A Timeless Journey  /  Cantiga

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Cantiga Productions


1. La Romanesca   [4:46]
2. Cantiga 353   [4:50]   CSM 353
3. Cantiga 166 (Como Poden)   [4:30]   CSM 166
4. Arran Boat Song   [4:12]

5. The Horse's Brawl   [3:10]
6. Childgrove   [4:55]
7. Spooky   [3:50]
8. Reels   [3:59]

9. Andaluz   [5:44]
10. Skillywidden   [5:37]
11. Amoroso   [3:52]
12. Cantiga 281   [4:52]   CSM 281

13. Torch Brawl   [3:58]
14. Campbell's Farewell   [2:49]
15. Russian Sher   [4:46]
16. Kilcash   [3:55]

© 2017 Cantiga Productions

Album Notes

The word CANTIGA means 'song' in the language of Alfonso the Wise, the 13th century Spanish "King of the Three Religions" whose royal court was a haven for Christian, Muslim, and Jewish musicians. Following in their tradition, the members of Cantiga have been dedicated to the inclusive spirit of musical improvisation which has flourished among musicians in cultural crossroads throughout history.

Harpist Martha Gay, fiddler Malcolm Smith and flute and recorder specialist Bob Bielefeld joined forces at the 1979 Texas Renaissance Festival to form Cantiga. Living and performing year round in the Renfaire circuit they became an extremely versatile celtic and renaissance band.

Houston-based cellist Max Dyer has played with Cantiga since 1991 and has been instrumental in the production of all the Cantiga recordings. Following Malcolm’s untimely death in 1996, Cantiga has been joined by a succession of fine musicians, each bringing their own special qualities to the band: fiddlers Thomas Nuendel, Mark Caudill, Michelle Levy and Ian Stewart, as well as Chilean multi-instrumentalist Charry Garcia, Alex Korolov (viola da gamba and lute) and New Orleans fiddler Dr Sick.

In 1993, Cantiga teamed up with troubadour Owain Phyfe to form the "New World Renaissance Band", performing and recording early music for modern ears. "Live the Legend", "Where Beauty Moves" and "Odyssey” met with critical success and widespread airplay. They continued to perform frequently with Owain until his passing in 2012.

In the summer of 2010, Cantiga harpist Martha Gay, embarked on a 500-mile trek through France and Spain on the Camino de Santiago—an ancient pilgrimage trail 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 over the high mountain passes playing the medieval cantiga tunes in 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 refreshing music of the cantigas in the timeless journey of the Camino.

Notes from Cantiga cellist Max Dyer:

I met Malcolm Smith in the summer of 1991 in Houston. He came to hear me perform at a seedy icehouse bar near downtown where I was playing my cello, backing up a hard-rocking cowboy who had recently been mentioned in Time magazine. Malcolm met me after the show and gave me a cassette recording of his Renaissance festival band "Cantiga".

As I slipped the cassette into my car player on the way home, I was met by an arresting mix of haunting medieval music and sparkling Celtic tunes. Especially impressive on this recording was the rich, gutty sound of a fine cello. It turned out that Peter Gorisch, Cantiga's cellist, was headed for Nashville, and Malcolm was trying to recruit me as a replacement.

Malcolm told me that Peter had inherited this great old cello from his father and now he wanted to sell it. Knowing that instruments like this don't come along every day, I managed to scrape together just enough to buy it. Later I learned that Peter's father, who had been a professional cellist, had played it in Hollywood back in the 1930's on the soundtrack for "Gone with the Wind"! I've played this fine old French cello ever since.

So, following Malcolm's invitation, I showed up that October for the first time at the Texas Renaissance Festival, costumed in medieval garb that my wife Corky had made for me. After the stress of three intense years performing with the Houston Symphony, it was refreshing to find myself playing outdoors with this improvising folk band. We'd jam on stark ancient melodies and lively Irish jigs. I can still remember gorgeous fall weather with golden leaves swirling around us. Sometimes, I would see little children dancing spontaneously as we played.

I quickly became good friends with Cantiga's harpist, Martha Gay. A brilliant woman who had gone to college at Oxford to study archeology, With her encyclopedic knowledge of plants, she had worked as the information lady at the renowned Tea's Nursery in Houston. Malcolm and Bob were equally outdoorsy people.. All three were excellent musicians who had found their home in the mobile counterculture of the renfaire circuit. I was drawn to their unaffected love for music and their easy connection with nature.

Between sets, Bob and Malcolm taught me new tunes. We jammed a lot in the outdoor nook where we gathered, always developing new material. We might try to puzzle out an arrangement for an exciting medieval tune Bob had just unearthed, or perhaps we’d discuss the pileated woodpecker Malcolm had seen that morning, or Martha’s observations about the changing weather overhead.

Onstage, we played mostly for ourselves, absorbed in the joy of spontaneous music making and only peripherally aware of the ever-changing renfaire crowds. Folks were drawn in by the haunting strains of our music. Many stayed to listen for a while and undoubtedly went on their way feeling refreshed.

In the spring of 1995, with the generous backing of our good friend Owain Phyfe we began recording our first CD "Once Upon a Time". We decided to record everything we had- over forty tunes- and then choose the best for the album. Bob, Malcolm and I listened painstakingly to every version of every take, drew little charts with stars to mark the best spots, and eventually settled on our final selections.

Over the course of the next few weeks, sound engineer Karl Caillouet and I mixed one song a day. The most difficult, Cantiga 353, took me weeks of careful consideration. There were several glorious moments but not one completely good take. Eventually Karl and I took the plunge and sliced the big two inch multitrack tape at several places to join the best of three takes. In choosing the best tracks for our new CD we also lifted the bellydance tune "La Romanesca" from our earlier cassette recording and remixed it with some added percussion from our drummer friend Ray Dillard.

I wanted "Once Upon a Time" to be an album that you'd enjoy listening to as a single performance. Rechristening the tune titles in an attempt to create a sense of narrative, "La Romanesca" found a new incarnation with the evocative title "Moonlit Revels of the Gypsy Queene". Likewise Cantiga 353 became "The Amulet" and Cantiga 166 was renamed "The King's Quest". These three tunes have been included on this album with their original titles restored.

As I look back over the past 30 years, I realize that the music from this band has become the soundtrack for the better part of my life. My three boys have grown up listening to Cantiga and I remember them now as toddlers, sitting in rapt attention as Cantiga's music worked its magical charms.

I think of the succession of good friends who have played with the band over the years. Malcolm Smith and Owain Phyfe are sadly both gone now. Still with us, but having gone on with their own their journeys are Thomas, Mark, Michelle, Ray, Ian, Charry, Alex and numerous other fine musicians like New Orleans fiddler Dr. Sick and Dallas drummer Jamal Mohamed with whom we still occasionally share the stage. I consider myself lucky to be in the midst of this company of pilgrims, meeting in joy and sometimes separating in sorrow.

"A Timeless Journey" is a tribute to a band I love and a celebration of friends I carry in my heart.

Max Dyer
Houston Texas
September 2017

Bob Bielefeld — wooden flute, fife, recorders, pennywhistles and percussion
Martha Gay — Celtic harp
Malcolm Smith, Thomas Nuendal, Mark Caudill, Michelle Levy, Ian Stewart and Dr. Sick — fiddle
Charry Garcia — charango, guitar, birimbao, percussion
Max Dyer — cello and bass guitar
Alex Korolov and Sasha Raykov — viola da gamba and lute
Ray Dillard, Jamal Mohamed, Nestor Prieto and Jake Cooper — drums and percussion