Tamesis Issue 242
There are two interesting events coming up soon - the baroque chamber music playing day at Burnham on 30th March organised this time by Peter Collier (whose music library contains far more than mine does) and the Rosenmüller workshop a week later in Oxford. Forms for both of these went out in January but you can print them from the web site if you’ve lost them. There is a separate item below about the Rosenmüller day which I hope you’ll read, but to sum it up we need more tenors, basses and appropriate instruments, and you now need to pay for all the Park and Ride car park or risk a heavy fine.
There is a lot of material this month as well as more advertisements than usual, so I’ve only got room to say - please don’t forget to change your standing order to £9 for next year and pay the extra £2 for this year if you haven’t already done so.
Apologies: I completely forgot to welcome the two new Committee members, elected at the AGM in December. They are Catherine Lorigan and David Butler – many thanks to them for volunteering. Thanks too to Sarah Young who has retired after several years owing to pressure of work and her studies – we are most grateful to her for her work for TVEMF and in organising some of Michael Procter's events.
I didn't get to the workshop studying music from Georgia but heard good reports of it and I'm very pleased that we broadened our coverage in this way. Anyone who has ideas for workshops and is prepared to help to put them on should contact our Secretary.
The Three Breakfast Show on Radio 3 has been constructing a musical map of Britain and I decided that my home town of High Wycombe should be on it. I had my two minutes of fame on air, talking about the Wycombe cornett, sackbut & curtal group Arti Fiati (arts winds, but careful how you say it). Quite scary but it didn't seem to go too badly and I hope people enjoyed the piece I chose: Canzona Prima by Grillo played by His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts. It quotes from Susanne un jour and Vestiva i colli and shows off the instruments very well, though I have to apologise to the curtal players for omitting any mention of them: my mind goes blank under pressure.
Of course TVEMF ought to be on the map but has a less clearly defined centre – perhaps Burnham? They have also been asking for nominations for Great British Composers and I was horrified to see that in the first two months of the year William Walton had as much representation as all the renaissance composers combined (5 pieces). On the assumption that other people will submit pieces by Byrd and Tallis I suggested the Salve Regina by Peter Phillips, which was played this morning (6th Mar), but the viol players should obviously be pushing Jenkins. I’ve argued that Anon should be there too and offered an anonymous In Nomine which is surely English.
The Rosenmüller Vespers workshop
Saturday 5th April 2014 in Oxford
If you like the Monteverdi Vespers you’re sure to like these magnificent 10-part psalm settings by Rosenmüller who was a student and organist in Leipzig but moved to Venice. We need a lot of people to take part to do justice to the music but at the moment there is a shortage of tenors and basses. We need more instruments too - cornetts, sackbuts, curtals, strings and continuo would be appropriate. Please contact the organiser, Nicola Wilson-Smith, if you would like more information n.wilson- smith @ ntlworld.com (0208 933 7908) and note that bookings have to be received by 29th March at the latest.
The venue is right in the middle of Oxford, well placed for shops and cafés at lunchtime, so if you come by car you will need to use the Park-&-Ride service. There are now parking charges at ALL FIVE Oxford Park-&-Ride sites (even if you see no obvious signs there!), and details are on their new website which replaces the one shown on the form.
TVEMF Renaissance Chamber Music Day 11.01.14
Once again we gathered in Burnham to discover what new combinations of instruments and voices David Fletcher had conjured up. The answer was a remarkable 27 different groups across four sessions of the day. My subjective account is necessarily limited to the four groups I was a part of, but this will give some indication of the learning and musical challenges that were part of the day.
