University of Washington creates 45-year archive of Early Music Seattle

by Aly Gardner-Shelby

January 2023: University of Washington Libraries’ Special Collections department is creating a public collection of materials spanning Early Music Seattle’s 45 years of history, to help preserve the history and impact of EMS (formerly Early Music Guild), and to make the materials accessible for public research. The archiving project, including gathering, sorting and cataloging of the materials was managed hands-on by board president Aly Gardner-Shelby, who said, “I am finally getting to use my archaeology degree!”

Twelve people contributed either digital or paper-based materials, totaling 226MB in 781 digital files, and 10 banker’s boxes of paper-based materials! The collection includes ephemera; musical, educational and affiliate program materials, board and organizational documents; published articles; materials from Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and materials from EMG/EMS community programs – in particular the Sine Nomine Choir and the New Baroque Orchestra.

Our great thanks to contributors Byron Schenkman, Gus Denhard, John Gibbs, JoLynn Edwards, Laurel Sercombe, Margaret (Peggy) Monroe, Molly Warner, Naomi Shiff, Pamela Silimperi, Peter Seibert, Richard Ginnis, and Theodore Deacon. A special word of thanks to UW archivist John Bolcer who helped us get started, to Anne Jenner, Curator of the Pacific Northwest Collection, to Diane Grover whose librarian’s instincts helped to inspire the archival project, to Naomi Shiff who kindled Aly’s interest in creating this collection, and to Maria Coldwell who gave important pointers along the way.

Byron Schenkman

“I am happy to have had a small part in this amazing project! I first heard about the project from Naomi Shiff, and it reminded me of sitting at Naomi’s dining room table thirty years ago, poring over her files full of past programs and concert publicity materials.

I had just moved to Seattle and Naomi’s mentoring and guidance (as well as all those materials she had collected) were invaluable in getting me started presenting my own concerts, often through the EMG Concert Assistance Program, co-founding the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and ultimately launching my own chamber music series, Byron Schenkman & Friends.”

From a program contributed to the collection by Byron Schenkman, for the “Queer Baroque” concert on June 27th, 1996

JoLynn Edwards

“I served on the EMS board for 10 years (2007-17), the last two years as president. When looking back, I was astonished to see all the accumulated documents related to organizational changes:  the SBO merger, the hiring of Alex Weimann as Music Director, two separate strategic plans, the hiring of a development officer, a re-branding for the organization, the successful application for the Murdoch Trust grant, yearly galas and donor events, not to mention the usual business of the organization including budgets, concert planning, and participation of local musicians in the Education Program and chamber ensembles.  I kept all the paperwork.

It was a challenge and a pleasure to contribute to the early music community. The board worked so hard to achieve only one goal:  to present inspiring early music by local, national, and international performers to delight and educate our audiences of adults and children alike.”

From a program contributed to the collection by JoLynn Edwards, for EMG’s 40th season, 2016-2017

Margaret (Peggy) Monroe

“My major at university was creative writing. I also played drums (from age 10) in marching and symphonic bands and went on from age 18 to age 53 to play in the percussion sections of community orchestras in Texas, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle, Washington. I discovered the recorder and began playing it with great enjoyment. I also studied and read everything I could find about the Middle Ages.

With that background of interests, it was natural that the sudden interest in Early Music captivated me and many other recorder-playing friends in Seattle. I also realized that percussion instruments were widely pictured throughout the medieval times and I began exploring Historical Percussion. Soon, many of us in Seattle formed consorts, put together costumes and began performing in public and also for schools.

And then, in 1976, a group of us began to realize that professional Early Music Groups were performing in Vancouver, B. C., and then performing in San Francisco, California and decided that if we had some kind of sponsoring organization here in Seattle that we would be a natural rung of the Early Music ladder. Slowly we put together an organization (named the Early Music Guild), had a Board of Directors, did fund-raising and then achieved 501-C-3 status.

