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Double life ; Singer in fine voice as an indie rocker, in Elizabethan quartet

Erika Lloyd leads a double life, and her lives are 500 years apart.

With her boyfriend, she sings in the indie rock band Little Grey Girlfriend. They play a couple of times a month in Manhattan, at venues like the Mercury Lounge and the Trash Bar.

Alternately, she sings soprano with the Good Pennyworths, an Elizabethan vocal quartet. Good Pennyworths, based in New York City, is headed to Buffalo anon, to perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Ascension Episcopal Church and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Chautauqua Institution.

Lloyd is not the only rocker in recent history to seek out an earlier groove. Buffalo's own Robert Pacillo went from the band the Incredible Venus Flytrap to lead the vocal group Harmonia, which routinely tackles music from the Renaissance. The Police's Sting is on record singing the lute songs of the Elizabethan master John Dowland.

"I love that album, actually," Lloyd says. "A lot of people would never have heard those songs if it weren't for him. He's bringing it back, making it popular."

The Good Pennyworths -- the name comes from a song by Dowland -- take a more historically authentic approach. But the way Lloyd sees it, everyone who sings early music inevitably brings to it a touch of our own century.

"We don't know exactly how they sang it," she points out. "We don't have recordings. We're going by old treatises, looking at old portraits for clues. Everything ends up being a modern interpretation to some extent."

The Good Pennyworths' Buffalo appearances coincide nicely, if accidentally, with the opening of "Much Ado About Nothing" staged by Shakespeare in Delaware Park. The Pennyworths will be performing songs that were sung in Shakespeare plays in Shakespeare's era, and intertwining them with scenes from the plays.

"I've grown a lot in the Good Pennyworths," Lloyd says. "Alane [Marco], the mezzo, she's really good about explaining the text. She explains vocabulary that might have gone right over my head. I've studied Shakespeare in school, but I'm not a scholar. I'm getting all the jokes now, all the little things you might not understand. Because of that I can communicate that to the audience. I have a better understanding of the story I have to tell."

Lloyd found the Elizabethan era by accident when she was majoring in voice at the University of Indiana.

"I was auditioning for the opera program. And I can sing straight tone," she says, meaning singing without vibrato. "That's how I found out my voice was suited to Elizabethan music. My voice teacher, he said, 'You have such a light voice, so appropriate for lute songs.' I ended up loving the repertoire, so it was a great thing."

What about the music grabbed her?

"It's kind of unpredictable," she reflects. "A lot of old Renaissance and medieval music was written, it was built on a modal model, not what you're used to hearing. I like a light vocal technique. When you're accompanied by lute, or a light chamber ensemble, you don't have to produce so much sound. Also you're in a smaller area, not in an opera house, so you can use a much lighter vocal technique. To me, it sounds more natural."

Sometimes, Lloyd's musical lives collide. A rock song she wrote has been picked up by the vocal group Chanticleer, who sings music ranging from ancient to modern.

She's also found Elizabethan song helped her singing in Little Grey Girlfriend.

The band got its name because when Lloyd and her boyfriend began dating, they were separated while he entertained on a cruise ship. They kept in touch long-distance, and he called his cell phone his little gray girlfriend. Nothing Elizabethan about that.

But Lloyd finds that her Renaissance self has things to teach her modern rock self.

"I have more control over my voice," she says. "And I have pretty big range as a rock singer, which really impresses people. People in the audience say, 'I didn't know you could sing that high.' It's great to use my full range, because not a lot of rock singers do it."

Singing early music, she adds, has also made her more open. "I'm really vulnerable to the audience, showing them who I am. I'm much more connected with the audience."

Finally, as far afield as Little Grey Girlfriend is from the songs of John Dowland, the music shares certain basics.

"It's all about the same thing," Lloyd says. "We're still singing about love, still singing about heartbreak. It was popular music in Elizabethan times. We haven't changed that much."

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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