My first group comprised three singers, one cornett and one sackbut. We sang/played through several pieces, trying out the balance of instruments and voices before we did some serious work on a Gesualdo madrigal. This went fairly well until we reached one chord which seemed consistently out of tune, although the individual notes were not. Even considering the expected Gesualdo tonal and harmonic surprises this seemed to be a dissonance too far. We looked at the notes in the chord, which amounted to Cmaj9. A jazz harmony chord you can hear all the time in advertising jingles and radio idents. Why was it so hard for us to make it sound acceptable? It seemed to come down to the sound we were making. The three singers giving a lot of voice to balance with the cornett and sackbut were making a robust sound which simply didn’t work with such close harmony. The jingle singers on the radio use much less voice and a cool sound with no vibrato which puts a smooth coating on their extended chords. We tried again, bringing the volume down and it definitely helped - although the next chord being A minor without a trace of modulation brought its own challenges!
My second group again had three singers, this time with two recorder players and a theorbo. It was clear that the singers’ volume needed to come down to a suitable level for the instruments and we found pieces in five parts which worked well. I was intrigued to know how the theorbo player found appropriate chords to play on his instrument when we were singing/playing polyphonic music. It seems that the answer is in listening to the tonality as it moves along and providing rhythmic support in line with that tonality. If I have completely misunderstood the theorbo then I will be grateful for corrections from TVEMF members reading this. Another learning point for me in this session was discovering how surprising the music of Thomas Tomkins can be. Admittedly my knowledge of his music is limited, but when all five parts in the piece we were working on moved up a semitone in parallel I was certainly surprised.
Session number three found me in a group comprising cornett, tenor curtal, sackbut and three strong singers. Here we found an ideal balance and really enjoyed ourselves. Each time we paused on a chord with Margaret Jackson-Roberts tenor and my bass a fifth apart on the bottom, our overtones danced around the room together in joyful reverberation. In Lassus’ Regina Coeli we made a brilliant sound which was hard to give up. I hope that we can have this experience on another day.
Session four brought a larger group: three recorder players, a renaissance flute, curtal, theorbo with myself singing bass. Perhaps because of this unusual combination it proved more difficult to find suitable music for the group, but after a few false starts we found a beautiful memorial piece by William Byrd saying “The Lord Borough Is Dead”. This proved to work well and brought us to a solemn close for the day. Once more I had a new experience – the renaissance bass flute with a wonderful rich sound as played by Michael Mullen.
As ever, thanks are due to David Fletcher for all the planning and transporting of boxes of music which make this day possible. Every January this day provides new musical experiences for the participants and I would warmly recommend it to other TVEMF members and their friends.
TVEMF Georgian singing day
A first for TVEMF: some 35 of us gathered at Ickenham United Church on February 15th to “explore” Georgian sacred hymns. This workshop had been planned for two years by organiser Michael Bloom, who brought leader Malkhaz Erkvanidze, a photocopied set of the very early (I understood 10th-12th century) hymns, a pronunciation guide (example “q glish – it is a bit like a cross between a k and a glottal stop in the back of the throat.”), and a slide show of Georgian churches and landscapes.
From the outset we knew this was going to be something very different, as we found ourselves sitting in a big circle. No tedious warm-up - the leader started right in teaching each part separately, working by rote and repetition first on the pronunciation and then on the notes, which were in modern notation, thankfully, but not on the pitches shown, requiring considerable transposition. The harmonic system was said to be based on an old natural tuning system on two dissimilar tetrachords, requiring the bass line to be in a different key signature for us Westerners. The harmonies and intervals were supposed to be different, but to be frank, it didn’t sound as if we were “getting” much of that aspect. Afterwards, I listened to the real thing on CDs that were available, and heard some of the amazing harmonies and intervals of Georgian music that we had been told about but didn’t achieve. From that CD it became obvious to me that leader Malkhaz had chosen some of the simplest, most basic of the hymns for us to work on.
