The Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble visits Pittsburg State

The Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble

Friday, Septmeber 27 2019 marks the start of another exciting season of the Pittsburg State Solo and Chamber Music Series with a performance by the renowned Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble. The group who call Virginia home will make their first visit to southeast Kansas later this week. Micheal Holmes, the artistic director of the ensemble says that about 25-years ago he was signing in a group named “Music Antigua” in the Washington D.C. area when he met a sackbutt player by the name of Michael O’Connor who was seeking out other brass players to play with. From humbling beginnings, The Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble was born.

Director Michael Holmes speaking about the formation of The Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble

Today, the ensemble is one of the most sought out of us its kind because of the late Renaissance and early Baroque era western music that it plays. That, in addition to it’s unique instruments such as the sackbutt, which was a precursor to what we call the trombone today. The earliest recorded history of the sackbutt dates back to 1511 as the Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble plays to recreate the music that audiences enjoyed back then. At the time, Michael had no idea that the group would travel and perform across the US like it does today.

What started as a two-man group as grown in a 22-year career for Michael Holmes traveling and performing
A BBb contra-bass sackbut by Georg Nikolaus Öller, 1639, Stockholm. The Swedish Museum of Performing Arts.

One of the unique aspects about The Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble is that they work to recreate music that was written and played between 300 and 500 years ago. They take into account every possible aspect from instruments, to intonation and articulation to where their concerts were performed. It was common for performances to take place between 300-500 years ago inside of churches, which at the time were usually made of stone. The ensemble attempts to transport audiences back to a different time of music discovery.

Think you know music? Transport yourself back 500-years with the music of The Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble
Duke Chapel at Duke University Durham, North Carolina

The most important thing to the ensemble is performing the music as close to the way that it was written. According to Michael the written music does not change, but the performers or directors conception of it can. The ensemble is so detailed that they use exact number of signers and players per musical piece to as closely match what was heard in those early performances. It’s a constant struggle between how modern musicians are taught and how they hear music and envisioning pieces that was never recorded and trying to replicate it.

Holmes explains how meticulous the ensemble is in performing

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