Musical duo revive tunes of 16th century

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Singing has defined Merrick native Ashley Mulcahy’s life. She traces her love for it back to her days at Calhoun High School. “I’ve always loved singing — I was super into theater,” said Mulcahy, who is now pursuing a Master of Music degree at Yale University.

Her current musical passion is centuries old: Lyracle, the two-person ensemble created by Mulcahy, 26, and her boyfriend, James Perretta, 27, aims to revive 16th- and 17th-century music, much of which has been lost to time, the two said. The music is often complex, but the duo’s makeup is simple: Mulcahy provides the voice, while Perretta plays a viola da gamba — a six-string instrument used in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

“It’s a high art form,” said Shannon Gillespie, who was Mulcahy’s first voice teacher and trained her for seven years in East Meadow. “It requires knowledge of language, poetry, musical theater — it’s classy,” she added.

Last week, Mulcahy and Perretta spoke with the Herald about their niche and why they enjoy it. “It’s a simple reason, but it’s great music. And great music should be heard,” Perretta said. “To a certain extent, we’re spreading joy, but we’re also keeping the music from being forgotten.”

Several of the duo’s pieces date to the Renaissance, from which many compositions have “fallen out of fashion” for modern players, Mulcahy said. “If you go to an early-music concert series, it’s Vivaldi, Bach” and other popular classical composers “over and over — but that’s not all there is,” she said.

“It’s valuable for us as musicians to explore things that people have forgotten about . . . for many players, it ends at Bach,” Perretta added.

Playing such pieces also helps the two master other genres, he said. “It’s easy to forget what popular music has in common with Renaissance music,” Perretta said.

When selecting a new piece, the pair benefit from complementary strengths. Mulcahy is fluent in Italian and can read French, Spanish and other Romance languages. “When she sings, she really knows what she’s saying,” Perretta said. With a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Perretta brings an analytical mind — an important skill when looking at an Italian musical script from the 1550s, Mulcahy said.

Gillespie praised Mulcahy, emphasizing the rarity of having a student invested in classical music. She recalled watching a livestream of a recital by Mulcahy at Yale and being captivated by her “growth and development.”

“I saw how she carried herself and her confidence — poise and grace are the words that come to mind,” Gillespie said.

Lyracle is appearing at the Long Island Early Music Festival on Saturday, at 4 p.m., at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City. The duo will perform “Voice and Viol: History’s Forgotten Dynamic Duo.”

After Mulcahy graduates on May 20, she hopes to make Lyracle a large part of her career. The ensemble may expand, she said, both in number of players and performance pieces.

“She’s one of my brightest students,” Gillespie said. “Not just musically, but intellectually.”