These Classical Cats Can Play a Lute Just Like Ringin' a Bell

Original Article from Free Lance-Star. Posted May 14, 2015.BY STEPHEN HU/FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR


The lute is a European stringed instrument that peaked in popularity about 400 years ago, and Ronn McFarlane thinks the time is right for a comeback.

McFarlane and his group, Ayreheart, have two lute players. The music they make combines melodies from the Renaissance and Baroque periods with the drive of rock ’n’ roll.

In fact, McFarlane got hooked on the lute by way of rock ’n’ roll. He was inspired to take up the guitar after hearing a band play “Wipe Out” at his high school field day. He became more serious about the guitar and attended music conservatory where he turned to the classical style, which led to an interest in early music.

“I really loved the oldest music from the guitar,” said McFarlane. “The Renaissance and Baroque music—most of that had originally been lute music that had been arranged for the classical guitar. So gradually I began filling my guitar repertoire with more and more lute music and finally gravitated over to actually playing the lute.”

McFarlane saw no reason why the lute had to be limited to early music. He heard many similarities between early European folk and the rock ’n’ roll he grew up playing. McFarlane started writing original songs that featured the lute.

“As I played more and more lute music I got the feeling that the lute was a good instrument, not just for old music but a good instrument for modern music, for all different kinds of genres,” said McFarlane. “So I began experimenting, playing in different styles and started writing my own music. Solo music at first, but then I started writing some songs for voice and lute and started imagining percussion or bass or other instruments along with it.”

McFarlane found some like-minded musicians who shared his vision of a fusion of old and new music and they formed Ayreheart.

Along with McFarlane on lute, the other members double on ancient and modern instruments. Brian Kay sings and plays the lute, guitar and the komuz, which is a fretless stringed instrument of Turkish origin. Will Morris plays the fretless electric bass, violin, mandolin and the colascione (a larger member of the lute family). Mattias Rucht plays a drum set and various hand percussion.

“It started out with my idea of wanting to play contemporary music in a sort of folk or folk–rock style that includes the lute,” said McFarlane, “but it kind of expanded to new compositions by Brian and contributions from Mattias and Willard. It’s become more of a collaborative effort.”

McFarlane acknowledges the influence of the English folk–rock movement of the ’70s—bands like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Jethro Tull.

“I think what Ayreheart is doing is not the same thing, but it connects with that type of music. Someone who enjoys those groups would probably enjoy an Ayreheart show as well.”

In addition to their original music, Ayreheart plays some traditional pieces from the Renaissance period and also arranges some of those songs in their own style.

“You know ‘John Barleycorn’ by Traffic?” asked McFarlane. “That’s one we started doing lately. When I was in high school I listened to this Traffic album over and over again. I didn’t know that ‘John Barleycorn’ was an old song, but it goes back to the 16th century and there are loads of old versions of it. So we created our own version of that. We’ll create our own arrangements of some other traditional tunes that come down by oral tradition or were written down sometime along the way. They sort of blend in with the style of the original music that we’re performing, too. Usually in a performance you’ll hear some new music and some old tunes, which is a point of reference from where we’re coming from, where the instrument is coming from and what we’re trying to do in our new music. So it’s both new and old styles and instruments coming together.”

Stephen Hudoes indeed know the song ‘John Barleycorn’ by Traffic.


What:Centuries Collide with Ayreheart

Where:Cabaret at Fredericksburg Square, 525 Caroline St., Fredericksburg

When:Saturday, May 16, 6 p.m.

Cost:$20, plus a $25 food and beverage minimum.

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