Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 228
There are several new dates for your diary this month, and here is some information about the next two. There are already a lot of bookings for the Christmas event on 4th December. While there are still some spaces left, at the moment priority has to be given to loud wind and tenors, which we need more of. If you’re one of these rare people, please book straight away (closing date 20th November). Even if you’re not, do send your booking anyway as it’s quite likely you’ll get in from the waiting list. If you’re coming, please read the information on page 6. It may look familiar because it’s adapted from what I wrote last year, but it’s not the same so do read it!
On Saturday 21st January we have a workshop in Oxford city centre at St. Peter's College. Don’t try to take your car into the city centre. It’s very near the coach station and bus stops and a short walk from the railway station. There are several Park and Ride car parks and those of bus pass age can use them to travel free into Oxford. For more information about the workshop see the Events listing at the back and the enclosed form.
Important - please make sure you read the article on page 5 about how to submit information for Tamesis, because it’s taking me far too long to extract it from the variety of emails, posters and links I’m sent. Don’t miss also the proposed finance policy on the same page, which could be discussed at the AGM, and the extremely good value theatre outing mentioned by David Fletcher in his Chairman’s Chat
I’ve been asked to say that Tamesis chamber choir based in Reading has nothing to do with us, and they don’t sing early music!
And finally, though it seems very early to say it, Happy Christmas to all our readers!
Sunday 4th December 2011 at 5.30 approx.
(after the Christmas workshop in Amersham)
1. Apologies for absence
2. Approval of the minutes of last meeting
3. Chairman's report
4. Secretary's report
5. Treasurer's report
6. Election of officers and committee
7. Any other business
I very much enjoyed the three events that have taken place since the last Tamesis. The early 16th century is a favourite period of mine so David Hatcher's choice was always likely to please even though I worried a bit that that the music, as with much of that of the period, was in only four parts. His enthusiasm and knowledge soon dispelled any worries. A problem with venues in central London is that there is no cheap parking near the church and therefore provisions and music had to be carried by hand. This did not prove to be a big problem, thanks to some willing helpers, a suitcase on wheels to bring the music, a shared taxi and lifts in members' cars - thank you those who helped.
The second event: music by Thomas Tomkins with James Weeks went very well and confirmed my view that Tomkins has been unjustly neglected. However it was marred by a subsequent complaint from the church administrator that we had left the church it in a less than satisfactory state. Apparently some people had taken coffee cups into the church, contrary to the notice in the hall forbidding this, and we had also failed to restore the chairs to their original positions. After an apologetic letter and an extra donation it looks as if we will be allowed to use St Andrew's again. We must all take responsibility for clearing up such things as used cups and must take careful note of, perhaps photographing, the layout of the chairs or other items that we move to avoid this happening in future.
Apropos of this, may I say that I'm always grateful for assistance in packing up our tea-making equipment but please don't include items that aren't clearly marked TVEMF or in the case of cutlery aren't marked with light green paint. On more than one occasion when unpacking I have been embarrassed to discover jugs and bowls which belong to our hosts and have had to make arrangements to return them.
The third event was the Baroque Day, which took place on the 5th of November - did anyone play Handel's music for the Royal Fireworks I wonder? I enjoyed four assorted combinations of keyboard, theorbo, strings, recorders and even a session with cornetts, sackbut and curtal. Many thanks to Victoria Helby for organising with her customary skill.
We have had on offer from the Royal Shakespeare Company of a group rate for a new production opening in the Swan Theatre in Stratford. I don't know how our members will feel about pastiche early music but if enough people are interested we could perhaps organise a trip - see below for details.
Theatre offer Written on the Heart is a new piece of writing by Guardian writer and playwright David Edgar and is about the making of the King James Bible. The set design is the inside of a beautiful church, complete with stained glass windows and beautiful, original costumes. There will be 5 professional singers on stage throughout the play, performing the originally composed music by award winning composer Paul Englishby, all in an Early Music style of composers such as Byrd and Dowland.
