Ames group reaches out with sound of history

Stefanie Buhrman

Musica Antiqua, a group of ISU educators and other musicians playing historically inspired instruments, started out small and has now gone big.

“There is a basic group of five,” said Carl Bleyle, director and narrator of Musica Antiqua. “That is our traveling group. There is one dancer and four main instruments. For dinners, we expand.”

As a local Ames group, Musica Antiqua has done their fair share of traveling.

“We’ve been as far west as Colorado,” Bleyle said. “We do a lot of national conventions.”

Although their traveling might be quite costly, the group does get some financial help.

“We gradually received funding for concerts,” Bleyle said. “You don’t get a lot of money from instruments like these. They’re irreplaceable.”

With unique instruments, such as the krummhorn, the gemshorn, the organetto and the bladder pipe – just to name a few – many unique opportunities arise.

“We recently recorded a score for a Paramount film, ‘Dragonlance,'” Bleyle said.

“The things we recorded were a part of an 88-minute score with the Prague Symphony. The director was able to incorporate our sounds in a symphony.”

Although the recording experience was exciting, things may not go as planned because of the fragile instruments .

“What we try to do is play as many instruments as we can,” Bleyle said. “So when we pick up cold instruments, it is scary.”

Warming up instruments before a performance is a must, so switching from one instrument to another can be risky.

“We don’t play gimmicky music that’s not from the era,” Bleyle said.

“Our music is from the [Renaissance] period. Our instruments are made from museum models; nothing we do is inauthentic. I think everyone [in the group] was a teacher at one point and our main goal is education. We like to talk to people after our shows.”

“It was started by President William Parks,” Bleyle said. “One of the wives of the directors, in 1967, invited some people over for dinner. Parks was there and donated money out of his budget for three instruments.”

When the group was created, Bleyle was not an original member.

“I wasn’t here,” Bleyle said. “I was in Minneapolis working on my Ph.D. and I eventually inherited the group.”

Even though the group started out with only three instruments, it has grown to accommodate over 120 instruments.

“There was extraordinary support from the president and vice president,” Bleyle said. “They all seem to really like this group. In 1969 we applied for a grant that allows concerts. We applied again in 1970 and didn’t get it. In 1971 we got another grant and have been on the art council ever since.”

Shows for Musica Antiqua have ranged from Madrigal dinners to Renaissance fairs and stops at schools across Iowa.

“We just enjoy playing anywhere,” Bleyle said. “We enjoy performing for anyone from scholars to kids. Very few places have a group like this that are authentic or silly enough to play so many instruments.”

Musica Antiqua

To learn more about Musica Antiqua and to hear samples of their music, you can check out their Web site at