We are truly excited to share with you the music of Neal Shipe.Originally from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and currently living in Kansas City, the roots of Shipe's music lay deeply in his love for the nearly 400-year-old melodies of the Seventeenth Century Scottish lute, of which he has studied extensively. As a formally trained classical guitarist and lutenist, Shipe brings new life and new audiences to very old music. His compositions, while heavily steeped in tradition, have their feet placed firmly in the 21st Century. We are fortunate to share this incredible music and Neal's enthusiasm for it with you on Listen Local.
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work?
My name is Neal Shipe, I have lived here in Kansas City for about a year and a half. I am a Classical Guitarist/Lutenist and I live in the River Market District of Kansas City. I work as a Barista at Aixois, a French Bistro on 55th and Brookside Blvd.
Tell us about your work on classical Scottish lute music. Why does this music speak to you?
I discovered Scottish lute music right around 3 years ago. I was doing my Undergraduate Degree in Classical Guitar performance at University of North Carolina School for the Arts when I discovered a book of Scottish lute music arranged for guitar by Rob MacKillop, a well-known lute player and scholar of Scottish lute music. It was then that I bought that book and fell in love with the Scottish style. The distinctive beauty of a Scottish tune is instantly recognizable and universally enjoyed. Part of what draws me into the music is that distinctive sound.
Theoretically, it has many tools to give the sound it has. A lot of the Scottish lute repertoire has a modal, pentatonic, and hexatonic nature. Also familiar to the Scottish melodies are scotch snaps, double tonics, wide intervals, frequent ornamentation and tunes ending on notes other than the keynote. These theoretical components of the music lend it to wonderful freedom of expression. More so than any other music I have played. To me it has an improvisatory nature to it, the music can be played to express many emotions (which are always changing day today) so you can never play the piece the same way twice. Scottish lute music taught me to play in moment and express what and how you are feeling in that moment day to day. For me, if those moments of inspiration don't come out then the music feels like a wind-up toy. You just practice and practice and play it to hope it goes exactly how you practice and it is so boring. The fun is the Scottish music’s spontaneity in performance, being in that moment and reacting to those feelings. It is such a healthy thing.
Describe your creative process with composition in light of the traditional grounding of your music.
Another aspect of this music is that the melodies and arrangements of the Scots tunes evolved over time. Many of the Scottish Lute manuscripts share the same music. This fact shows us the evolution of the music over time, how interpretation changed, and how music was advancing. I find that very fascinating and it has led me to the creative process of writing and creating my own interpretations. I have definitely taken it to an interested place. Lute music with a band? Why not! Lute music paired with electric guitar, effects pedals, bowed xylophone etc. I like to make 21st Century interpretations of the music. I don't want to be a classical musician that only plays for other classical musicians in classical settings. I want to bring the stuff out, show people by breaking the music out of that “classical” cage it’s in. The journey has lead me to purchasing a 10 course lute and attaining copy of facsimiles of all the Scottish lute manuscripts (Rowallan, Straloch, Skene, Wemyss, Panumure 5 and Balcarres). These 21st Century interpretations often happen with fellow musicians and friends who play different styles but really I have played and performed the music in many different ways. Anything from a full band, to solo guitar, solo lute, guitar duet, and most recently guitar and Ryan Worthley, a really good friend and wonderful musician out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my first album of Scottish lute music titled, “It is a Wonder to See.” It is really two very different things. First, it is a selection of my Scottish favorites played on the classical guitar, and it also has a second set of pieces that will be a collaboration with guitarist/ percussionist Ryan Worthley.
[A note from Ryan Worthley about his collaboration with Neal:
Never having any formal training in any of these instruments I believe has helped me develop a unique ear for creating interesting harmonies and textures in music. That's why I think this collaboration with Neal has so much potential to be a unique experience because I get to take what he has studied, learned and implemented on guitar and lute and try to amplify what I feel when listening to his work with unique sounds. Whether it is a simple pulse of a drum or an ethereal guitar sound, I try as hard as I can to complement this ancient music without getting in the way of Neal's interpretation of the piece.
I feel very comfortable and excited playing with Neal because his passion for what he is doing doesn't only come out in his playing but he lives it. Neal is a very inspiring person to be involved with so it makes this project almost "easy" for lack of a better term. He trusts me enough to be able to basically improvise over this ancient music using instruments and technology that are relatively brand new. A few of the instrument are even homemade. That is pretty incredible, I hope the passion, trust and exploration are evident in these recordings and I look forward to more collaboration in the future.]
What inspires you the most about the Kansas City classical music scene?
I have not plugged into the classical music scene here in Kansas City so much. Most of my performance here in Kansas City has been outside of that classical realm. I know we have a Guitar Society, and regrettably I have not attended their events. Most of my inspiration comes from friends who do productive things. Whether it’s music, dancing, painting, disc golfing or whatever. Just people simply making the most out of life is inspiring.
Neal's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
Inheritence Cycle: Eragon,Eldest, Brisinger, Inheritance by Christopher Paolini
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
The Golden age of English Lute Music by Julian Bream (CD)
Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History by Daniel Durchholz
Cat Stevens: Majikat (DVD)
Reflections on Spain by David Russell (CD)
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Trees of Missouri: Field Guide by Stan Tekiela
The Tab Guide to Vacuum Tube Audio by Jerry Whitaker