The second Wednesday in November is the 12th and as I shall be busy with the Baroque Day that week Tamesis is unlikely to appear until quite late in the month. This means that there will be no December issue, so if you have any events to publicise in the first half of January please make sure they reach me in time for the November issue. New players are always welcome at the Baroque Day. There are usually more requests to play with violins and oboes than I can accommodate, so I hope more of these will apply. As most of the keyboard players would like to play other instruments as well it would be helpful to have more offers to play keyboard. Even if you normally play the piano do take advantage of this opportunity to try out a spinet or harpsichord in a friendly environment. This month our versatile treasurer Hazel Fenton will be conducting an anthem by John Blow in one of the sessions. This is for SATB singers plus two violins and continuo, so if instrumentalists would like to sing for one session this is your opportunity. Solo singers who would like to work with obbligato instruments in the other sessions are also most welcome.
The Annual General Meeting will be held immediately after the Christmas event on Sunday 7th December at 5.15. On past experience it is likely to be quite short, so please stay for it. We need quite a large quorum. Apologies and items for the agenda for next month’s Tamesis please.You have probably seen the leaflet for the Greenwich exhibition from 24th to 26th October. This year there is an excellent series of concerts, though the organisers have somehow managed to organise things so that it is impossible to get to all of them even though there are gaps in the timetable. As usual TVEMF will have a stand, this year organised by Hazel. She would be grateful for more volunteers to man the stand, if only for a short time, on each of the three days. Our stand will be in the fantastic Painted Hall, a great improvement on last year’s position. This is the early music equivalent of the boat show, so do go.We are still hoping to organise a weekend with Michael Procter, though the cost will have to go up. It would be helpful if you could email me if you are likely to attend or are a regular but are not likely to come.Many thanks to this month’s contributors. I don’t usually accept anonymous items, but I didn’t want to leave out the short poem handed to me after Philip Thorby’s excellent Spanish day. Perhaps it will put you in the mood for our haiku competition (details next month).I didn’t receive any replies after my request for more information about regular groups, orchestras and choirs in our area. I would like the Regular Events Guide to be more comprehensive, so please send me details to the email address (or even the postal address) on the front cover.
We had intended to hold the AGM during the Philip Thorby event on the 12th October but failed to give the statutory notice. It will therefore take place at 5.15 pm after the Christmas event at White Hill Centre, Chesham.I was browsing through back numbers of Tamesis in the hope of finding something to write about when I spotted a paragraph in the October 1994 issue which reported on the results of a study by Gareth Williams, a specialist in laryntology at the University of Wales Hospital. He concluded that "the short and stocky tenor of the valleys is growing into a bass. The size of the vocal chords is related to the pitch of the voice, the larger the vocal chords, the deeper the pitch. We found that the larger the person, the larger the vocal chords."I have long thought that the current chronic shortage of tenors might be due to our increased size, so it is pleasing to have this confirmed. In fact I submitted a letter on the subject to another publication, but as it was never published I reproduce it below.
Where have all the tenors gone?
We are all aware of the shortage of tenors, but in the past they seem to have been more common - for instance Robert Carver's 19-part O Bonum Jesu requires 10 tenors. In a random population the values will conform to the 'normal' distribution described by the Gaussian bell-shaped curve in which most items cluster near the centre and very few fall at the extremities. Voices will be no exception to this though that is not the way that they are described and used in music. Of course with voices we are dealing with a somewhat fuzzier quantity than, for example, height or weight. I have an untrained voice and can usually manage the E above middle C, and sometimes an F, but at the bottom end things are less clear. I can sing a decent bottom A and then successively quieter and less focussed down to perhaps an E flat. This means it is easier to pretend to be a bass than a tenor where my limitation would be more easily heard. These ranges refer to my normal and using falsetto I can manage about the same range but an octave or so higher (suggesting perhaps that the second harmonic of the vocal chords is use).
The normal distribution will apply to the upper and lower limits of voice ranges, though these will not necessarily have the same standard deviation. Most people then will be born with a baritone or mezzo voice, though of course there may be significant racial variations (as with height or hair colour). There is at least anecdotal evidence of a disproportionate number of Russian basses and Italian tenors, which I find plausible. There may also have been a variation through the ages - after all we are on average several inches taller than our forebears in the renaissance so it would not be surprising if voices had changed somewhat also. The vocal chords are a kind of reed and, other things being equal, a larger reed will produce a lower note. Of course we can all think of large sopranos and (particularly) large tenors but girth is mostly added later through lack of exercise, whilst their vocal chords are presumably well-used. I would think that the general trend has been downward by a tone or two. This may shed some light on the chronic shortage of tenors in choirs and on early music courses.
