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Texas Early Music Project brings old-school classical music to Austin

Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_TEMP_feb 2012_daniel johnson
Daniel Johnson with the musicians of TEMP. Courtesy of TEMP
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_TEMP_feb 2012_daniel johnson_outside
Daniel Johnson with the musicians of TEMP. Courtesy of TEMP

Quick pop quiz: What comes to mind when you think of classical music? Perhaps Beethoven, or Mozart?

Yes, indeed. But music ensembles rarely perform pieces written before the 16th century. Go way, way back — arrive in the 14th century, the 12th…even the 10th. Now you have arrived at the period that the Texas Early Music Project embraces.
 
"We still seem to be the only ones in Texas who regularly explore all the way back to the 10th century," says Stephanie Prewitt, Vice-President of The Texas Early Music Project (TEMP). Founded in 1987 by Daniel Johnson, TEMP is dedicated to preserving and advancing the art of Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and early Classical music through performance, recordings and educational outreach. The group is a bridge between the professional early music community in Austin and student ensembles, performing several public concerts per year.
 
 "Musicians are students their whole lives long — at least, the good ones are — and we're passionate about serving as a resource for any musician, professional or student, who wants to explore early repertoire."
"Musicians are students their whole lives long — at least, the good ones are — and we're passionate about serving as a resource for any musician, professional or student, who wants to explore early repertoire," Prewitt adds.
 
TEMP is performing an upcoming concert called Living Waters: Works by Hildegard von Bingen. The performance will be held on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 8 p.m., at St. Mary Cathedral downtown. The show is an ode to Christian mystic Hildegard, who will be canonized this October by the Catholic Church. TEMP’s 2003 performance of Hildegard won the Austin Critics’ Table award for Best Chamber Concert of the season. Extraordinarily creative and remarkably relevant, TEMP says that Hildegard’s music resonates through the centuries and invites the public to experience history from an auditory perspective. 
 
Daniel Johnson, Artistic Director and Founder of TEMP, says: "Our concert on February 25 has 16 female singers, four instrumentalists and one actor — Robert Faires, playing the role of the Devil in the Ordo virtutum." This piece is a liturgical drama, written c.1150, that characterizes the highest virtues, explained musically.
 
Johnson explains that such concerts, and the mission of TEMP, give music students in Texas the chance to actually hear works that they would only normally get to read about.
 
"In the last decade, there have been several students from UT who have never been exposed to Medieval or early Renaissance music until they work with us, and it is as if a light goes off in their brains: Suddenly they can understand the connection from period to period and from country to country and can more clearly connect the dots that tie together the music of Western culture through the centuries," he says.
 
"We give six or seven concerts per season and we try to include examples from the whole scope of early music. So we program concerts from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods as well as an ethnic concert (Sephardic or Celtic usually), and a Christmas concert for each season."
 
Many local musicians have become involved with TEMP, such as 'Concertmistress' Laurie Young Stevens.
 
Once a full-time violinist with Austin Symphony Orchestra, Stevens became interested in Baroque violin and has performed its repertoire both in Austin with TEMP, and around the globe. Other professional Austin musicians have managed to walk in both worlds as well, such as harpist Elaine Barber.
 
 "We treasure our listeners, because they complete the circle, and help us to keep this great music alive in our culture."
Barber plays with ASO and will also be performing in the Living Waters concert. "Elaine has made huge strides in understanding the value, beauty and fun of historical harp," Johnson says.
 
He and Prewitt are excited about TEMP's involvement with the new arts initiative of the Austin Independent School District. Through MindPOP, the initiative will make the vibrant arts community more accessible to kids in AISD schools. "This should make it easier for us to reach out to younger musicians," Prewitt says.
 
"AISD has been a tough nut to crack for far too long," Johnson adds. "We are also looking to collaborate with other local groups on some larger projects in the near future, but I don't want to spill any beans here. We are busy planning next season's schedule, which starts mid-September with Music from the Tudor Courts: Henry VIII and Elizabeth I."
 
The folks at TEMP are all excited about their ability to bring this little-heard music to Austin audiences. "We're very user-friendly and informal, and love to visit with our audience members during intermissions and after concerts," Prewitt says. "Our instrumentalists will show off their strange (to modern eyes) instruments and even, in some cases, let folks touch and attempt to play them. We treasure our listeners, because they complete the circle, and help us to keep this great music alive in our culture."
 
Johnson concurs. "We want the audience to enjoy the beauty and drama of the music as much as we do and to feel the connective tissue of human emotion, which hasn't changed all that much in the last several centuries."

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