When I first met fiddler Malcolm Smith and harper Martha Gay at the 1979 Texas Renaissance Festival I had no idea that we were about to embark on an ongoing adventure and road trip that would take us to Renaissance Festivals across the country, a journey that is still going strong after more than three decades.
Our first recording, Cantiga, with cellist Peter Gorisch, was released in 1986. When Peter moved to Nashville, he gave Max Dyer a copy hoping to recruit him as a replacement. Max fell in love with the sound of the group and especially Peter’s cello—and, learning that it was for sale, wasted no time in buying it. This very special instrument has been played by Max on every subsequent Cantiga recording. Following Malcolm’s death in 1996, a number of wonderful musicians have traveled and performed with us – including fiddlers Mark Caudill, Michelle Levy and Thomas Nuendel, as well as Chilean multi-instrumentalist Charry Garcia. Two of the finest, Alex Korolov (viola da gamba and lute) and Sick (violin), are featured on this project.
The court of 13th century King Alfonso el Sabio (Alfonso The Wise) in Santiago de Compostela was a haven for scholars and artists from many cultures. Our band’s name Cantiga (song) was borrowed from Alfonso’s 13th century manuscript Cantigas de Santa Maria. This book tells of the adventures of the Virgin Mary, with each story set to music and beautifully illustrated. It draws from fables and songs of the region, with contributions from Christians, Moors, Jews, Celts and Visigoths alike. The illustrations show musicians from various cultures clad in ethnic garb, having a good time jamming together, creating new music in the mysterious moment. We have drawn inspiration from these tunes, using them as a springboard for our own improvisation.
Cantiga’s music has the spontaneous quality and wild spirit of music played outdoors, in cold and heat, wind, rain, and snow. Like roses planted in different soils the music grows and blossoms differently in each performance. We never play a tune the same way twice, and our improvisational approach has developed over the years, side by side with our fellow performers on the renfaire circuit. This collection contains recent additions to our repertoire as well as two of our perennially favorite cantigas.
As this recording project began coming to fruition in the winter of 2010-11, we turned our thoughts to choosing a title. Martha Gay, our harper, had recently returned from a 500-mile trek through parts of France and Spain on the Camino de Santiago—an ancient pilgrim road leading to Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of St. James’ bones as well as the origin of the Cantigas de Santa Maria. On foot, Martha towed her harp through the high mountain passes so that she could play the cantigas in the ancient churches and villages along the way. Encountering fellow pilgrims from many lands, she followed in the footsteps of those much earlier musicians who also shared the cantigas on the Camino.
As I pondered Martha’s pilgrimage and the amazing journeys we’ve all taken for over 30 years, I understood with my heart what my mind has known for some time: that our mobile village of raggle-taggle travelers has everything that I could hope for in a community—good friends, good music, good food, fun, and help when needed. I realized that I needed to look no further to title this album. A Village in Motion is where we truly live. And as the Buddha said: “It is more important to travel well than to arrive.”
Two weeks after deciding on the name, I opened a fortune cookie. It read, “Happiness is a highway, not a destination.”