Research Alive: Linda Pearse & Karin Cuellar Rendon

Graduate students Linda Pearse and Karin A. Cuellar Rendon were finalists in the 2019-2020 Research Alive Student Prize, and will present their research on the topic of late-Renaissance and early-Baroque improvisation.

Linda Pearse and Karin A. Cuellar Rendon were finalists in the 2019-2020 Research Alive Student Prize with their presentation Musicking Off the Cuff: Models for Early Music Improvisation.

You can hear their presentation, complete with live performance, on February 6th at 5pm in Tanna Schulich Hall (find out more). This event is free admission, and will also be webcast live on our YouTube channel for those not based in Montreal.

Linda Pearse teaches in the Music Department at Mount Allison University, lectures regularly at Indiana University Bloomington, and serves as the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Early Music Summer Baroque Workshop, the Sackville Festival of Early Music and of the chamber music ensemble ¡Sacabuche! Her research focuses on early European trombone repertoire, music of the sixteenth century, and intercultural encounters and collisions in the early modern period.

She engages in historically informed musical performance on Baroque trombone, as well as the creation of intercultural projects resulting in artistic works that combine text, soundscape, and music to tell complex stories. Recent performances on Baroque trombone include projects with Early Music Vancouver, ¡Sacabuche!, La Rose des Vents, L’Harmonie des Saisons, the Toronto Consort, and Tafelmusik. Her critical edition of Seventeenth-Century Italian Motets with Trombone is published with A-R Editions (April 2014). With ¡Sacabuche!, she released an album of Seventeenth-century Italian Motets on the ATMA Classique label (Sept 2015) and will release a second album with ATMA in summer 2020. She is currently preparing for publication, A Catalogue of Music for the Early Trombone with Howard Weiner and Charlotte Leonard, as well as an article on intercultural collaboration in the performing arts.

Karin A. Cuellar Rendon is a Bolivian historical violinist and scholar currently residing in Montreal, Canada. Cuellar performs regularly with Montreal-based period ensembles such as Arion, Les Boreades, and L’Harmonie des saison. Past collaborations have included Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, Florilegium, Oxford Bach Soloists, Ex Cathedra, American Bach Soloists, Apollo’s Fire, ARTEK, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Bolivia.

Cuellar earned a Master of Arts degree in Historical Performance from Case Western Reserve University under the guidance of Julie Andrijeski and Ross Duffin, and obtained an Advanced Diploma on baroque violin from the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she studied with Maggie Faultless, Rachel Podger, and Matthew Truscott as a beneficiary of the San Marino and Vincent Meyer scholarships. Cuellar is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Music at McGill University with a research focus on performance practices in South America in the first half of the 19th century, using as a case study the music of composer Pedro Ximenez Abrill Tirado.


Where are you from?

KC: I am from Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

LP: I am originally from Vancouver Island, BC.

How many years have you been at McGill?

KC: This is my second year as a DMus student in Early Music.

LP: I did my undergraduate work at McGill and am now doing graduate work in Musicology.

What made you choose McGill for your studies?

KC: I chose McGill for many reasons: I found at McGill the environment where I could benefit from a variety of performance opportunities while being able to attend to seminars in which I could be intellectually nurtured and challenged. In other words, I found the right balance between research and performance at McGill.

LP: I chose McGill because I was inspired by the diverse faculty and impressive resources. The Schulich School of Music has incredible interdisciplinary depth in early European music studies, encompassing equal strength in performance, music technology, and research (musicology and music theory).

How has being a McGill student influenced you and your research?

KC: I really appreciate the friendly and multicultural environment at McGill. As an international student I have felt welcomed and appreciated at McGill, and being part of this dynamic community has helped me be more confident about myself and therefore my artistic and academic endeavours.

LP: The access to intellectually generous and vibrant faculty members, and to a dedicated research music library complete with an engaged staff with resources to match have exerted a profound and positive influence on my research – moving it in new and unexpected directions.


Explain your research in three sentences or less:

“Musicking off the cuff” unpacks the process of music improvisation in the style of the late Renaissance and early baroque periods in Europe in a step-by-step manner. How did musicians think about improvising? How can we make connections between early theoretical treatises and improvisation? We seek answers to these questions.

What led you to this particular topic?

