The following post was written by Daniel Lantz, a founding member of the Society for the Archaeology of Ancient Music. Daniel is graduating this year with an Honours BA in Ancient Mediterranean Studies.
The Society for the Archaeology of Ancient Music (SAAM) is one of the most unique clubs on campus. Its interdisciplinary nature has brought people of disparate departments together in appreciation for one of the most fascinating topics cultural studies of any kind has to offer: exploring the history of music from as many time periods and cultures possible. SAAM became something of a pet project for me during my time at WLU. I started as a general (inconsistently attending) member, was president for two years, and then stepped down to the position of VP and music director for this past year. I’m proud to say we’ve come quite far in just four years. Now that my time at the helm has drawn to a close, I’ve been invited to write a retrospective on how we got where we are today.
SAAM was founded by Dr. Nirmal Dass, who marketed the idea of an ancient music club to each of his classes. Since he taught for the Archaeology/Classical Studies department, he pulled in a very large number of students from ACS, with a smattering of others who were taking some Classics electives. Though we had well over 70 members and a consistent attendance of 25 people per meeting, much of our first year of existence was spent floundering for want of something to do with ourselves. We began SAAM’s staple practice of getting students to research topics related to ancient music and to present them at meetings, but not much else got done. Our first performance only just barely happened at the end of that year. It took place during Wilf’s Open Mic Night. There were three of us playing Baroque music through the world’s worst sound system to a noisy crowd who gave us polite applause, but I’m sure we were eager to get back to music from about three centuries later than what we had to offer.
Our club has changed in many ways since then. We’re smaller, for one thing. Paradoxically though, I feel this has greatly contributed to our success. For our 2nd year, my top priority as the new president was to start organizing events entirely for performing this music. Getting ourselves in gear to make concerts happen necessitated a dramatic shift in focus toward the musicians of our club, which I think left many of our archaeology-major attendees feeling alienated. Meeting attendance plummeted as a result, but I firmly believe that this decision put our club on the track where it needed to be. The smaller size has also had the wonderful effect of making us feel less like a diverse group of individuals with one common interest and more like a family which looks forward to gathering each week, whether or not ancient music is involved.
Our first actual concert was an awkward affair; we were in one of the Bricker classrooms, our instrumentation made no sense (a flute, a guitar, 2 French horns, and a viola), and our scanty 25-minute program was broken by multiple intermissions and padded with pop culture pieces like the Game of Thrones theme. Yet the positive reception was so great that we were encouraged to learn from the experience and for our 2nd concert we put together a program much closer to the relaxed chamber music events we endeavour to put on now.
Our third year was huge. The musician count more than doubled, which meant we could ditch the fluff pieces and explore a more diverse repertoire of ancient cultures. We began purchasing and showcasing actual ancient instruments at our concerts, we managed to record a CD, and we even played a paying gig in Niagara. Our 2015 Winter term concert boasted more than 50 attendees who seemed thoroughly engaged, a far cry from our noisy captive audience at Wilf’s 2 years prior. SAAM had finally found its voice.
While continuing to refine our performances and expand our repertoire, this past year saw us increase our involvement in the Laurier community. I was honoured to have been the music director of Laurier’s production of Everyman, a medieval morality play. Naturally, this meant that SAAM would be providing a soundtrack of real ancient melodies, something which many have told me added immensely to the atmosphere of the production.
While I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve accomplished, much work remains to be done. We could certainly stand to be a more obvious presence in Laurier’s music department; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve explained who we are to a music student or faculty member who seems absolutely shocked that we exist, even after all these years. At the same time, I believe that our members from other disciplines are the element that keeps us from becoming just another academic performing ensemble. Even our non-musician members consistently prove invaluable, always eager to engage as executives, presenters, concert hosts, and makers of snacks for our meetings and performances.
I’m sad to no longer be able to serve SAAM in an official capacity, but I’m glad to leave its future in the capable hands of Kristen Wise and the 2016/2017 executive team. We’ve gotten the garden to bloom, now let’s make it grow!