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Ross W. Duffin was born in London, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario there. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University where he specialized in the performance practice of early music – basically the manner in which music from earlier centuries was performed. He came to Case Western Reserve in 1978 to direct the nationally recognized early music program. Named to the Fynette H. Kulas Chair in 1986, he served as chair of the Music Department from 1993 through 1998, 2007 through 2008, and 2011 to 2013.
Duffin has made a name for himself as a scholar in a wide range of musical repertoires, publishing articles on music from the 13th to the 18th centuries. His two main specializations have been Franco-Flemish music of the 15th century and English music of the Jacobean period. His edition of DuFay chansons won the Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society for work of benefit to both scholars and performers, and his edition of Josquin motets was published in 1998 by Oxford University Press. In 2000 appeared A Performer’s Guide to Medieval Music (Indiana) which he edited with contributions from two dozen of the world’s leading medieval music perfomers and scholars. Among his English music publications are Richard Davy: St. Matthew Passion (A-R Editions, 2011), Cantiones Sacrae: Madrigalian Motets from Jacobean England (A-R Editions, 2005) and Shakespeare’s Songbook (W. W. Norton, 2004), a study of all the vocal music from Shakespeare’s plays, which won the inaugural Claude V. Palisca Award from the AMS, and concerning which he was interviewed by Robert Siegel on All Things Considered. His How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) was published by W. W. Norton in late 2006 and continues to make waves in music circles worldwide. His study and edition, The Music Treatises of Thomas Ravenscroft, was published in 2014. A follow-up to Shakespeare’s Songbook, entitled Some Other Note: The Lost Songs of English Renaissance Comedy, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2018.
His work as Head of the Historical Performance Practice program at CWRU was recognized with the 2005 Thomas Binkley Award from Early Music America. He continues to oversee the historical performance practice program at Case, which includes the Collegium Musicum, the Early Music Singers, and the Baroque Ensembles. He conducted the Case Early Music Singers from 2000 to 2015. A tenor, he has been singing with the small chorus attached to Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, since its inception in 1992. He is also founding artistic director of Quire Cleveland, a professional early music choir established in 2008. Originally a Renaissance wind player, he has taught at numerous summer programs in the US and Canada, and three times has led symposia for collegium directors at Amherst and Madison Early Music Festivals.
Among the general public of a certain age, Duffin is perhaps best known as the long-time host and producer of Micrologus: Exploring the World of Early Music, which aired on National Public Radio from 1980 to 1998. Some stations have archived programs, which is why people still claim to hear his voice from time to time. Other multimedia projects include several videos of staged early music performances, produced for the Case Music Department, and over 200 video performances on Quire’s YouTube Channel, with more than 700,000 views from 210 countries.
An engaging lecturer, Duffin has spoken at Stanford, Eastman, Oxford, Princeton, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, Yale, Oberlin, Longy, Juilliard, Peabody, USC, the Purcell School in England, Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal Academy in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities in Scotland, and the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland, among other places.