The music was all three-part a cappella, and all in Georgian script. This is a sample:
There was English sort-of transliteration for only the bottom line of this Georgian script, incorporating the guidelines we could have studied of some of the unusual sounds and consonant clusters (example: transliteration of the one- crotchet syllable shown as “ghmrtis” to sound something like “ris”. Or so it seemed to be, sometimes.). That was hard for the top-line singers, who had to read all that transliteration two lines down. Although the notes we had to sing were straightforward (except for the top-line tessitura) it was an eye-opener for me to find out how much of an obstacle the words seemed to be for the group of experienced choral singers. “Don’t sing the way you’re used to singing,” the leader had to keep repeating, “Sing straight tones, from deep down.” Which strained the top line singers, mainly sopranos, who were singing really low-down the whole day, never getting above A, having to bellow in chest voice. Stretched out of our comfort zone in these many ways, it was a really different experience, which most of us enjoyed trying. Although TVEMF had been given two samples of Georgian three-part hymns which were put on the web site, they weren’t the ones we worked on, and it might have helped if we had been able to study the pronunciation in advance. The enthusiastic leader Malkhaz showed great patience and perseverance by repeating many many times the way it was supposed to sound; at the end he was asked to say something about it all. He proceeded to talk a lot about it, whereas he should have just played one or two tracks from his CD, of one of the pieces we had tried.
I liked this extract from the quotation on our music. It provided a view into the kind of music we were introduced to:
“Within our music-making, the separation, the loneliness and isolation of our complex modern-day existence has no place. Through this cherished vein we Georgians carry all that we hold dear. The bloodline of our ancestors. The heartbeat of our nation. The secrets of our immortality.” Which provided an inspiring closing comment on the conclusion of this very different TVEMF event.
Georgian Polyphonic Singing - History, Sociology and Musicology
Following the workshop on "Georgian Sacred Song" with Malkhaz Erkvanidze, I should like to contribute a brief overview of Georgian polyphonic singing. The tradition is at least two thousand years old, and odes to pre-Christian deities are still sung, especially in the higher regions of the Caucasus mountains. Songs are almost exclusively in three parts (representing the Trinity in the Christian tradition) and unaccompanied, although some folk songs have parts played on local stringed instruments. Christianity reached Georgia in 326 AD and there followed a considerable creative develoment of sacred music, which reached a climax in the early 13th century under Queen Tamar, known as Georgia's golden age.
In religious music or "Sagalobeli" it is the top part that holds the main tune while the two lower parts have interweaving melodic lines that create powerful harmonies and progressions. In folk songs the middle part holds the melody, with an ornamenting top part and a supporting bass which is often a moving drone or has successive ostinato sections. The folk singing tradition covers virtually every possible event and genre, from music for weddings and funerals to lullabies, healing songs for children when they are sick (based on the idea that illness is caused by spirits entering the body which can be enticed to leave with sweet music), travelling songs for merchants and those going to war singing about loved ones they have left behind, songs with dances, patriotic songs, philosophical songs about life and death, etc. Songs are kept alive at the ceremony of the "Supra" or Georgian feast, where much food is consumed and wine drunk, with a series of toasts after each of which an appropriate song is performed by the singers at the table. In Tsarist and Soviet times, when church songs in Georgian were banned, they were kept alive at supras disguised as folk songs. The eloquent art of the toastmaster or "Tamada" is greatly respected.