I’m very pleased that EMS has undertaken this archiving project to preserve and share our important history”

Molly Warner

“I have played with the New Baroque Orchestra since its beginnings a couple of decades ago. This is a wonderful opportunity for amateur instrumental musicians to play baroque music under the direction of local professionals well versed in early music styles and techniques.

Over the years we have been led by Claire Garabedian, Ingrid Matthews, Linda Melsted, Christine Wilkinson Beckman, Linda Melsted again, Caroline Nicolas, and currently John Lenti. We present fall and spring concerts with a couple of months of rehearsals before each one. Such a great learning experience!

I saved and donated to the archiving project the programs from all but two of the New Baroque Orchestra concerts over the years. They document the players, the directors, and the music we prepared for our audiences. I am happy that this information will be accessible. The sponsorship of the Early Music Guild/Early Music Seattle made this orchestra possible – so many thanks!”

Naomi Shiff

“In my collection were treasured programs for the very first Early Music Guild concert, by James Bowman and Robert Spencer on May 30th, 1978, and for such luminaries as Gustav Leonhardt, Ton Koopman, and Frans Brüggen. I’m so happy and relieved it has found a good home.”

Poster contributed to the collection by Naomi Shiff, for Early Music Guild’s very first concert on May 30th, 1978

Pamela Silimperi

“On behalf of Sine Nomine: Renaissance Choir, my contributions to the EMS archiving project as Managing Director include a general description of the choir with photos, all concert posters and programs, a summary document of concert data and repertoire, concert statistics, a short history from 2008-2015, and data from our Director search in 2015-16.

I recall the beginnings of Sine Nomine: In the spring of 2008 Gus Denhard approached me at an Early Music Guild workshop for singers and instrumentalists, saying he thought the time might be right to start an early music choir to offer amateur singers in the community an opportunity to develop their skills focusing on Renaissance and baroque singing styles – and in fall 2008, Sine Nomine: Renaissance Choir was born.

I find it humbling, gratifying, and exciting that Sine Nomine is now being honored with EMS in this manner, where our history is available to all who may be interested – and I am proud to play an important role in the choir’s existence, offering opportunities to singers and audiences, past and present, who harbor a passion for Renaissance polyphony.”

The photo above shows Artistic Director Anne Lyman, Managing Director Pam Silimperi, and Founding Director Gary Cannon cutting cake at Sine Nomine’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration on March 25, 2018, at Trinity Parish Church, Seattle

Poster for Sine Nomine’s Tenth Anniversary concert

Peter Seibert

“I was a board member for 16 years, serving as an officer and as a member of the search committees that brought both Gus Denhard and Alexander Weimann to Seattle.  Early music was part of my life prior to the existence of the EMG, has enriched my life since it was founded, and will continue to intrigue me as our understanding of it evolves.

The Early Music Guild of Seattle has done nothing less than change the way sophisticated music lovers hear music.  They now expect to listen to music from the pre-symphonic era rendered on period musical instruments using historically informed performance practices. To have the EMG/EMS materials from these nearly five decades archived is a significant addition to the historical record of Seattle.”

Lifetime award given to Peter Seibert by the Board of EMG, in 2015. Peter is still serving EMS, as a member of the Finance committee

A 2022 luncheon at The Lakeside School, marking the creation of the Peter Seibert Endowment for Music Education, with the honoree and several alumni donors to the endowment

Richard Ginnis

“I started as Treasurer and Board Member of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra (SBO) in the mid-1990’s. I produced the financial reports for SBO and continue to produce financial reports for Early Music Seattle.

Although not everyone understands or takes an interest in accounting reports, the financials provide important insights into the organization’s operations, such as its financial strength, the ability to make its budgets, the scope of its activities, the number of staff required. Financial reporting also serves as a basis for the organization’s tax return filings.

When SBO considered merging with the Early Music Guild (now, Early Music Seattle), it was necessary to review each other’s financial statements to be reassured that each organization had the financial resources to engage in the merger.

I am proud of my contribution to important financial information. In the long run, I believe no organization can survive without good accounting. Early Music Seattle has now survived 45 years.”

