It may not sound as monumental as a Police 30-year reunion during the Grammy Awards, but the combination of Sting and the lute has already made history on the Billboard charts.

The former Police frontman has found a new beat and has also decided that learning how to play the ancient instrument would be a challenge that would inspire and help him with his creative process. 

That challenge turned into Sting’s latest album Songs From the Labyrinth, a collection of tunes from an Elizabethan troubadour named John Dowland, that debuted at #1 on Billboard’s classical charts.  And his desire to share his passion for playing the melancholy music has created a fascinating program for PBS as part of the acclaimed Great Performances series.

Sting: Songs From the Labyrinth, premiering Feb. 26TH, was filmed at Sting’s manor house in Italy.  He explained that the locale was the perfect setting because “it is of the period, a Renaissance house.  There we recreated the kind of place where that music was played.  There were no concert halls [in the 1500’s], there were just rooms to play chamber music.”

At a gathering of television writers and critics from across the US and Canada, Sting recently performed an intimate concert to promote his PBS special.  The Georgian Room at the posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena was lit with candles to set the mood for the 16th century lute music.  “For me, they are the pop songs of their time.  I relate to them in that way—beautiful melodies, fantastic lyrics, and great accompaniments.”

During a question-and-answer session, Sting made a case for Dowland’s melancholy tunes.  “Melancholy is often confused with depression.  Depression is a serious clinical disease many people suffer from.  Melancholy is something different.  I don’t think melancholy is a bad thing.  I think it can be quite a useful emotion.  It comes from self-reflection, comes from thinking about the state of the world and one’s position in it and why we’re here.  I think we need more self-reflection in this time.  All of us, from the president on down, need to reflect on where we are and where we’re going.  And I think this is the music of self-reflection, so it’s timely.”

To please the rock fans in the group, Sting did play some contemporary hits: “Fields of Gold” and “Message in a Bottle.”  And then he commented, “I never thought I’d play for a roomful of critics without dynamiting the place.”

Frank Barron is the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, having served twice in that capacity. In between, he was West Coast news director for Billboard Publications, supervising their five magazines. Barron also created the western TV series “The Man From Blackhawk” for the ABC network. For more than three decades he and writer-wife Margie Barron have covered Hollywood for Production Update magazine, and they currently contribute to numerous publications. Frank started in showbiz as publicity director for the KHJ radio and television station. Before moving to California, he was a sports editor in New Jersey.