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Angels with Bagpipe & Organetto, Notre Dame Walcourt Belgium

Angel with Hurdy Gurdy, 16th c.
Troyes, France

Rooftop Grotesquerie near Chalons,
L'Epine, France

Keyed Fiddle, 13th c. N. Doorway,
Cathedral Notre Dame Paris

Bagpiper Bunny Parchment 14th c.
St-Brieuc, Cotes d'Amour, France
A Multi-Media Exploration of Medieval Art, Music, Materials, and Imagination

  • Read wonderful PRESS REVIEWS, LETTERS of THANKS and SUPPORT here
Past exhibit venues have included:

Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz NY
Marcellus Public Library, Marcellus NY
Onondaga Free Library, Syracuse NY
Moravian College Medieval Studies Conference, Bethlehem PA
LeMoyne College, Wilson Art Gallery

I. "From Art to Wood to Music: Sculpted Sound"
A Photo-Documentary Exposition
Medieval Musical Instrument Iconography & Instrument Building

Frescoes, sculptures, tapestries, paintings, and parchments - photographs from the Bells & Motley archive

II. a. "The Re-Creation of Instruments and Music Lost to Time"
Pre-Concert slide-show discussion/salon
On the Bromkas' residence day, the exhibit expands to include instruments in progress, prototypes, and many fine examples of finished instruments from the artists' workshop; also drawings, materials, and tools that lead to their re-creation... Illuminating the art and science of historic instrument building with music on Hurdy gurdies, Medieval Fiddles, Rommelpots, Lutes, Harps, and more.

b. "Musical Instrument Mysteries & Metamorphoses"
Interactive Concert on historic instruments

A few words from the artists about “From Art to Wood to Music: Sculpted Sound”

This photo-documentary exhibit is the work of two Marcellus artists who re-create historic music and period instruments, using art and experience as inspiration, guide, and document.

John and Sondra Bromka’s concerts, musical storytelling performances, and teaching adventures have, over three decades, led them on journeys to three continents. They have mounted this exhibit of 40 photographs to show their trail of research in the realm of Medieval Music, and what they have discovered in the course of these travels. The art documentation has revealed some mighty surprises in terms of understandings that we as a culture seem to hold in common.

So, how does a cultural historian, musician, and artisan go about re-creating ancient musical instruments, that are not just beautiful, but more importantly, playable? --- especially when it turns out that none of the original instruments themselves have survived? And, especially if the goal is to be true to the document—but the sculpture shows a suckling pig playing a harp? And the angel in a French fresco is playing a bagpipe before the instrument overtakes Scotland? Good Questions!

This is the tale of how we use historic art as our primary resource to reconstruct and illuminate relevant art forms today, including period music, instruments, and dance. For a complete artists' statement... here

For more information,
a sample exhibit....

1. July 2008: Marcellus Free Library Program, Facts in Brief

2. Press Information, Marcellus Library

3. The inspiration behind this exhibit


5. FAQs

6. Exhibit Catalog+Program

7. Future Exhibits

click here to enlarge exhibit wall

From an earlier Exhibit, Performance, and Lecture Suite.....

1. Marcellus Free Library Program

Part I. Early Instrument Photo-Documentary Exposition "From Art to Wood to Music: Sculpted Sound"

Ongoing all of July 2008 at Marcellus Free Library, 32 Maple Street, Marcellus, NY.
315-673-3221 or www.library.marcellusny.com for Library hours, directions, etc.

Part II. “Musical Instrument Mysteries & Metamorphoses" An Interactive Concert on historic instruments, Thursday July 24, 7:00-8:30 pm
Hurdy Gurdies, Fiddles, Rommelpots, Lutes, Harps, and more with musicians, historians, and instrument builders John Bromka and Sondra Bromka, Bells & Motley Consort.
- and -
"The Re-creation of Instruments & Music Lost to Time” Pre-Concert slide-show discussion. 6:00-7:00 pm
The exhibit expands to include instruments in progress, prototypes, and many fine examples of inished instruments from the artists' workshop; also drawings, materials, and tools that lead to their re-creation.

