This year, I went to the Lute Society of America Seminar at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a lot of fun, and I'm going to share some of my experience here.
Getting there with a lute was quite an adventure. Lutes are terribly delicate instruments, even the larger ones weigh no more than a few pounds. Trusting the airline not to body slam a very expensive belonging like this pushes your limits. While my lute made it unharmed, it's case is marred all over now.
It was set up like a lot of the computer conferences that I've been to, UTOSC, Brainshare, etc, in that there are classes that you can choose to go through, you're surrounded by a bunch of people with a common interest, there's plenty of nerds about and only a few women, and you get to meet people at the top of food chain in the subject. The differences, though, were that at this "conference", I really had no idea about most of what they were talking about, it was a week long, and there were amazing concerts every night.
Every single day was exhausting. I would get up every morning at 6:30am (which is four hours earlier than I get up at home, due to the time change and general laziness) in order to be ready for breakfast at 7. Classes would start at 9am, go to 11:30, at which point you were on your own for lunch. Every other day there was an afternoon concert at 1pm. Classes resumed at 2:15 and ended at 5:30, dinner was served at 6pm, and then the night concert went from 7:30 to 9:30. After that there was socializing and practicing until you went to bed, and then you'd do it all over again in the morning.
Because I am new to the lute, and there weren't many beginner classes, I usually went to whatever master class was going on during a specific hour. In a master class, one or two people volunteer to play a piece for the lecturer (who is an expert on the instrument at hand), and then they receive instruction on how they can do better. I found these classes to be very informative on technique, playing with feeling, etc. Also, it was very good just to see the masters at work. Even the very best attendee's skills paled in comparison.
The concerts were absolutely amazing. The audience, all being lute lovers themselves, were entirely captivated... not a cough or sneeze could be heard. Every single one I'd just sit there in awe with goosebumps up and down my arms.
One thing I learned by meeting Paul O'dette, Robert Barto, Nigel North, Eduardo Eguez, is that what I thought was the entire corpus of knowledge before I went, was really just scratching the surface of what there is to know. Not only are these people fantastic musicians, but they are all historians when it comes to early music. They know which composer was where when he wrote what piece, and why. It was quite overwhelming at times, but always very interesting.
Here are some pictures from the events: