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The Things They Say About Our Work!
. . . "People from many and varied backgrounds, disciplines and fields of interest will find much to enjoy in Sondra and John Bromka’s multi-media program, “From Art to Wood to Music: Sculpted Sound.” Featuring an exquisite collection of photographs, slide show, and performance of relevant musical pieces, the Bromkas cut a wide swath through the cultural history of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Within the realms of art, music, history, sociology and craftsmanship, the audience will come away with an appreciation of the interconnectedness of all of these areas and a jumping-off point to explore new paths of knowledge."

Katherine Chave
Director Onondaga Hill Free Library
January 2008

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...."The Marcellus Free Library was extremely pleased with the photo exhibit “Sculpted Sound: From Art to Wood to Music,” in which Sondra and John Bromka brought forth their vast knowledge and enthusiasm for the research and crafting of medieval musical instruments. Their 40-piece photo-documentary exhibit leads the viewer on a journey through time, showing how historic artisans, musicians, and their instruments evolved together. Patrons were in awe of the Bromkas’ elaborate display, which featured gorgeous original photos taken over twenty years of the artists’ research expeditions to Europe..."
- Michele Tock, Marcellus Free Library

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...."I was immediately impressed not only by the knowledge and expertise that they bring to their vocation, but also by the way they engage people in their activities. As musicians who are also educators who are also performers who are also historians, Sondra and John bring a unique range of talents to audiences. They are very knowledgeable about the music, instruments and cultural contexts of the medieval and early modern periods; they are skilled and expressive as performers; and they are engaging, inviting, and accessible as teachers, using an impressive repertoire of content and process to reach out to the varying interests, levels of familiarity, and ages of the audience...
Their interactive approach works well to brings the usual 'gap' between performer and audiences.
- John R. Black, Ph.D. Moravian College

"Musical Time Machine" Article (above)
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Carrie Chantler, Syracuse Post Standard Contributing writer

"The past and the present converged the evening of July 24 at the Marcellus Free Library. Upstairs, in the Friends of the Library Community Room, extra chairs had to be found to seat the crowd that filled the 1,500-square-foot space to attend an interactive discussion, slide show and free concert given and performed by Bells & Motley Consort.

John and Sondra Bromka, of Marcellus, are musicians and artisans who make their home and musical workshop in Marcellus. They've been married 28 years. They are the musicians who comprise Bells & Motley Consort.

The Bromkas met the day after St. Patrick's Day in Thornden Park on the Syracuse University campus. She was taking a break from working on a sculpture of Orpheus and decided to play an Irish penny whistle in the park. He was in the park and followed the sound of the whistle. They began a chat that has lasted all these years.

Theirs was a perfect match, Sondra Bromka said, because John was a musician who wanted to find out more about art, and she was an artist who wanted to learn more about music.

In the process, couple has combined their love and admiration of medieval music, historical research, travel and performance into an interactive, intergenerational photography and live music exhibit. "We feel extremely privileged to have gained so much knowledge and understanding from photo documentaries like this in our own travels in Europe," said Sondra.

On the main floor of the library, an exhibit of 40 photographs grace four walls. The photographs feature images of bagpipes, drums, lutes, early fiddles and more, and were taken during research pilgrimages across Europe. Once a year since 1991, the Bromkas have traveled overseas to study art at museums and to tour cathedrals and towns looking for architectural images of obscure instruments. They also have held teaching residencies at the International School of Brussels and at various high schools in Turkey, as well as across the U.S.

In a multimedia presentation before a group of about 45 people, the Bromkas, dressed in regalia reminiscent of the Middle Ages, moved from discussing musical iconography in the artwork of such masters as Bosch and Brueghel and playing a number of unique instruments to conducting a sing-a-long.

Following the themeof the reading program that the library is sponsoring this summer, "Catch the Reading Bug," the impromptu sing-a-long, in just-learned Italian, was about a cricket that incites its love interest to imbibe in a cocktail. John played a cittern (a cousin of the guitar) and Sondra the castanets.

"Aren't you glorious," said Sondra of the singers in the audience. Her eyes playful and her face flushed from dancing around John, she teased him with her clicking hand cymbals. "It's just like we're in Flanders and it's 1492."

Around the perimeter of the room, on tables, were displayed several sizes of harps, hurdy-gurdies, horns (made from actual horns), medieval fiddles, drums, lutes, zithers and rommelpots. A rommelpot is a bowl with an animal skin stretched over it and a stick protruding from the center that's pulled in and out. To be played correctly, the musician's hand has to be wet. What sort of sound does this odd instrument make? The answer: a tuba-like moan.

"We're not intending to sound pretty necessarily. That's not our job," said Sondra. Rather, the aim of the evening was to integrate the analysis of artistic images from the past into a community discussion about today's cultural identity.

For instance,the bagpipe is most commonly associated with Scotland. The bagpipe is a wind instrument that requires a reed, much like the modern-day clarinet, oboe or bassoon. Reeds grow in warm water, which is scarcely found in the Scottish Highlands. Therefore, the bagpipe, the Bromka's imply, most likely originated where the reed plant grows easily, in the warmer climes of the Mediterranean.

"One of the comments we hear most after presenting exhibits such as this is, 'I'll never look at art the same way, we take our time with it,' " Sondra said.

Between playing and discussing art, the duo answered questions from the audience. After viewing a slide of a woman playing a hammered dulcimer, a young teenager asked how such a large awkward instrument stayed attached to the woman, especially if the idea was to parade around villages playing it. (The answer was that it was attached by belt to her waist.)

During a brief discussion of animal fiber and skin and how they are transformed into important parts of instruments, a man raised his hand and asked if the sinew from the spinal column of a deer had ever been used to make the strings of a lute or zither. John Bromka stroked his white beard and considered the question.

"Well, I don't see why not," he said.

The Bromkas had another motive for sharing their scholarly work and display of ancient, yet recently made, instruments with the folks from Marcellus.

"We're going to put on an Old English mummer's play here at Christmastime," said Sondra. And the community is invited to take part, she said, in the collaborative theatrical project that will employ dance, medieval music, comedy and a holiday message. "We see it as an intergenerational annual theater project," Sondra said. "We can all have fun and stretch ourselves and get to know each other and deepen our sense of community." The announcement elicited a warm reaction from the audience.

"Yes," said Helen Regazzi, under her breath.

Regazzi, and her neighbor Jane Andersen, both of Skaneateles, have attended Bells & Motley Consort concerts and were excited to learn that the Bromkas would present a holiday program at the library. Though Regazzi grew up favoring the musical styles of Bing Crosby, Perry Como and, eventually, the Beatles, she greatly admired the musicianship of the Bromkas.

"It's like their souls are part of the instruments," she said. "You can feel them being united."


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Bells & Motley would like to thank you all for your warm response to the "From Wood to Art to Music: Sculpted Sound" photo exposition, salon discussions, and related musical performances.

To READ about another photo-documentary project "NE JAMAIS OUBLIEZ: NEVER TO FORGET," featuring French Cultural Heritage Images, Music, Instruments, Celebrations, Architecture, Land Use....click here