It would be convenient if women's voices were an octave above men's but this is unlikely to be the case and indeed there is no reason why the standard deviation (i.e. the spread) of the distribution for female voices should be the same as for male ones. I know several ladies who have respectable tenor voices, so it could be that the spread of ranges is greater for women. The other important factor is of course the way in which the voice is used. It is possible to develop the range in one direction or the other, or perhaps both, and this might be a factor in regional variations - maybe men are more motivated to be tenors in Wales? Another possibility is that the Welsh might have a tendency to use a higher part of their register when speaking, thus developing this register more.A puzzling fact is that on early music courses there seems to be a predominance of sopranos but not tenors. I can only offer a partial explanation for this and would be glad to hear other suggestions. One factor is that much early music was composed for male voices and thus lies rather low, so the top line is mezzo in range and the second line is often more of a high tenor than an alto. Consequently the majority of women will be more comfortable singing the soprano line, whereas the men have no particular need to avoid the bass line since it was designed for them to sing. Another factor may be that in more modern music the soprano line usually has the tune, so is easier to sing. This does not explain the shortage of tenors, so maybe more research is needed. I would really like to know if anyone has done a proper scientific study of vocal ranges and their regional and temporal variation
The Old World and the New at Chesham
On Sunday 12 October 2003, some 70 of us congregated in the upper room at the White Hill Centre, Chesham, to play and sing Spanish and Mexican music under Philip Thorby's direction. The sheet had promised villancicos, which my Concise Grove tells me are something like jazzy madrigals. In the event, Philip's colour-coding had let him down
and he discovered at tea time that had picked up the wrong folder of parts, so what we got in their stead was a "Salve Regina" by Victoria (1548-1611). We also had, as promised, "Deus in adiutorum" in eight parts by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c.1590-1664) which alternated plainsong-based music with some lively Latin-American passages and "Christus factus est" in 12 parts by Sebastián de Vivanco (c.1551-1622). Philip had also brought a bonus item - a 12-part setting of "Duo Seraphim" by Francisco Guerrero (1528-99), opening with what he described as a dramatic duo, unaccompanied soprano seraphim calling to each other across the room (we were invited to imagine them calling from gallery to gallery in St. Mark's Venice).
Philip was very apologetic about the change of repertoire, but no-one I spoke to had any complaint. The Guerrero was well up to the standard of this fine composer and if the Victoria was not his most interesting work it was nevertheless one that would have satisfied any of his contemporaries and it was disappointing not to have time to sing right through it. By the end of the day we all also shared Philip's enthusiasm for the scheduled works, with the Vivanco, in particular, striking us with its unusual harmonies and quiet sonorities. Philip compared it to Bruckner, but I have yet to hear any Bruckner that I like as much.
Of course, many of us come to Philip's events not for particular pieces but to listen to a scratch ensemble being moulded into shape and to learn how to relate music to words. We got our full money's worth from that, and were entertained, as usual, by Philip's rich vocabulary, his wild similes and the good-humoured insults by which he achieves his
aims. By the middle of the afternoon, I was enjoying some beautiful sounds and wondering whether we were a better selection of performers than usual, but it is equally likely that Philip just gets better and better at achieving musical results with whatever material he finds in front of him.
The room was not much help to the sound, and though it coped with the numbers, just, it was so full that rearranging performers from two choirs to three was slow. I was grateful to be allowed to stay in one place, as it was particularly awkward for instrumentalists to move. The organisation worked like clockwork, as usual. I shall have to find some way of avoiding the plastic seats on a future occasion.
Sayings of Philip, 12 October 2003:
"The mañana culture will not work when it comes to counting those rests." (As so often, rests were causing more problems than notes!)
"Bathe yourself in these streams of smooth crotchets."
"Not a Brands Hatch of a crescendo..."
"Solid and glittering like a four foot stop on an organ" (referring to the 12-part choir of high recorders).
Referring to the Victoria "Salve Regina" "Water on a calm day... ebbs, flows, bends, rises, falls".
Philip doesn't have perfect pitch, so asks the instruments for the starting pitches as we go along. On one occasion this produced the comment "A small selection from our wide range of Gs we have on offer".
Think of a number – it has to be 3
The time signature’s 2, but never mind me.
The ending is weak, but warm it, and so
When Philip conducts us the magic will grow.