There is more information about the play, including an interview with the director Gregory Doran and rehearsal photos at www.rsc.org.uk/written and you can find out more about Paul Englishby, the composer, at www.englishby.com
The best performance looks like the 1.30pm one on Saturday the 10th December. The normal group booking rate is £5 off top price tickets but we have been offered a special group discount price of £12, which is cheaper than the cheapest standard ticket price available. If you are interested then get in touch with David Fletcher as soon as possible.
How to send information to Tamesis
If you have information about a concert or workshop then send the information to tamesis @ tvemf.org so it can go in the newsletter (copy date first Monday in odd- numbered months). Please note that the website is normally only updated from the Tamesis listings so you need to keep to the same copy date. We haven’t got time to add individual items. Please try to send the information in a format similar to the one we use. Have a look at this month’s concerts and you will see that I don’t normally include names of soloists and conductors, and prices unless it’s tickets only at the door, so try to provide a contact email, website or phone number.
You can either put the information directly in an email or attach a Word document. I can’t open documents ending with .docx so you need to save them in an earlier version of Word. It takes a surprisingly long time to extract the relevant information from a combination of an email, a poster and a Word document, and there are many events and concerts sent to me each month, so don’t ask me to do it! Please avoid using a lot of formatting, italics, coloured type etc, and above all don’t ask me to extract information from posters, PDFs and websites. It is also helpful if the subject line of your email makes it readily identifiable. So a subject such as "Christmas concert 17th Dec 2011" would make it clear where to file it and, quite importantly, when to delete it. By all means include Tamesis or TVEMF in the title if you like, but don’t put just that. Thanks.
TVEMF Finance Policy
Up to now it has been TVEMF policy to aim to make workshops cost neutral. Fees for attendees are high enough to cover all expected costs but no more. However this policy has resulted in steadily accumulating funds over the 20 or so years since TVEMF began and the Committee feels that the current balance of around £11,000 is unnecessarily high and that we should aim to reduce it significantly. We propose therefore that in 2012 the membership fees of TVEMF remain at their present levels, that the maximum fees for standard workshops should be £12 for members and £14 for non-members (down from £14/£16 that has often been charged in recent years) and that a couple of small specialist workshops be put on each year for which fees will be no higher than £15 for members and £17 for non-members. These small workshops will allow us to offer our members a greater variety of workshops at an affordable fee and are likely to be subsidised by less than £250 each. Members are also reminded that if they find it really difficult to afford a workshop they can be offered a place at a reduced rate.
Comments are welcomed on these proposals either by emailing the Treasurer, David King (treasurer @ tvemf.org) or through attendance at the forthcoming AGM on 4th December in Amersham.
Christmas workshop arrangements
Thanks very much for all the offers of lifts. Nearer the time I will send out a list of everyone who has offered or requested a lift so that you can contact each other. The Metropolitan line from Baker Street and the Marylebone service are both running this year, according to Transport for London. Make sure you go to Amersham this year as the Community Centre Hall is only a few minutes walk from the station. It would be a good idea to check nearer the time on www.tfl.gov.uk for the latest information on trains. If you’re coming by car, parking is free in the Community Centre car park on Sundays. When you arrive please put your non-perishable food on the tables in the hall, first course to the left and second at the far end. Anything which could suffer from getting warm should go in the fridge in the kitchen, but if it’s very cold weather, if possible leave perishables in your car to leave more space in the fridge. If you can arrive a bit early and help put out chairs that will be really helpful. We’ll also need help to put them all away at the end, tidy the kitchen etc. People are always very good about helping with coffee and tea and pouring out drinks at the Christmas event, and I’m sure this one will be no exception, but if you would like to volunteer in advance I’ll be very glad to hear from you (secretary @ tvemf.org). We’ll be using paper plates and plastic cups again so that nobody has to spend time stacking the dishwasher.
British Library Early Music Online
Many of the British Library's internationally renowned 16th-century music books are now freely available to all, thanks to Early Music Online, a partnership between Royal Holloway, University of London, the British Library and JISC. More than 300 of the Library's earliest books of printed music, including music by Josquin des Pres, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, have been digitised - see www.earlymusiconline.org.
