Goin’ for Baroque

At their log cabin home in Blythewood, Jerry and Vivian Curry are shown here with Jerry’s 1980 hand painted harpsichord, which folds up for transporting and has been carried all over the country, including beautiful farm settings for outdoor weddings in Blythewood, to New York, Iowa, Georgia and North Carolina. A gift from Jerry’s mother, the harpsichord is decorated with a Latin inscription that translates: ‘Music is the companion of joy and the medicine for sorrow.”

BLYTHEWOOD — Three hundred years after the masterpieces of baroque music were composed for the great courts of France, Germany, Italy and England, those same melodies are still played daily on a Baroque-period harpsichord in a charming log cabin in rural Blythewood by Jerry Curry, a founding member of the Columbia Baroque Soloists. The Soloists aren’t soloists at all, of course, but five professional musicians who, seven years ago, formed a chamber ensemble that utilizes period instruments such as the viola da gama, recorder and harpsichord. Today they enchant audiences at performances throughout the Midlands.

“It’s wonderful playing with this group,” Curry said, “because they’re so good, and they understand baroque music so well. Plus we have an audience that really enjoys coming to listen to baroque music.”

Now a professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina’s School of Music, Curry was a doctoral student in Music Theory at the University of Iowa in the late 1960s when he first become interested in the harpsichord. He performed in an ensemble directed by Robert Donington, a preeminent baroque specialist, and then accepted his first teaching job at a school in Kentucky that happened to have a harpsichord. The fortuitous turn of events sparked Curry’s career-long fascination with baroque performance practice. Along the way, he also studied with Kenneth Gilbert, one of the most highly regarded harpsichordists in the world.

“When Jerry came to USC in 1970,” his wife, Vivian, recalled, “one of his colleagues had just ordered a harpsichord, and Jerry was practicing on it all the time. Finally, she just said, ‘Jerry, I think you need to move the harpsichord to your office!’”

Vivian, who herself has a master’s degree in music from USC, met Curry when she was a student in the first class he taught there. Though not a member of the ensemble, she is intricately involved with the group and plays a strong promotional role. She said that for her, the splendor of baroque music stands the test of time.

“The group’s most recent performance, at Columbia College in April, featured excerpts from an absolutely exquisite opera by Lully, the favorite court musician of King Louis XIV,” Vivian said. “They sang excerpts and played the dance music from it. There is a sense of being transported back in time. The music is dazzling and, listening to it, I just imagined being at Versailles, out in the little country cottage that Louis XIV built for his friends and family. This music was an integral part of their daily lives.”

Curry said that, as the only group of its kind in South Carolina, the ensemble’s goal is to bring to life the beauty and spirit of early 18th century music and share it with the public. The Soloists present four main-stage performances every year, with an average audience close to 100, and they also make numerous appearances at libraries, schools and other outreach venues. Each year, the group holds a Summer Institute of master classes for recorder and harpsichord and participates in events such as master classes for high schoolers at the Greenville Fine Arts Center. “These kids,” Vivian said, “were just enchanted with the gamba and the harpsichord. It was wonderful.”

Jean Hein, a distinguished musician who plays the baroque recorder with the Soloists, also teaches clarinet at Blythewood High School .

The group’s board of directors is very active and supportive, and the soloists each help out with administrative necessities like acquiring grants and organizing the performance schedule.

The ensemble will next appear at the Columbia Museum of Art this summer, with a program featuring selections of baroque music that were popular in colonial South Carolina.

For more information about the group’s upcoming performances, to listen to recordings of their music, and to find out more about their Summer Institute at USC’s School of Music, go to their website at ColumbiaBaroque.com. You can also follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/ColumbiaBaroque.

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