An Interview with Kris Kwapis, EMG’s marketing and development coordinator
Roger Downey, contributing writer for Early Edition, recently spoke with Kris Kwapis about some of her performing experiences and her interest in early music. Kris moved to Seattle in the summer of 2008 from New York and is becoming a familiar face at EMG events.
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1. How does a nice girl like you get into a business like this?
I grew up in the tiny town of Ortonville, Michigan. I loved music and couldn’t wait to join the band. I originally wanted to play drums, but ended up playing the trumpet because my cousin had one that I could borrow at no cost. I hoped to have a career as an orchestral trumpeter and chamber musician, but a wonderful course in period performance practice at the University of Michigan inspired an increased interest in period instruments. That same year I heard live performances of Les Arts Florissants and Concerto Palatino and knew that playing baroque trumpet and cornetto was what I was compelled to do. Pretty soon I began performing exclusively on period instruments.
2. I hear the cornett is the instrument from hell. True?
The cornett is beastly! It’s a hybrid instrument, using a lip-buzzed mouthpiece like a brass instrument and finger holes like a recorder thus bringing certain specific challenges to the player – basically the most difficult aspects of both instrument families. The combination of a tiny mouthpiece and the awkward hand position required to even hold the darn thing is daunting enough to send most wannabe cornetto players running toward another instrument that is less stress-inducing. The sound can be so glorious though, so I’d like to think that the effort is worth it. Baroque trumpet (the valveless predecessor to the modern trumpet) is still my main instrument professionally, but I look forward to mastering the cornett.
3. In the 17th century, the cornetto was the virtuoso solo instrument bar none. Why do you think it disappeared so completely for so long?
One theory is that the plague of 1631 wiped out so much of the population of Venice, where Europe’s best cornetto players were, that it became increasingly difficult to find cornetto players and teachers to keep it alive as a viable instrument capable of extreme virtuosity. Plus the violin was the hot new instrument (kind of like electric guitar in our age) so it could be that changing tastes helped violinists to overtake the virtuoso role that cornettists once held. Also, maybe people were just interested in hearing something new and different.
3. Tell us about the early brass group you’ve founded in Seattle.
This summer, I began coaching the newest of EMG’s community collegium ensembles – a cornett and sackbut ensemble. There are a few early brass players in the community who have been interested in playing together but there hasn’t been someone with early brass experience to make it happen. So far we have two sackbut players and three cornetto players involved. Unlike the Loud Band, the EMG community ensemble devoted to Renaissance wind music, we’re focusing more on vocal music than instrumental music. One of the wonderful things about the old brass instruments is their ability to sound like a voice. Cornetts and sackbuts were designed to compliment voices, so the listener can almost hear the words of the text when they play. One of the goals I have for this ensemble is collaborating with other EMG community ensembles – Sine Nomine, a vocal ensemble, and the New Baroque Orchestra. Along with Giovanni Gabrieli, Heinrich Schütz was one of the most interesting composers to write for brass instruments. It would be lovely to have a joint project of his Psalms of David or History of the Birth and Resurrection of Jesus Christ once the brass group gets more established.
– Roger Downey