I heard about this project a month ago and was quite enthusiastic at first. My enthusiasm was somewhat tempered by my initial experience when I had a quick look at some pieces that caught my eye. I loaded a page of In epitaphiis / Gasparis Othmari to see what the quality is like. The answer is that it's perfectly adequate, being 300 dots per inch grey-scale. Sadly when I read to the bottom of the very extensive notes I discovered that it said "Physical Description: 4 part books" but just above that is remarks that "only the Bassus part book is extant". My next choice was what looked like a fine collection of SATB motets by Brumel, Obrecht, Josquin, Mouton et al and it took quite a while to spot the note saying "Copy at K.1.d.4. Imperfect: the Superius part only". I had similar experiences with some pieces by Clemens, shelfmarks K.2.b.11.(2.) and K.2.b.11.(5.) which have the Bassus part only.
Having read the small print and established that you have found a complete set of part books and that you are prepared to cope with the wide variety of clefs, you are then faced with the problem of downloading and printing them. The part books have been scanned against a black background to reduce the effect of print-through from the reverse side - still quite severe in some cases. Each opening of the book has been scanned as a double-page spread, typically about 15" by 6" surrounded by a substantial black border. This doesn't fit well on an A4 sheet unless the two pages are cropped and repositioned one above the other. I have software which will do this, as well as converting to black and white using a suitable threshold value which removes most of the print-through. I also have a means of doing bulk downloads to facilitate the process but I'm not sure if I'm up for singing from baritone clef or playing from soprano clef. If anyone is interested in specific collections then I might be willing to prepare printable PDFs."
I wrote to Dr. Stephen Rose of Royal Holloway, University of London, who is in charge of publishing the music and he agreed that better indexing was required. He is also prepared to listen to any constructive comments that people might have. I gather that it is hoped to fill in some of the gaps using material from other collections. To a musician it does seem sad that part books should be held in different libraries but I suppose that to a librarian they are just books!
Tomkins in Ealing
St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Mount Park Road was the venue for another well-attended and successful singing day. Fifty-three singers assembled to spend the day exploring the sacred and secular music of Thomas Tomkins under the expert direction of James Weeks. Some singers (including your reviewer) who are otherwise well acquainted and feel reasonably comfortable with the music of the period find themselves less at home with the rhythmic and harmonic complexities which Tomkins presents, and it is a tribute to James’ patience and encouragement that we were eventually able to produce tolerable renditions of the selected works.
Thomas Tomkins (1573-1656) is the only English madrigalist of any significance to have survived into the repressive years of the Protectorate, an age in which everyone was to be virtuous and there were to be no more cakes and ale; “if any man wished to be merry”, exhorted one of the Cromwellian divines, “let him sing psalms”. Tomkins’ one collection of mainly secular music, the Set of Songs of 3, 4, 5 and 6 parts, was published in 1622. It contains 28 compositions, and is unusual in two respects. One is that, contrary to the more usual custom, the Set was not dedicated to a single person; instead, each piece has an individual dedication. Some are to members of his family, several of whom were musicians, and others to madrigalists and lutenists of the period; the dedicatees include his “ancient and much revered Master, William Byrd”, as well as John Dowland, John Cooper (Coprario), Nathanael Giles, who was master of the choristers of the Chapel Royal when Tomkins succeeded Edmund Hooper as an organist there and Orlando Gibbons who was the senior organist until his death in 1625. The other is that four of these ‘songs’ were settings of scripture words, one of them being the well-known When David heard that Absalom was slain.
Tomkins, in so far as he has attracted comment, has had rather a mixed press, and has not figured to any great extent in the anthologies. Of over a hundred anthems listed in the New Grove, only two appear in the Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems and three others in the recent collection of Tudor Anthems edited by Lionel Pike (Novello, 2010). As to the madrigals, Fellowes, in The English Madrigal Composers, (first published in 1916, second edition 1948) describes the Set as “the last volume of first- rate importance in the great series of English madrigals which began with Byrd’s Psalms, Songs and Sonnets (1588)”, though he does say that the other three settings of scripture words in the Set “do not quite reach the same standard as the rest of the volume”, while the writer of the article in the New Grove remarks that “the book gets off to a dull start, for none of the three-part madrigals except the last (Love, cease tormenting) is at all memorable”. However, the writer is more positive about the four- and five-part compositions.