There are considerable regional variations in folk song styles. In the eastern district of Kakheti there are many so-called table songs, frequently performed at the supra, with soloists on the two ornamented top parts and a drone bass, moving by small intervals to harmonise, sung by everyone else. In the high mountain region of Svaneti songs tend to be slow with long held notes and there is much sliding between notes. The western region of Guria on the Black Sea coast has fast, highly rhythmic songs often with meaningless syllables. These may be different both lyrically and rhythmically between the parts, which always come together at the end of each phrase. Gurian songs may also include "Krimanchuli", a high, yodelling-type part always sung by a male soloist in a falsetto voice, with repeated fast fragments such as (descending in the octave) C, C, E, D or D, D, F, D, harmonising with a melodic middle part and a supporting bass line. The western area of Mingrelia or (in Georgian) Samegrelo just to the north, by contrast, has many songs with tuneful melodic lines similar to those familiar in the West. For centuries the original Georgian singing scale was used, which is based on the Pythagorean perfect fifth with its 3/2 frequency ratio, rather than the tempered octave we use today. Sacred music was notated using an ancient neumatic system, but folk songs were largely passed down aurally and thus underwent more changes down the centuries. Music only began to be notated in the Western scale in the eighteenth century, which required considerable adaptation. In the old scale, each fifth is divided into four equal intervals giving a slightly flattened second, a neutral third midway between our major and minor, and a slightly sharpened fourth. To give the closest approximation in the tempered scale, each fifth is notated in the key of its root note as the scale ascends (e.g. C, G, D, A etc.), and therefore sharps enter progressively. Descending from C gives fifths in F, Bb etc. with attendant flats. This explains a noticeable feature of Georgian music scores, which is that the bass clef frequently has one more flat, or one fewer sharp, in its key signature than the treble clef. This adaptation leads to chords and chordal progressions not found in western music. The old scale does not include a true octave, since the upper octave is the 4th note of the second fifth, which is sharpened compared with the root. The third is also largely avoided and typical triads are the 1st, 4th and 5th (e.g. C, F and G) and the 1st, 2nd and 5th (C, D, G). These last notes are also found in the commonly found chord of two fifths or 1st, 5th and 9th (C, G, D). Progressions not found in traditional western music are parallel seconds (or ninths), fourths and fifths - these are particularly noticeable in church music of the western Georgian school, which also contains other unfamiliar chords and abrupt modulations. Songs, both sacred and secular, normally end in unison or with one part at a fifth to the other two, and contrary movement is frequently found with the top part descending to the final note and the bass ascending to the same point. Another result of the scale adaptation is to give a modal quality to the songs, such as Lydian mode (F to F on the white notes of the keyboard), and Locrian mode (B to B). Malkhaz is one of a dwindling number of singers who can sing in both the original and modern scales. With rare exceptions, children are no longer taught the old musical scale and it is difficult to learn it in adulthood. However Malkhaz is endeavouring to preserve old mode singing by teaching it to talented students, and encouraging others to continue the tradition. Georgia achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Prior to this, exposure to Georgian music in the West was almost exclusively through official concert tours by state-sponsored choirs, although a Georgian choir was started by non-Georgians in New York in 1980. Following independence, cultural links with the UK were soon established, at first through theatrical contacts (Georgians have a great love for Shakespeare!). Visitors to Georgia were always invited to supras, where they heard Georgian singing and in 1994 the first singing teachers were invited to the UK. Demand for workshops and concert tours soon spread and created many enthusiasts. Spurred on by excellent personal relationships formed with the Georgians, the desire to support them in the harsh economic climate of the time, and the 2001 UNESCO listing of Georgian polyphonic singing as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, Georgian choirs were formed in several UK cities and staged concerts and other events. These choirs were largely of the community choir format studying songs by ear. This has continued to the present day, and concerts by Georgian choirs, and workshop tours by accomplished teachers such as Malkhaz, are frequent and well received throughout the UK and now also Ireland. Georgians have always been willing to share their traditions and greatly appreciative of efforts made to learn them, which has engendered a strong climate of mutual respect. Georgian polyphonic singing deserves to be better known in the West, particularly among classically trained musicians who are able to compare and contrast its musicological characteristics with their own. Events promoted by enterprising groups such as TVEMF will go a long way towards achieving this.
Musings on Pronunciation
In Puerto-Rican Spanish, final /h/ is phonemic (so, la muchácha - the girl. but lah muchachah - the girls.) After listening to this musical language for some time I decided that in future I would not articulate the final _s in Sanctus. (Someone else will always do it for you - in fact while I produce a gentle Sanctuh, several people will spit out /-s/s in a staggered sequence.)