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2. Details and Press Information for Central New York

Photo Exposition at Marcellus Library: From Art to Wood to Music: Sculpted Sound"
link to printable pdf press release
Throughout the month of July, Marcellus Library is hosting a unique photo-documentary presentation that will appeal to anyone who is curious about music, art, history, or making things of from wood, earth, stone, bone! Representing the research of popular area musicians, cultural historians, and storytellers John and Sondra Bromka, aka Bells & Motley Consort, this exhibit explores a more visual side of their artistry, and shows their explorations and research trail in the re-creation of historic instruments and music at venues that include our own Sterling Renaissance Faire, and extends to concerts as far away as France, Belgium, and Turkey.

On the afternoon and evening of July 24, the exhibit will expand to include instruments under construction (and de-construction), prototypes, and many fine examples of finished instruments, and also the drawings and sketches, materials and tools that lead to their recreation. From 6:00-7:00, join the artists for a pre-concert slide show discussion "The Re-Creation of Instruments & Music Lost to Time." A vibrant, interactive concert follows from 7:00-8:30 pm to cap it all off, bringing the images and instruments to life, and illuminating the art and science behind their music with hurdy gurdies, medieval fiddles, rommelpots, lutes, harps, and more. Bells & Motley's wildly diverse and unique collection of historic instruments is reputed to be the largest collection of its kind in the northeast. The exhibit, concert, and pre-discussion are open to the public, with be geared to appeal to all ages.

"A rare offering… miss it at your own risk!"

When you see an ethereal angel with a harp carved in the doorway of a Romanesque cathedral, do you wonder what kind of sounds that harp might make, and what that harp’s strings would have been made of? How would her music compare to that of the rotund carved stone sow, who plays her harp way up on the cathedral's rooftop, for the entertainment of other gargoyles and grotesqueries? And how different still from the cacophony of so many bagpipe-playing donkeys, bunnies, humans, and other fanciful creatures, depicted blowing into the skins of other beasts in painted parchments found in abundance all over Europe. What did this iconography mean to the artists who carved and painted these images in the Middle Ages, and what does it reveal for musicologists today?

Over the course of many years, the Bromkas have made annual research pilgrimages across Europe in search of Medieval and Renaissance frescoes, sculptures, and other works of art that illuminate the music, dance, and other cultural expressions of our past. Take some time this month to explore the details of the artists' exquisite photographic collection of frescoes, sculptures, tapestries, paintings, and parchments, which they use to inform their reconstructions and performances of early music, and curious stories and mysteries behind them.

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3. The inspiration behind this exhibit...
The concept and first manifestation of a coordinated early instrument exhibit-concert-discussion was initially proposed by Professor John Black of Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA, where it was a featured presentation in the 2007 "Conference in Medieval and Early Modern Studies" hosted by that institution for students and faculty at multiple colleges in NY, PA, and NJ. The idea rapidly took wing, developing to meet with a very receptive audience at that conference. We were eager to move to the next level.

Moravian College Professor John Black, PhD wrote:
"...As musicians who are also educators who are also performers who are also historians, Sondra and John bring a unique range of talents to audiences. They are skilled and expressive as performers; and they are engaging, inviting, and accessible as teachers, using an impressive repertoire of content and process to reach out to the varying interests, levels of familiarity, and ages of audiences.
"Their interactive approach works well to bridge the usual ‘gap’ between performer and audience. Audiences that attend a Bells & Motley performance come away having been not only entertained and enlightened, but also drawn in to thinking about the ability of music and performance to offer insights into the culture, history, and values of peoples. And, perhaps more importantly, B&M challenges individuals to think about their relationship with this important role of music and performance..."
Link to letter

As the next important force behind the development of this exhibit, the artists recognize Kathy Chave, Director of the Onondaga Free Library, for ongoing support and encouragement as a community focus for our local programs. Without the Library's continued interest in our work this next level would not have come into being, so it was our greatest pleasure to have the first public showing of our ambitious endeavor in that community space.

After the program, Onondaga Library Director Ms. Chave wrote:
“People from many and varied backgrounds, disciplines and fields of interest found much to enjoy in Sondra and John Bromka’s multi-media program, “From Art to Wood to Music: Sculpted Sound”… The Bromkas cut a wide swath through the cultural history of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Within the realms of art, music, history, sociology and craftsmanship, the audience came away with an appreciation of the interconnectedness of all of these areas and a jumping-off point to explore new paths of knowledge.”

What you'll find at the photo exhibit...40 Historic Art Images to Explore!
Entering the photo exhibit, you will see a wall devoted to "Instruments with Skins & Gut" featuring images of bagpipes, drums, rommelpots, early fiddles and viols, guitterns, and more. Also, note the artists successful experiments in creating parchments, destined for instrument making. Another wall depicts all manner of historic harps, psalteries, dulcimers, and related instruments, and answers some of the most frequently asked questions concerning these instruments, while posing new mysteries to ponder. Two more walls highlight John's luthiery specialty in the research and reconstruction of various citterns, guitterns, lutes, and hurdy gurdies as they appeared across medieval Europe.

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4. ARTISTS' STATEMENT, Sondra Bromka and John Bromka, Bells & Motley Consort

We are a team of two musicians and visual artists, both of us specializing professionally in the music, art, and dance of the past, and in particular, of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. This photo-documentary exhibit was organized to tell the tale of how we were able to use historic art as the primary resource to reconstruct and illuminate our own art.

We regard both courtly and popular entertainments equally well. And just as surely we are excited by both the sacred and profane.

Looking at the progression of European art through those centuries, isn’t it delightful when we see evidence of all of these opposites coming together in the same place! For example: See that bagpipe-playing beastly grotesquerie carved again and again on the exterior of the cathedral? Why is this motif so important? How about that angelic fresco, cranking a hurdy gurdy? We know full well that though the instrument was invented in an 11th c. French monastery for the giving of pitches during the chant, its history leads us to parables of blind beggars in the 16th century, and then onward, to “fallen ladies” by the early 19th century. What can you tell us about that suckling pig playing harp up on the cathedral roof? Thankfully, the church art provides us with our best record of the past, ironically including our best record of both sacred and profane!

The photographs in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the multi-sensory passion and premise of two cultural historians, teachers, and performers, who combine their efforts and vision as a team for 28 years.

The photos are art in their own right, just as they are also markers along the journey of our musicological and historical pilgrimages and scavenger hunts across Europe. Visual treasures with surprising information awaited us at every bend. Much of the information, as you will see, upsets the apple cart of commonly held understandings.

As with any artist, the beauty of putting this documentary exhibit together is that by doing so, our body of information and ideas can live well beyond our own lives, and prove useful to others as a building block in their own work.

Documenting our face-to-face encounters with the music and instruments of the past are frescos, carvings, parchments, and polychromes, illuminating our own work in bringing the past back to vibrant life. Though the musical instruments we play were themselves too fragile to survive their way into today’s museums, the art we have found in the archives, churches, and special collections serves well as their eloquent ambassador.

Here are some examples of what we look for when we view the art:

Musical notation from this era was often of a form and brevity that leaves the performer open to interpretation in many ways. On the other hand, those same skeletal notations are often lavishly illuminated with images of musicians and musical instruments of the day, so our first question as to what instruments are appropriate to that time and place are solved, as are playing positions, social activities, consorts, and more.

What would be the best choice of instrumentation for indoor music? For outdoors? Weddings? Courtship? The art shows us a plethora of styles of Medieval Bagpipes, Hurdy Gurdies, Harps, and Lutes. But when there is no illumination to guide, that same piece, depending on your choice of instrumentation, or solo vs. ensemble approach, would come off very differently in tempo, decoration, harmonization. (In many ways you might think of aspects of jazz!)

We try to make our interpretations of this period music as historically informed as possible, continuously drawing on sources from the visual arts for further clues about appropriate and lively performance practice.

We are also dedicated to the art of Lutherie: We make recreations of historic stringed instruments. This matter of building Medieval musical instruments is particularly reliant upon information gleaned from the visual arts, as there are only a handful of actual instruments (or parts of instruments) surviving from before the 15th century.

Take a look at some of this artwork, at the angel musicians, gargoyles, and grotesqueries assembled here. How does one build an accurate playable musical instrument from artwork that is not necessarily realistic? That is part of the challenge we’d like to share through this photo exhibition, along with our accompanying concert and discussions.