No doubt to lead us gently into Tomkins, James began by taking us through the five- part To the shady woods, which is one of the nine madrigals in the set with a fa-la refrain and which, as Fellowes observes, is one of the more conventional of that type and adds little to the development of that form by Morley and Weelkes. It displays none of the rhythmic invention of (for example) See, see the shepherds’ queen which is one of the five madrigals of his in the Oxford Book of English Madrigals. This was followed by the considerably more demanding Almighty God, The Fountain of All Wisdom - something of a steeplechase with a set of gymnastic exercises at the end in the shape of the 13-bar Amen. A return to perhaps more familiar ground ended the morning session, in which we tackled Adieu, ye city-pris’ning towers and were encouraged to emulate the chirping of the birds, though whether this rendering would in practice have been an inducement to our loves “to delay not” but “to come and stay not” is perhaps open to doubt.
Refreshed in our various ways, we had a short warm-up to banish the post-prandial somnolence before attempting the piece probably most familiar to us, When David heard. It was a new insight (at any rate to your reviewer) to have pointed out to us the contrasting ways in which we should perform the opening section, the words of which are in reported speech, and the direct speech of David’s lament. This was followed by probably the most well-known of all the madrigals, Oyez (or, as the Oxford Book of English Madrigals for some inexplicable reason has it, O yes !) Has any found a lad ? This variant is somewhat reminiscent of Misadventures at Margate in the second series of Barham’s Ingoldsby Legends, in which the narrator is taken in by a juvenile con-artist who makes off with all his belongings and consequently sends the town crier round to find him, with conspicuous lack of success, recounting that “But, when the Crier cried O Yes, the people cried O No!”. Agreement having been reached on Oyez, we engaged in a spirited if not always accurate attack on the madrigal, fortified by thoughts of tea to come.
James saved the most ambitious piece till the final session, telling us that we ought to go home exhausted. The seven-part O sing unto the Lord a new song from Musica Deo Sacra is a work of great splendour with many contrasts, going from the firm but reverent setting of the opening words, to the dancing rhythms of “Sing praise unto him”, then to the majestic “let Israel rejoice” and finally (it being the portion of the blest to sing eternal psalms, or so it is said) to the more contemplative “And let the children of Sion ever sing” ending with the long-drawn out Alleluia; though even the heavenly choir might have had difficulty with some of the underlay, particularly the variants of “children”. If James wanted us to go home exhausted, he achieved his object in that respect; but we also went home refreshed after a most enjoyable encounter with an inexplicably neglected composer. Our warmest thanks go not only to James for his patient and good-humoured direction but to Nicola Wilson-Smith for organising the event and (without which no event and no review can, for this reviewer, ever be truly complete) to Mary Reynor for yet another admirable display of the cake-maker’s art.
News of Members’ Activities
Congratulations to Sidney Ross who has just gained a first class degree from the Open University. His BA (Hons) is in Humanities and Classical Studies. I don’t know whether that includes any music courses, but he told the local paper: "The courses I took included The Renaissance in Europe and Religion in History, so they contained quite a lot of background material which was useful in compiling reviews [for Tamesis]." I wonder how many other TVEMF members have studied with the OU, or taken degrees at a rather more advanced age than the average undergraduate.