Theodore Deacon

“During the time I was director of opera at the University of Washington I produced very fine student performances of period music dramas by Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Purcell, and Hildegard of Bingen. Later, when I was invited onto the board of Early Music Seattle to develop such productions with top local and international and vocal artists, a personal dream of so many decades became a wonderful reality.

My proudest moment with Early Music Seattle was as stage director of our 2007 presentation of Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea,” a superb production worthy of that magnificent score. That so many world-class artists came together in Seattle to create these beautiful and compelling performances is a testament to the Early Music Seattle’s vision and stature.”

From “Love’s Lessons,” a booklet created by James Middleton, designer and director of Baroque Opera “Venus & Adonis.” The booklet was distributed to audience members by the little Cupids during the opera’s instruction scene

A little history of Early Music Seattle

Early Music Guild was founded by keen amateur musicians John Gibbs, Jerome Kohl and Randall Jay McCarty, who incorporated the organization with the State of Washington in 1978 under the name “Early Music Guild” (EMG). Many of the contributors to this collection were founding or early members of the organization. 

The original purpose of EMG was to bring to Seattle some international artists who were performing in other west coast cities such as Vancouver and San Francisco, and also to support the many really good early music ensembles that existed in Seattle. At that time there was a passion for early music in the Pacific Northwest. In the early days, EMG was entirely volunteer run.

EMG merged with Seattle Baroque Orchestra (SBO) on 29th June 2010, and in spring of 2017 the combined organization went through a rebranding process, followed in June 2017 by the launch of the organization’s new name, “Early Music Seattle” (EMS). 

EMS is a presenter of early music, including the Music for the Ages Series, Global Connections, and Seattle Baroque Orchestra. EMS also provides educational programs serving 2,400 students in Seattle Public Schools annually, and more than 100 adult amateur musicians.

In 2022 Early Music Seattle has an accumulation of forty-five years of experience in presenting excellent international performers, and it has been an incubator in the development of a number of other local early music ensembles – including Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Gallery Concerts and the Medieval Women’s Choir. 

EMS frequently partners with local venues and artists to program innovative and multidisciplinary projects. Artistic partners include Meany Center for the Performing Arts, ACT, Seattle Theatre Group, Spectrum Dance Company, and Seattle Early Dance. Collaborations include Early Music Vancouver, Portland Baroque Orchestra, and Victoria, B.C.’s Early Music Society of the Islands – creating large-scale works performed in Seattle, Portland, Victoria, and Vancouver, B.C. 

Lorri Falterman was the first paid staff person at EMG, serving as General Manager from 1986 until 1991, when Maria Coldwell became Executive Director. Maria served until 1999, followed by August (Gus) Denhard in 2000. EMS is hiring a new Executive Director in early 2023, and Gus will be transitioning from Executive Director to Artistic Director of EMS. 

Quote from “Classical Seattle” by Melinda Bargreen, University of Washington Press, 2016

“The significance of Seattle’s Early Music Guild, founded in 1977, was profound. The group not only presents concerts by the finest international practitioners of historically informed music but also has served as the “mother ship” nurturing a wide span of groups such as the Seattle Baroque Orchestra and the Gallery Concerts.”

A little history of Seattle Baroque Orchestra

Seattle Baroque Orchestra (SBO) was founded in 1994 by violinist Ingrid Matthews and harpsichordist Byron Schenkman. The first performance by SBO was on March 11th 1994, at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle, under the auspices of Early Music Guild. SBO was one of the first “professional affiliates” of Early Music Guild, receiving support services from EMG such as fundraising and ticketing. This was followed by a period of operating as an independent organization, before the orchestra was merged into Early Music Guild in 2010. 

Harpsichordist, conductor and composer Alexander Weimann served as Artistic Director of SBO starting in 2015. He is retiring at the conclusion of the 2022-2023 season.

Related links

Related news about EMS and SBO:

Seattle Times articles that reference “Early Music Guild”