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Medieval melodies:
Professor Roy Hagman and his flair for ancient music

Professor Roy Hagman, chair of the Modern Languages Department at Trent University, has a passion for the Middle Ages. As a linguist, he is fascinated by medieval languages, particularly Old Provençal, the original language of southern France and of the troubadours. And, as a musician, he has become increasingly intrigued with instruments used during this period.

"I was asked to help a local medieval choir - called Hurly Burly - with the pronunciation of medieval languages," says Prof. Hagman, who is now a key player in the group. Not only does he sing and continue to sort out issues of pronunciation with Hurly Burly, but he has also introduced a whole new element to the group - instrumental accompaniment on reconstructed medieval instruments.

A Celtic harp and recorders were used in the group before Prof. Hagman’s arrival, but now a medieval fiddle, hurdy-gurdy, plucked psaltery, hammered dulcimer, medieval harp and occasionally medieval bagpipes are also used. Prof. Hagman has just built another medieval instrument, called a citole, which will soon be incorporated into the group’s repertoire.

"There’s some interpretation involved because I work from illustrations," he explains. "The 12th-century fiddle was the first instrument I made and I started from scratch. No one I knew had built one. The instrument appeared first in Arabic countries in 945, and in Europe in the year 1000 - it’s a teardrop fiddle, built from one block of wood, with three gut strings and a flat bridge. And the bow is quite unique, very unlike the bows of today."

Hurly Burly practices weekly, and more frequently leading up to a concert. They typically perform three local concerts each year and sometimes travel further afield to illustrate medieval music. For instance, in February the group performed at Casa Loma as part of a medieval presentation for school children.

"I love these instruments and I love to play folk music for hours with them," smiles Prof. Hagman, whose love of music and the middle ages has come together in a very serendipitous way.

Posted March 25, 2003

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