New Marlborough — Tina Packer has been cultivating her voice for as long as she can remember. “It’s so natural to me, to say what I think,” reflects the woman who, for 40 years, has not only been at the helm of Shakespeare and Company in Lenox but has also been exploring the evolving role of women in the Bard’s 37 plays. On Saturday, September 9, Tina Packer joins Calliope Renaissance Band in, The Power of a Woman’s Voice. This collaboration is part of the New Marlborough Village Association’s Music & More 2017 Season.
“I suppose I wanted people to hear what I had to say,” says Packer who, in a moment of contemplation as to the genesis of her voice declares, “It’s automatic for me — I’ve not often thought where it came from — and I don’t remember not having it.” Packer, who no longer makes her living on the stage, explains, “as an actor, you do have a voice that is trained to be loud enough for people to hear. If you want you can use it on other occasions.”
One such occasion will be Saturday’s event in New Marlborough where, over the course of 90 minutes, Packer will explore the power of a variety of women’s voices spanning more than 500 years. This journey will begin in 1405 with excerpts from Christine de Pizan who wrote about the allegorical City of Ladies in a spirited defense of women unique for its direct confrontation of the misogyny during Medieval times. She then jumps 100 years to Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, with excerpts from a text that “pays homage to the moral, intellectual, and physical, not equality, but superiority of woman over man.”
The program’s trajectory includes others, ranging from Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembrook — the leading literary figure of the age who was one of the first English women to achieve a major reputation for her poetry and literary patronage — and ends with the modern Iranian poet, Forugh Farrokhzad.
Of her choices? “Language is at the center of my passion — [and] the world can only be properly saved through language.” That said, Packer will read from Shakespeare whose inclusion — logical given Packer’s background — becomes an extension of her book, Women of Will (Random House, 2015), in which she traces the playwright’s changing understanding of the feminine
and reveals some of his deepest insights. “I’m tracking the development of women in Shakespeare’s writing,” Packer explains. “Each woman adds a bit to his own developing understanding of women and how they taught him.” When asked about her favorite female character she is equally diplomatic and sincere: “It is very difficult to say…they all add up to a very dominant female voice…that [Shakespeare] found to be the wisest voice, and the most creative voice.” Packer’s comment on the voices she has culled for Saturday’s performance? “They are feminist voices, by and large,” according to Packer who freely admits, “I came slightly late to feminism myself — until I realized that much of what I thought and felt was feminism.”
The venerable Calliope Renaissance Band will provide complementary music with which Packer’s venerable women would have been familiar — including John Taverner, John Dowland and Thomas Morley. Calliope, first formed in 1973 in New York City, started as group of freelance musicians who played modern instruments — trumpet, trombone, percussion — and transitioned to children’s concerts to demo the early instruments. Today, Calliope is a chamber-music ensemble, presenting medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary American chamber music. “It’s alway fun to perform with a reader; the two things — music and the readings — can be complementary if designed in the right way,” says founding member Lucy Bardo. She went on to say, “Tina [Packer’s] particular topic is very interesting to me because I enjoy history and the Shakespearean Era [in particular] from which she will be doing many of her readings.”
Calliope is often credited for introducing to audiences, for the first time, the music and instruments of the 13th through the 17th centuries. The group, composed of members Lucy Bardo, Lawrence Benz, Allan Dean and Ben Harms, has been in existence for more than four decades. Of their collaboration with Packer and Music & More, Bardo said, “it’s a lot of fun to find music to complement the readings — I’ve done it before, and it’s something I enjoy doing.”
The group has made five recordings and numerous soundtracks for TV and radio. As winner of the Naumburg Chamber Music Competition in 1976, Calliope was able to commission two new works for mixed renaissance instruments. With the commission of Peter Schickele’s BESTIARY in 1984, the group was influential in creating a new niche for early musicians, that of playing new music on old instruments as well as some crossover into folk and popular music. Although Calliope stopped touring in 2000, the group has continued to perform outreach concerts in the Northeast.
Music & More, founded by Harold Lewin (1929 – 2014), is a unique multi-arts series presented in New Marlborough’s Meeting House on the Village Green. The 2017 season offers outstanding chamber music and literary events with today’s finest musicians and writers. Each of the events, from August through late September, takes place in a pristine New England setting and is followed by a wine and cheese reception in the Meeting House Art Gallery. TO RESERVE TICKETS, email firstname.lastname@example.org, consult the Berkshire Edge Calendar, or call (413) 229-2785.