In so many of our performances, our goal is to entertain the public with an authentically played music which allows the brocade of sound to speak for itself. Its scholarly framework is inferred, rather than stated, in hopes that immediacy and truth of the music and instruments will speak for itself, the way it did in times past. This is the show that answers the “who-what-when-why” behind our musical choices.

John Bromka and Sondra Bromka

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5. Frequently Asked Questions

Introducing the Artists/Photographers:
We are Sondra and John Bromka, a husband/wife duo of 28 years’ collaboration, with a shared passion for cultural history, especially music, dance, visual arts and artisanry, and languages. Both natives of CNY, we have long made our base of operations in the village of Marcellus, in an 1860 house we share with our woodworking shop and a significant collection of musical instruments, both historical, as well as recreations of early instruments built by John.

What are our professions? Our backgrounds?
As a duo, we divide our time equally between our public performances, and designing and presenting interdisciplinary arts-in-education residencies in schools, for all ages. At home we are active primarily in the North East quadrant, though we have had abundant experiences in teaching and presenting in Europe as well. Of course, when we are there, we make great use of our surroundings, and with camera in hand, visit museums, archives, special exhibits, as well as prowl about for the carvings, frescos, and other art that are found in lavish abundance in churches, cathedrals, historic sites, and ruins.

Training for both of us included Education, with the intention of serving as teachers in the arts. But there were many other areas of study that came into play for each of us. John began with Forestry College, and he delights in being able to give the Latin name for every tree. He then shifted his focus to early music, composition, and music education. Outside of school, John apprenticed to Master Luthier Derwood Crocker, making his first stringed instruments including harpsichords, medieval fiddles, and harps. All this time, being a member of a Morris Dance Team kept him actively engaged in historic dance traditions. His first trip to Europe was across England, on a traditional dance tour with the Binghamton Morris Men. His most memorable solo trip was a two-week intensive workshop concerning troubadour music and performance practices in the south of France.

As a youngster, Sondra’s entrée into the passions of the past was a book written about Michelangelo, with the sincere hope of reliving that Master’s grand scale experiences as a painter and sculptor. She buried herself in the art studios in high school, and then once in college, first focused on photography and painting, then shifted to sculpture and art education. Her college work included photo-documentation and archiving, and post-college apprenticing in art and artifact restoration. Her first teaching job was in a community art school where she quickly fell to collaborative three-dimensional installation projects that united theater, dance, visual, and musical arts. Her first trip to Europe was to Brittany, France with John, to learn about the strong traditions of dance so greatly enjoyed there. Her first solo trip was to England, where she spent two weeks in London at the fabulous Ralph Vaughn Williams Library and Archives at the English Country Dance and Song Society’s Cecil Sharp House… Imagine, wonderful archives by day, and dance workshops and music by night, all under the same roof. Sondra’s topic of study that year was English Ritual Dance and Theater (and especially Mummers’ Plays) from the Elizabethan Renaissance up through Victorian Age.

Do we have a historic specialty?
Though we work with history and traditions of Early America as well, we are best known for our work in cultural expressions of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. We have engaged in abundant on-site research throughout Europe, but also reaching beyond into Turkey.

Can you share favorite experiences in your travels?
Istanbul, Turkey: One two occasions, we were invited to implement teaching residencies at a high school, on the topic of the arts of the Elizabethan Renaissance. On one of these trips, as performers and musicologists, we also presented a joint concert forum with traditional Turkish musicians and dancers. It was our pleasure to musically illuminate how European medieval music and musical instruments were so very enriched by eastern inventions and sensibilities. An outstanding memory: the larger-than-life sized sculpture of a Turk who designed a pair of wings, and donning them to successfully carry himself across the Golden Horn. It is curious that another fellow from about that time, Leonardo da Vinci, didn’t test his own wings, but nonetheless gained fame. A lesson about the writing of history.

Boqueho, Brittany France: For several years running, our annual research trip each May began at this multi-day dance festival, where French traditional dance workshops are offered by folks from different parts of that country, and sometimes beyond. Our contribution was the teaching of traditional American Contra dances, and showing how it combined historical traditions of England and France. A highlight was a culminating dance competition, to laud the best dancers upholding the local traditions. (One year they honored our continued efforts and contributions with the couple prize for Boqueho’s local Breton dance!)