We took a seminar together taught by musicologist Julie Cumming in which we explored pedagogical approaches to Renaissance/Baroque improvisation. We focussed on the work of late Renaissance and early Baroque musicians and pedagogues, Diego Ortiz and Christopher Simpson. We explored their approaches towards improvisation by teaching ourselves how to improvise in their style, according to their pedagogical examples and descriptions.

How does your research add to what was already known?

Our research creates a link between theoretical treatises, recent scholarship, and live performance. We are building on the work of others but doing so in a way that makes research and performance conversant. Perhaps most relevant is that we compiled a set of guidelines and shortcuts for others to follow.

Were there any findings that you found particularly surprising?

We were surprised at the similarity of approaches to improvisation between Ortiz and Simpson. They lived and worked in different times and locations (mid-16th century in Spain and Italy for Ortiz versus mid-17th-century in England for Simpson), yet there is much overlap in content.

Who is going to benefit most from your research?

We hope that our guidelines will make the process of improvisation more accessible, more interesting, and less treacherous for students.

What are your next steps? 

KC: I will continue doing archival research in libraries in Bolivia and Peru to complement my current DMus research topic on performance practices in South America during the first half of the 19th century.

LP: I am interested in exploring intercultural encounter and contact in the late Renaissance through the lens of music. I ask “What role did music play in colonial interactions?” and “What can we learn from the collaboration of scholars and artists today about these interactions in the past?” I have complementary interests in early European performance practice and sound studies in general.

The Schulich School of Music by night (image: Tam Lan Truong)

What advice would you give to new students in your program?

KC: I would advise them to try to take advantage of the resources offered at McGill. There are so many awesome resources at McGill: the Marvin Duchow Music Library, fantastic seminars, performance enhancement workshops, almost daily performances, and the list goes on. There is so much more to only making the best of your time by practicing or rehearsing. Take advantage of studying at Mcgill.

LP: I would advise new students to set realistic boundaries on their time and to reach out to their faculty and other students if they are struggling. McGill Music is a supportive community. And for almost any problem study-related—ask a librarian! They are a wonderful resource and always helpful.

Where is your favourite place to study?

KC: The 5th floor of the Marvin Duchow Music Library

LP: At home on my farm in New Brunswick.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

KC: I like taking long walks, so probably walking at Mont Royal or another awesome Montreal park - there are so many good ones.

LP: I also take long walks to unwind.

What is your earliest musical memory?

KC: Watching my parents sing Bolivian traditional villancicos for Christmas, maybe when I was 6 or 7 years old.

LP: I remember having piano lessons with my Nana and listening to Louis Armstrong, though not at the same time!

If you hadn’t ended up in music, what would your alternate career path have been?

KC: I would definitively have become a chef - I love cooking!

LP: I would have become a medical doctor. I like solving puzzles and helping people.

What was the last book you read?

KC: England, England by Julian Barnes.

LP: I rarely have time to read books from cover to cover! Most of my reading is focussed on research-related topics, but I occasionally reach for a Louise Penney Inspector Gamache murder mystery when my brain needs a rest. I adore her descriptions of Quebec and the Townships. The NYT crosswords are also a favourite for leisure activity.

If you were offered a return plane ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

KC: Australia. I would like to help in any way I can, either rescuing animals or helping people. We lived through massive fires in the Bolivian Amazonian forest last summer and I know what Australians are going through now and empathize.

LP: Florence, Italy for a visit to the Rucellai Gardens. I would love to visit the places where ideas about music in early 16th-century Europe were debated (not to mention the gastronomical pleasures that would be within easy reach).

If you could invite any four notable figures from history (or alive today) to a dinner party, who would they be and why?

KC: I would invite Mario Vargas Llosa (still alive) Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jose Mujica (former president of Paraguay) and Isabel Allende. I would like to hear the mind-blowing conversations they would have about literature, human rights, socialism, and maybe also their favourite foods and cocktails, why not.

LP: I would invite Chief Membertou, the Mi’kmaq Grand Chief who converted to Catholicism in 1610. If he was willing to speak with me, I would listen to him explain his perspective on encounters with Europeans such as Jacques Cartier and on how events unfolded during the early seventeenth century in his part of Turtle Island. I would also invite Mohawk Kateri Tekakwitha for similar reasons. On the other side of the Atlantic, it would be fascinating to hear Francesco Rasi perform the role of Orfeo (written by Claudio Monteverdi) and to invite Francesco Rognoni to explain and demonstrate the examples in his treatise on ornamentation. Much of the sounded past is left to our imaginations; it would be exciting to listen to first-hand accounts.