Music, Vocal music

Baroque Music and All That Jazz

Preview by Marc Shulgold

Evanne Browne
Photo credit: Richard Saxon

Evanne Browne’s been thinking lately about her 36-voice Baroque choir and instrumental group, Seicento Baroque Ensemble (pronounced, Say-CHENTO). And asking some pretty serious questions, too.

“What is the relevance of Baroque music,” she wondered. “Why do we care?” In a recent chat to discuss a delightful series of upcoming workshops and concerts, Browne quickly answered those rhetorical questions with an emphatic response: “We’re working to bring Baroque into the present.”

Witness her group’s latest project: Under an umbrella title of Embellish!, Seicento will present participatory workshops on February 29 in Lafayette and Boulder, and one in Golden on March 2, tied to a pair of concerts in Longmont on March 1 and Golden on March 2. All will mix the Baroque with modern-day jazz. No joke.

Seicento Baroque Ensemble, fall 2023
Photo credit: Richard Saxon

If you think Baroque music is stiff and formulaic and covered with cobwebs, Browne and friends are here to remind us that a good chunk of music from back then was improvised on the spot or, as that umbrella title reminds, embellished. Those first workshops are cutely titled, All That Jazz: If You Can’t Improvise, Then Just Fake it! That concept carries over to the two March concerts that continue the “Embellish” theme with the subtitle, “Improvisation in Baroque & Jazz.”

Browne has long been a serious student of proper performance practice and is well-aware of the rules of playing music of that era (1600-1750, more or less), with knowledge of the lines one does not cross. “But you have to have that freedom,” she insisted. “You have to say, ‘Oh, just try something.’ Players had a wide choice of ornaments to their melodies, and using those ornaments is a form of improvisation.”

Mark Diamond, bass

And improvisation in modern terms is really a form of jazz. Which brings us to the players joining Browne’s vocal and instrumental ensemble. Enter two veteran experts: Mark Diamond, a Denver bass player, who’ll bring his trio to the March concerts along with renowned East Coast early-music specialist (and much more) Dr. Tina Chancey. There will be plenty of jamming going on, that’s for sure.

“I live in the world of improv,” says Chancey, speaking from her home in Washington, D.C. “I’ve played folk, world music, English country dance. I improvised a score for a play. There were 17 performances, and each one was different.” If you check out her Website you’ll discover that the term “multi-instrumentalist” is an understatement. How’s this?: viola da gamba, pardessus de viole, medieval fiddles (vielle, rebec & kamenj), Renaissance violin, Irish and Old Time fiddle.

Tina Chancey

At 74, she can play with a tune anytime without fear. And she’ll show anyone how. That’s the plan at those workshops. “I get people off the page,” she boasts, “and I do it in style. There are no wrong notes.” How does she do it? “I get silly – I make them laugh. You have to divest yourself of pre-conceptions.”

Chancey said that her free-and-easy approach likely came from her childhood world. “I had ADD before anyone knew what it was.” Speaking of kids, those little ones over eight make the best subjects for learning improvisation. “They learn a tune, then I add a chord, then another, then I add things, then I give them a little syncopation, then triplets,” Chancey said. “Then,” she giggles, “it becomes jazz.” Simple as that.

Workshops are held February 29 at 1 p.m. at The Arts Hub, 420 Courtney Way, Lafayette; February 29 at 4 p.m. at Frasier Meadows Retirement Community, 350 Ponca Pl., Boulder; Saturday, March 2 at 10:30 a.m. at Calvary Church, 1320 Arapahoe St., Golden. All are Free. Registration required at

Concerts are 7:30 p.m. March 1 at United Church of Christ Longmont, 1500 9th Ave.; March 2 at Calvary Episcopal Church 1320 Arapahoe St., Golden. Information:              

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