Improvising on cornetto with Harmonious Blacksmith

Harmonious Blacksmith: Ah Young Hong, Joe Gascho, William Simms, Justin Godoy

In 2012, the early baroque chamber group, Harmonious Blacksmith, planned a concert at my church in Arlington, Virginia. I knew the leader and harpsichordist of the group, Joe Gascho, so I asked if I could play a piece with them on their concert. He said yes. I got a chance to play the somewhat virtuosic Lasso/Bassano “Susanne ung jour.” He also sent me some sound files of ground basses that they would be improvising on. I had played cornetto for years by this point, and I had a substantial amount of ornamentation experience, but I had never done a fully-improvised solo before, so it was a great (and fun) experience working on this. Here are the sound files he sent:

A chaconne from a song by Monteverdi (“Quel sguardo sdegnosetto”)

we did “La jota”

and a Bergamasca (canarios)

By the time the concert was near, Joe was was curious whether I was going to feel comfortable playing with the group, but I gulped and said that was ready to go.

At the concert, I was standing alongside Harmonious Blacksmith during one of those ground bass pieces, and–like playing a jazz solo–Joe looked up at me and pointed. So, I played!

In retrospect, I think it was a great experience and would recommend all cornetto players to get out there and improvise!

Nowadays, one of the best solutions to practice Renaissance improvisation and ornamentation is by downloading the Septenary Editions Passagi app, developed by my friend Helen Roberts. This will give you loads of material to practice (and it goes along with the many scholarly editions they publish).

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Interviewing cornetto great, Bruce Dickey

Last Friday, I had the big honor to interview Bruce Dickey, famed American cornettist living in Italy. The interview was recorded for the Historic Brass Society. We talked about his career and his ideas on playing the cornetto (especially how it relates to vocal style). The original “Zoom” meeting was attended by approximately 40 interested people, many of whom were able to ask him questions.

If you would like to learn more about Bruce Dickey and this fantastic instrument, here is that interview.


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