Duluth: The city of the luteYou probably awoke today not knowing you live in the city “of the lute,” a stringed instrument of medieval origins.
By: John Shirley, For the Budgeteer News
You probably awoke today not knowing you live in the city “of the lute,” a stringed instrument of medieval origins.
“Duluth” means “of the lute” in French. This city’s name speaks of an instrument which shined during the Dark Ages, and later faded into obscurity. Duluth is named after Frenchman explorer Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut. His title is translated “Sir of the Lute,” perhaps indicating his musical ability. Fittingly, this city has two modern day “Sirs of the Lute” — knights on a quest to restore this instrument to its former glory.
Edward Martin is an adjunct professor of the lute at St. Scholastica, who performs locally and internationally. His longtime friend Dan Larson owns Gamut Music, one of the few shops in the country which makes lutes. His shop at 1600 London Road also makes a number of early-music strings and historical instruments. These specialized strings and instruments supply players around the world.
“Dan is internationally renowned. His strings are the best as far as I’m concerned,” said Martin.
The lute is an instrument, with types that have more than 20 strings. It was very popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Martin mentioned there is more music written for the lute than any other instrument. It mostly died out around 1760.
“I like the light delicate sound that you get from early instruments. With them, you can play as the composer originally intended,” Larson said.
Around 30 years ago, Larson’s wife was instrumental in the beginning of Larson and Martin’s “fellowship of the string.” Already an instrument maker, Larson and his lute-playing wife moved to Duluth, so she could study under Martin. Being of one “a chord,” their friendship naturally developed.
Gamut Music contains a variety of string making equipment. Raw tubes of guts arrive stored in salt, which is removed during the rehydration process. The gut is then whitened in a hydrogen peroxide solution. Strings are twisted to exact specifications and dried. Some strings have the additional step of having wires wound around them. Workman Keith Passow does a final quality check before shipping the strings to the customers.
“I’m the last one who touches them before
hipping … These go all over the world. We have orders to places such as London, Japan, Sweden, Poland, Australia,”
Making instruments for about 45 years and strings for about 30, Larson originally spent three years in England, learning violin making, at the London College of Furniture. From the start, early music resonated with him. He later learned to make the lute and other early instruments. He makes many Renaissance and Baroque instruments, but the lute is the most common.
“We make a lot of lutes partially because there aren’t many people who make them. It’s an instrument we sell a lot of,” Larson said.
Martin mostly uses Larson’s products for his performances. Martin and Larson have attended international lute conferences together. Speakers of the Old World languages do notice the fitting home of these two.
“Our European friends do laugh about how we live in the city of the lute,” Martin said.
The love of the lute has long been pulling Martin’s strings. Playing the guitar since he was five years old, he was introduced to the lute by a record that his wife Coleen bought him for Christmas, in 1977.
“I was just absolutely overtaken by it and I wanted to do this,” Martin said.
Martin plays the lute in Duluth about three times a year. He mostly performs with Twin City artists.
“For me playing is a very spiritual experience. I play because I’m drawn into,” Martin continued.
Martin also teaches the lute, in other areas, and has recorded works available online.
In the summer, Martin teaches at the American Lute Society’s seminar in Cleveland.
This summer he and Larson attended the International Lute Festival in Utrecht, Holland. They gave a joint seminar on new ideas in the use of gut strings on the Baroque lute.
Two summers ago Martin performed at a conference in Gijon, Spain, which Larson also attended.
“Early music is mostly art and not just entertainment. Art is always the best we have to offer in any age. Music has changed and not improved,” Martin said.
More information can be found about Larson and his company at gamutmusic.squarespace.com. The company also has a channel at www.youtube.com/user/GamutMusic, featuring Martin playing. More information about Martin is at magnatune.com/ artists/edward_martin.