Lissberg, Germany: This is a wonderful spring festival devoted to early and traditional music with drones (think hurdy gurdy and bapipes here.) Picture hundreds of musicians from across Europe pitching tents within the remains of castle walls, up on a hillside flanking a small village, playing concerts and giving workshops for each other all day, and then dancing all night! We have frequented the Lissberg Treffen many times, always enjoying the convening of musician friends, and always discovering something new. Our favorite year would surely be when a group of brilliant musicians/musicologists arrived from Kiev, devoted to the reconstruction of kobzar music. Similar in many ways to the Cantigas of Medieval Spain, this repertoire combines sacred and secular in the recounting of miracle tales.

Brussels, Belgium: We were invited to implement Medieval and Renaissance Arts residencies several times at the International School of Brussels, which is attended by bright students from all over Europe. Their diversely individual artistic perspectives were rich and exciting to work with, and it was a treasure to have the famous Peter Breughel paintings as our local perspective on history, as was the historic instrument collection in the Brussels Museum. Our examinations bolstered one of our long-held secret impressions: that Flanders is where the Renaissance actually started. Our experiences in Brussels inspired some of our favorite residency programs, which we continue to expand upon here in the US.

How would you like to see this photo exhibit used by folks;
What do you envision as the next step?

Meeting our neighbors, and preparing for “phase two.”
What that means to us is --- Focusing on the local community, as a resource for people of all generations, with a special effort to create a local project that will include artists, musicians, singers, theater folks, and more…of all ages….in an effort to create an artistic community, presenting for the community.

And then?
After the exhibit leaves Marcellus, next year we hope to continue mounting it locally in other libraries of Onondaga County, to build relationships with area teachers and institutions who may with to utilize us as “local resources.” From there, we have as our next immediate goal of showing at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City, and hopefully at another favorite museum near Philadelphia. And of course, we wish to continue our research and teaching for that venues would like to collaborate with us in our interdisciplinary vision.

How would you describe your vision?
We feel extremely privileged to have gained so much knowledge and understanding from photo-documentary shows like this in our own travels in Europe… they are what pointed the way for us in our travels, so that we could experience the original art in person, often within amazing contexts. We envision that others will be inspired by our exhibit to travel outward, to go experience history in different settings. At home, we would like to ensure that historic preservation becomes a priorty, such as will excite continued study and reflection, and remind us of important skills and solutions that are in danger of being lost in the modern era. We hope to inspire a new generation of historians, and share some of the tools, methods, and materials with which to work.

Sondra and John Bromka

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6. Exhibit Catalog and Program
(catalog update in progress)

Our current program consists of 3 parts

I. - The Photo Exhibit – “From Art to Wood to Music: Sculpted Sound”

Forty photographs by the two artists, featuring Medieval Musical iconography found in period sculptures, carvings, parchments, frescoes, tapestries.
The presentation is divided into four sections, or "walls:"
• 1. Harps and Psalteries
• 2. Lute, Guittern, Citole, and a Hurdy Gurdy Foray
• 3. Instruments of Skin – Bagpipes, Drums, and Rummelpots
• 4. Fiddles: Gut Strings Meet Bow

II – Pre-Concert Salon Discussion-Demonstration: “The Recreation of Instruments & Music Lost to Time”
The exhibit expands to include instruments in progress, prototypes, and many fine examples of finished instruments from the artists’ workshop; also drawings, materials, and the tools that lead to their recreation. We will answer your questions, illustrate ideas with works of art, and perform samples of music that illustrate what we have learned, and how we have learned it.

III. - Concert- “ Musical Instrument Mysteries and Metamorphoses” An Interactive Concert on historic instruments, with Hurdy Gurdies, Fiddles, Rommelpots, Lutes, Harps, and more with musicians, historians, and instrument builders John Bromka and Sondra Bromka, Bells & Motley Consort.

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7. Stay tuned for Future Exhibits
Two more locations for this program are presently in the works. Details soon to be announced.
If you are a venue that is interested in mounting such an exhibit and concert, funding possibilities may be available, so please contact the artists John and Sondra Bromka
(email link)

For more information:
Bells & Motley Consort of Olden Music
Sondra and John Bromka
36 South Street
Marcellus NY 13108

Two of our instruments:
A Lute, and Lute-backed hurdy gurdy

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