On October 15, 1997 I shared a pitcher of red ale with Owain Phyfe at one of our local watering holes in fashionable downtown Berkley (Michigan) with a view to expanding upon the aforementioned radio interviews. As the ale began to flow, so did the conversation:
EVENTIDE: So WHY did you write that piece of prose about art
OWAIN PHYFE: pleasure ... for the pleasure of doing it.
EVENTIDE: Okay, let me rephrase that: WHAT inspired you to write it?
OWAIN PHYFE: ...I had just finished reading Ayn Rand's book the Romantic Manifesto, which I found to be a very liberating experience. A lot of the ideas contained in my words are the result of her influence. The definition, in fact, of Art itself, at the beginning, is her definition.
EVENTIDE: So, you refer to her book as a liberating experience, ... Liberating from what?
OWAIN PHYFE: Ignorance mainly... Ignorance of the nature of art and what art REALLY says about the Artist. I would recommend her book as a must read, in particular, for anyone dealing in the Arts.
EVENTIDE: Which came first for you? The Renaissance music or Ayn Rand's influence?
OWAIN PHYFE: I was already doing early music, Renaissance music, but I didn't understand yet why I was so attracted to it. Ayn Rand articulated that attraction for me.
EVENTIDE: Which is?
OWAIN PHYFE: The values contained therein.
EVENTIDE: Can't one... just love a given piece of music, without analyzing it?
OWAIN PHYFE: I can't... not any more.
EVENTIDE: So then what are the values in your music?
OWAIN PHYFE: Well before you can discuss values, you need to discuss the purpose, the very point of music.
EVENTIDE: Which is?
OWAIN PHYFE: Contemplation. Music is much more than entertainment, It is the pleasure of contemplation. This is the purpose of all art. ...I would hope that our listeners would find a kind of peaceful oasis in our music. I don't mean that in the sense of escapism. I mean it, rather, in the pleasure of contemplation reaffirming the idea that life holds for each one of us a spectrum of wonderful possibilities. ...Through my portion of input in the music of The New World Renaissance Band and Nightwatch Recording, I am endeavoring to relate how a certain type of music has touched and moved me. It is this same music which in the same way, touched and moved individuals among the generations of the most vibrant age in human history, the Renaissance.
Now don't misunderstand me here, this is important: I'm not looking to turn the clock back. I have no desire to live in the past. Through our music we have attempted to re-kindle the spirit of The Renaissance... in a manner befitting the next renaissance.
EVENTIDE: ... and the values in your music?
OWAIN PHYFE: Again... I would hope that our listeners would find a fascination with the adventure and discovery of life... in the context ... of honor and the pursuit of virtue.
Above the din of the 30 or so patrons, strains of an electric guitar could be heard emanating from the corner jukebox, which naturally led into my next question.
EVENTIDE: Is there any modern / contemporary music that you
OWAIN PHYFE: Yes, some, but most of it is emotionally irrelevant for me.
EVENTIDE: Emotionally irrelevant?
OWAIN PHYFE: All music is the audio equivalent to emotion. There are certain emotions that I just don't care to experience, at least, not for very long.
EVENTIDE: Okay, it makes sense that emotion is evoked from the listener, but is it always relevant? I mean, what if you just like the music?
OWAIN PHYFE: It's not a matter of just liking or just disliking. Music affects us whether we are aware of it or not, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, but always emotionally. Some people, for example, might "just like' feeling, say, irrationally pugnacious. I don't.
EVENTIDE: Does this mean that you feel negatively about rock 'n roll for example?
OWAIN PHYFE: Not necessarily. That's too broad of a statement. I will say this, however, that much of the pop music of recent years, with it's orientation towards blues, does contain a reoccurring theme: that being the exalting of the 'life on the street' experience. My personal experience has taught me that the 'life on the street' syndrome has more to do with bitterness than with enlightenment, It's a place, an emotion, where I simply don't wish to go.
EVENTIDE: So, you're looking for enlightenment in music?
OWAIN PHYFE: I am looking for that which is of value. I don't like participating in art or music whose underlying value judgments are a contradiction to that which is most valuable and desirable in life.
EVENTIDE: Couldn't someone's values just be different than yours?
OWAIN PHYFE: You may think so and they may think so, but real values are IDENTIFIED metaphysically, in other words, by the nature of human existence, not by anyone's opinion.
EVENTIDE: That's your opinion.
OWAIN PHYFE: (laugh) No, that's a fact and ostensibly so. And that, by the way, is why Ayn Rand's writings are so important. She is the one who has done all the groundwork, all the research in identifying the nature of human values. ...Her findings, I might add, would greatly enrich our culture, which happens, at the moment, to be struggling through an immense value search. The vast majority of people are passive to this and will go along with whatever is determined for them by intellectuals, clergy, government officials, media personalities, and yes, ARTISTS. The end results, or should I say, the values chosen, however, will determine whether we enter into another 'renaissance' or another 'dark ages.'
A long pause ensued, broken finally by the arrival of another pitcher of ale. We continued along other lines.
EVENTIDE: Is there anything in which you disagree with Ayn Rand or her philosophy?
OWAIN PHYFE: You mean from her book, The Romantic Manifesto?
EVENTIDE: Okay, yes.
OWAIN PHYFE: Well, I thought that she underestimates the value of folk music as an entry level stepping stone into the whole experience of music. Her criticism of folk music in the context of performances of it often being too complacent may, on the other hand, have some validity. Keep in mind, though, that this area of disagreement is such a minute detail, in light of all her writings and discoveries, that it should really be considered to be insignificant.
EVENTIDE: I happen to know that you have taken some flack from some of the purists among the 'early music' community for your particular approach to Renaissance and Medieval music. How would you answer those critics?
OWAIN PHYFE: I've always used the expression: 'We don't do documentaries.' On the other hand, I'm glad that there are musicians who choose to approach early music from a purely scholarly level. This is valuable historically. That, however, has never been our intent. ... The conflict here is one of The Classical School verses the Romantic School. The Classical School must imitate the past, to preserve it. The Romantic School has the freedom to create for the future. Each musician must determine for himself where his gift lies.
EVENTIDE: Well, we've covered a lot of ground, but I have one final question: Can you give us a peek as to the future plans at Nightwatch Recording? New recordings, etc.?
OWAIN PHYFE: Yes, there are presently two CD's in the works. Cantiga is finishing up their 2nd album in Houston right now. It was about half complete last year at the time of Malcolm's death. ...So it will include music from some of his last recording sessions. For that reason alone, this will be a treasure for all of us in the band. While they are winding up that project, I'll be recording the sequel to Sweet Was The Song which will be another collection from the Renaissance lute song repertoire. Next year at The Sterling Renaissance Festival, in Owosso, NY, we hope to begin the fourth CD by the whole Band. There is just so much great repertoire out there that I get the feeling that we have really only scratched the surface.
I got the feeling that we had only scratched the surface in our discussion as well our
last pitcher, however, was empty and the clock read l:30am. I had quite a bit to ponder,-
Art, Values, The Renaissance, etc., and, can I drive home?
I began wondering how I fit into this equation. Just what ARE my value judgments? And, dear reader, as Owain's soliloquy begs the question, "What are YOURS?
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