I recently attended a workshop (not TVEMF!) where my neighbour, a much more powerful singer, insisted on producing the -s in the minim rest after the bulk of the choir had fallen silent. His "yet", "but" ... and a few other words were torture for me. (The conductor had specifically outlawed long /s/`s, but had enjoined us to linger on the l- of love.) I thought things could not get any worse after the final consonant of `rebuke`, however the line beginning "`Twas" was realised like a multi-consonantal Kabardian cluster, or a Mingrelian exolalic with simultaneous lip-rounding and glottalisation. Why cant the English...?
In English Cathedral choirs a child who is aware that they have made a mistake is expected to raise a hand. (In some English choirs one is urged to kick one’s neighbour in these circumstances.) David Allinson tells me that Dutch choristers denounce each other vigorously. I try to correct such solecisms as Dominus Vobiscus/Et Cum Spiritum Tuum (and once tried to teach a Dutchman English Vowels and diphthongs, but with little success.) Perhaps my greatest bugbear is the epenthetic /r/ of RP, which has no place in Latin. (Some TVEMF members have been heard to sing Dona Reis Requiem, and Gloria Rin Excelsis!) Thank the Lord for Philip’s insistence on glottals in Praetorius - and thank heaven for German Choirs’ clarity - even if they can’t pronounce Excelsis correctly, and waste hours arguing about it!
Handel at the Foundling Museum and Georgians at the British Library
The Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square WC1N 1AZ has an exhibition on Handel’s Music for Royal Occasions, which runs until May 18, with associated events at the museum. For more details see their web site www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
The Georgians exhibition at the British Library is well worth a visit (I’ve been twice) and has quite a lot of musical material including Handel’s manuscript of Messiah, some song books and a violin which belonged to Jeremy Bentham with two surprisingly modern-looking bows.
Pauline Thompson memorial concert
A lot of TVEMF members must have known Pauline Thompson who sadly died in January. The Anton Bruckner Choir is putting on a memorial concert for her on Sunday 6th April at 4pm at St Sepulchre’s in Holborn Viaduct where we hold many of our TVEMF events. It will be a celebration of Pauline’s life-long love of music and she chose the pieces you will be hearing at the concert, including Tallis’s 40-part Spem in Alium.
Pauline was in a lot of choirs and knew there would be people in the audience itching to sing, so all singers who wish to can join with the choir for the final chorus and chorale from the St. John Passion. The music (Bahrenreiter edition) will be provided for this. It would be very helpful if all those who plan to be there and would like to sing could let Pauline’s sister Pam Anderson know in order to have enough copies. Pauline wanted her own largish music collection (mainly choral) to continue to be used so it will be at the concert for those who wish to take any of it to use themselves with a donation to Cancer Research.
There will be a retiring collection (non-obligatory) which will be donated to Cancer Research. Could you please let Pam know 100pam.anderson100 @ gmail.com (01753 887463) as soon as possible if you would like to attend, singing or not, so she can have an idea of numbers.
Stephen Willis musical celebration
This has been arranged for the afternoon of Sunday 27 April 2014, at St James’s Church, Hampton Hill. There was more information about it in the January Tamesis, and Jill Davies would like to know as soon as possible now if you are going to be at this celebration of her stepfather’s life. There will be some massed choir/instrumental pieces. Jilldavies23 @ btinternet.com 01684 850112
Opportunities to Make Music
If you enjoyed last month’s workshop on Georgian sacred music, or wish you hadn’t missed it, you might be interested in going to a residential camp (accommodation with local families) in the historic village of Bukistsikhe, Georgia, this summer. Participants will work on tuning, ornamentation and vocal production with Malkhaz Erkvanidze, who directed our workshop, and other members of his Ensemble Sakhioba. They will study folk and sacred music from different Georgian regions, learning mostly by ear, and folk dancing and instrumental instruction will also be offered. There will be excursions to historic monasteries in the area as well. Michael Bloom showed us slides of the area during the workshop and it looked like a wonderful pl