Thoughts about posture and playing Baroque music:
4, The voice
At a TVEMF event I attended earlier this year the conductor, Will Carslake, said plaintively to the singers standing in front of him, ‘I’ve lost my fearless sopranos’. What he meant was that, where they had been singing beautifully a minute earlier, in the phrase at hand they had collapsed: lost their direction and confidence, and with it pitch and rhythm. We are born to sing. Some neuroscientists think that speech developed from singing. Our most basic instrument is the body. Patricia Hammond, a professional singer who has had Alexander Technique lessons, told me: ‘Dance when you can no longer walk, and sing when you can no longer talk’. Think of the film ‘The King’s Speech’, where therapist Lionel Logue has the king sing about events too emotional to talk about. Why is the result when we sing often less than we have in our mind’s eye? Why do singers and actors believe that Alexander Technique lessons can help them use their voices better? It’s not always about the vocal cords: it is about the rest of the instrument, the body. AT teachers often start a series of lessons by looking at posture. The singer is at the heart of the Renaissance and Baroque repertoire: the messenger of the poetry, word expression and emotion – the affect – the composer wanted to convey. The treatises on all instruments stress that they should model themselves on the singer. If you want to see a fantastic, expressive singer who uses herself well, watch the YouTube clip of Emma Kirkby singing ‘Thou art gone up on high’ from The Messiah (http://youtu.be/n09yLx3kKtc). She is the instrument through whom the music flows. Note her posture: nothing forced, nothing held. Nothing impedes the music. The vocal instrument is unique. The singer is the instrument, and the instrument exists only when it is being used. The vocal cords are not fully engaged when speaking; only in singing are the vocal cords used to the full. Suspended in the larynx, they are held in place by a web of muscles. This means that tension and stiffness in the instrument – the whole body – affects the quality of the sound. The body is a vibrating column of air. Think of what happens to a garden hose: if it’s kinked, the water is blocked. The same is true of the air column: inappropriate tension acts like a kink in a hose, stopping the free flow of air, and that affects the sound.
There is no point trying to hold yourself up;that only creates more tension. Look at thediagram. The two small illustrations on theright show common posturalmisconceptions: the upper illustration showswhat happens when the singer losesconfidence and collapses back into herhabitual stance; the bottom shows someonewho has been told to ‘stand up straight’.Note the vertical line in both cases. It fallsoutside the line of balance, especially thebalance of the nick and head. Theillustration on the left, by contrast, shows avertical line going through the points of theskeleton designed to bear weight: the headis balanced on top of the spine, and alignedwith the shoulder sockets, hip joints, knees and ankles. In this case, the structure is in balance, the muscles working together as in a suspension bridge.
How we stand determines how we sound. Start with the shoes you wear while singing: it’s important to have good contact and feel supported by the ground. Moving up, think of softness (not collapse) in front of the ankles and behind the knees. And think of ‘hips over heels.’ Look at the diagram on the left again. If you’re not sure what I mean, find me at a TVEMF event and ask me to demonstrate.
This leaves more space for the lungs, allowing the air to flow in and out, rather like waves on the beach, rather than being pulled in and pushed out.
Too often we rely on what ‘feels right’, trying to micromanage our bodies, especially in difficult passages, and lose track of the larger goal. Standing well, having good posture is not the end, it’s the means to expressing the song. Trust the message of the song; if you can’t speak it, said Patricia, you can’t sing it. And if you’re trying to get it ‘right’ chances are that won’t happen. At that event where Will Carslake was conducting, he said he’d rather have a good wrong note than a tentative right one. ‘What do you have to lose?’ he asked. Better by far to maintain poise and direction to create the best conditions to allow the voice to emerge by itself.
The final article will be for plucked instruments.
Singing music from 1500 to 1900:
style, technique, knowledge, assertion, experiment
In July 2009 the National Early Music Association (NEMA) held a conference on the above topic in co-operation with the University of York in the University’s Music Department. It was organised by Richard Bethell. The University has now published the proceedings of the conference on their website. In order to access the proceedings visit www.york.ac.uk/music/conferences/nema/ .
The 16 essays presented on this website are re-workings of papers given at the conference. Richard Bethell writes: ‘In my view, these proceedings make a valuable contribution towards historically informed vocal practice. Some essays include links to vocal illustrations, using recordings made at the University or taken from external sources. In addition, two contributions (those from Elisabeth Belgrano and myself) include an illustrated video or embedded sound clips providing essential support to the authors’ arguments. Taken collectively, the essays certainly cover most of the conference themes flagged up in our “call for papers” (see website introduction). However, vocal vibrato (tackled by four contributors) was by far the most popular and controversial topic.’