeppelin album and the Walter Carlos, now Wendy Carlos, album Switched-On Bach. So I first heard this on a synthesizer with all its boops and beeps and whistles. So I think my idea of how it ought to sound was permanently skewed by hearing it that way. And it just sounded so fresh and great.”
And now you have added your own arrangement of the piece, which you described as a revelation. Why did you describe it that way?
Surrick: “We sat down to play it, and there was so much happening. You almost can't imagine that these two instruments could be doing all of this at the same time.”
And you have a percussionist on the recording?
Surrick: “Yes. Yousif Sheronick. He's fabulous. And so I call him up out of the blue, and he's like, ‘Yeah, cool. I'm free.’”
Give me an example of his playing in this recording that you want to make sure we don't miss.
McFarlane: “Well, I think the very first piece, W. Lee’s Reel, where Yusif is playing an ocean drum, is a great one.
“This piece has kind of a Scotch-Irish flavor to it, which reflects my dad's background. It's a sort of adventurous piece because it has something in the flute part that sounds like a propulsive fiddle tune in the Scotch-Irish tradition. And yet that's not the lead voice. You would think so because of the beginning. But as it goes along, the gamba comes in and actually has the melody as the slower moving part. Somehow, it seemed to fit the personality of my dad.”
Ronn McFarlane and Carolyn Surrick - And So Flows the River (Amazon)
Carolyn Surrick - official website
Ronn McFarlane - official website
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