News of Members’ Activities
Jane Minns has sent me some more Berkshire Recorder Consort dates. They will be giving a Recital of Christmas Music in the Chapel, Royal Berks Hospital 7.30 pm on 13th December and their 25th Anniversary Recital at Sherborne Abbey, Dorset at 7.30 pm on 17th April 2004. Incidentally, her email should be back in service by the time you read this.
On Sunday 26th October Skeleton Crew will be performing between 2 and 4pm at Freud's Cafe, Walton Street, Oxford.
Andrew Benson-Wilson has two recitals at the Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1 at 1.10pm on Tuesday 21st October and Tuesday 18th November. In October he will be playing organ music by Johann Pachelbel, in celebration of the 350th anniversary of his birth. The November concert will be organ music by Matthias Weckman (1616-74), pupil of Schutz and Johann Praetorius, famed organist of Hamburg's Jacobikirche and an important musical link between the Italian school of Frescobaldi (Schutz's teacher), Sweelinck (Praetorius's teacher), Buxtehude and, eventually, Bach. There will be a retiring collection.
On Sunday 2nd November at 6.30 pm the Queens Park Singers (conductor David Till) with Ibi Aziz, Alison Baldwin, Ilana Cravitz, Louis Jameson, viols will be performing the Victoria Requiem at St Anne's & St Andrew's Church, 125 Salusbury Rd., NW6. Sopranos and tenors who have sung the work, and would like to join Queens Park Singers for the later rehearsals on Sunday 19th Oct at 4pm, Sunday 26th October at 6.30 pm and Sunday 2nd November at 3.30 pm please contact David Till on 020 8960 1904
Michael Procter needs some more basses for his singing course on the Josquin Generation at Park Place, Fareham, Hants from 24th to 26th October. See the events list for his contact details
David Bolton who has taken over as Publicity Officer for the Norvis Summer School has sent the following: Here is a nice piece from -fairly obviously - a French student which you might like to put in your newsletter. We thought it would be spoilt by correcting the English, despite her suggestion that we do so. "I came in Norvis 25 years ago and I did not come any more until this year. What I can say, is that it is now exactly as I appreciated it in those times. I have much stress all the year because of the responsibility of my job and I had the remembrance of people who were there to improve their own performance and make music together, helping each other and without judgement. I went in many summer school of music but Norvis is the one which is friendly and where people of every age make good music without feeling superior one to respect to another.
Anne Marie Jolly-Desodt
Early Music on the South Bank (i)
On Tuesday October 7 Philip Pickett had one of his jolly concerts at the Purcell Room: music from Shakespeare's time, with his Musicians of the Globe, which consists of the classic broken consort (recorder instead of flute with an added harpsichord, early model: I heard someone obviously used to baroque finery say it looked as if it had come from Ikea. Now if they made harpsichords . . .)
The music consisted of largely familiar dance pieces interspersed with songs, mainly from the plays, sung with panache by Julia Gooding. Among the instrumentalists violinist Adrian Chandler and lutenist Lynda Sayce stood out, having more rapid passage work to deal with than anyone else.
An interesting addition was John Ballanger, who played a renaissance jester like someone who had done it before. The rather small audience clearly enjoyed the evening, as did I.
Early Music on the South Bank (ii)
The foyer in the Royal Festival Hall has music every day except Monday and Tuesday from 12.30 until 2.00, absolutely free! This is always good but I have yet to comment on it here as it is usually jazz. But on Thursday October 9 the usual group of drinkers were probably surprised to experience Misericordia, a medieval duo consisting of Anne-Marie Summers (voice and bagpipes) and Steven Tyler (hurdy-gurdy, lute and gittern, or, as he had it, citole, and a lovely bray harp). For this occasion they were reinforced with a contralto whose name I did not determine, but the singing was excellent, as was Steven's accompaniments, often highly complex and played from memory. There were songs by Machaut and Dufay and instrumentals, mainly from the Lo manuscript (or, as my computer wants it, Loo manuscript.)
As usual professionals are prepared to take liberties with authenticity. Stephen played two hurdy-gurdies, one in the French style, the other Hungarian. Why two? So he could play in two different keys with the same fingering, I suspect, depending upon where the tune fell on the bagpipes. These were bellows blown, a modern design. Despite the fact they were not very loud, they used a battery of seven microphones and ten miles of cable. I am sure in that environment they could have done an acoustic set (unplugged, I think it is called). However, if all you worry about is what it sounds like, they were very good.