Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 232
For the last two editions I’ve been writing about the possibility of a recorder workshop with Philip Thorby on a weekday. In the end he had a cancellation on a Sunday so I grabbed the opportunity to book him, even though it’s the day after our vocal workshop with James Weeks. I for one will be happy to have a totally musical weekend with such good tutors, and I hope the other members who both sing and play recorders will feel the same way.
You will remember that there was some discussion earlier this year about whether or not we should continue with the forum stand at the Greenwich early music festival. We decided that we ought to be represented at this important event, but it does mean that we shall as usual need volunteers to look after the stand. We were a bit short of help last year. Because of the difficulties with public transport on Sundays for the last few years, the organisers have decided to hold it from Thursday to Saturday instead, which could have an effect on people’s availability. I shall be asking for volunteers in the September Tamesis but please put the 8th to 10th November in your diaries now.
There always seems to be some confusion about who does what in Tamesis. I do the editing and events lists and write everything that isn’t attributed to anyone else. David, our Chairman, does the printing, stuffs the envelopes and puts the listings on the web site. If you send your email contributions to tamesis @ tvemf.org they will automatically come to me. David is the person to approach if you want us to include a leaflet, but it would be sensible to send me the details as well if you want them listed as otherwise I won’t see the leaflet until I receive my own copy of Tamesis. Information about advertising rates etc is inside the front cover (opposite).
If you send listings, please make sure that they contain all the usual details in the order in which they should appear (see lists for examples). Please list each concert or event individually and in date order. There were two emails this time that each took nearly an hour to sort out and I only included them because I’ve got a cold and cancelled all my teaching, giving me enough time to fiddle with them.
The summer school season is just starting an I’ve mentioned some vacancies under Opportunities to Make Music. Don’t forget that reviews are always useful to people who are thinking about going to them next year.
To run a workshop studying music by a composer as little-known as Thomas Stolzer is somewhat risky but the attendance at this one, directed by Peter Syrus, was pretty good and the reaction of the participants to the music was very positive. After I had told Jeff Gill that with him and Peter in charge I expected the event to run like clockwork he said that there would probably be an earthquake to disrupt things. What he didn't know was that on the last event I attended, the Venice Academy course, there actually was an earthquake which fortunately caused little damage in Venice though people died elsewhere. As it turned out, in Ickenham our earthquake contingency plan was not needed and the day passed very happily. If asked, I would have said that a day of cornett-playing would be more stressful to the lip than one of tennis, but a forcefully-hit ball striking my upper lip has curtailed my playing for a few days. Happily no permanent harm seems to have been done, so it just joins the long list of other tennis-related injuries I have suffered. Of course the Venice course was bound to be a poignant affair after Michael Procter's untimely death, but Edzard Burchards and his deputies did remarkably well in his absence. Playing and singing in San Marco was the high point in many ways but the concert in Santa Maria del Rosario, the memorial for Gabrieli and Michael in San Stefano, and the gondola convoy to scatter flowers in the lagoon will all stay in the memory.
There are two contrasting events in September on successive days but probably appealing to different sections of our membership: vocal music by Philips and Sweelinck with James Weeks followed by Gabrieli for recorders with Philip Thorby. I'm sure both will prove very popular.
Michael Procter 1951-2012 – personal recollections
A bon viveur in all senses of that phrase, Michael brought his wit, erudition, facility with languages, liturgical knowledge, vocal range, editorial skills and sheer exuberance to open us up to the expressive world of renaissance choral music. And he was such fun.
My first weekends with Michael and Keith Bennett were in the eccentric surroundings of Highnam Court in the 1980s. The interesting electrics, the re-wiring of the urn, and the mountains of washing up were as memorable as the singing. Weekends with Michael and Keith at Benslow, Knuston and Fawley Court over the years, cemented friendships and, by the Sunday, brought out the best in the singers.
We ventured across the channel in the autumn to Boulogne sur Mer for food and wine- fuelled evenings in Le Globe followed by sung mass in the chilly Cathedral, and enjoyed the experience so much that we ended up buying a holiday home there. Michael’s fluency in so many languages and his ability to crack jokes in all of them was remarkable, and he taught us to sing Latin in French, German and Italian pronunciations. Two European singing weeks stand out for me. The first was in Bavaria where we sang in baroque churches, ate endless schweinefleisch, toured Neuschwanstein and sang Innsbruck ich muss dich lassen on the top of the Zugspitze. The second at Pontlevoy, after Michael had recovered from cancer, where he and Jacques Barbier were a wonderful foil for one another, and competitive boules were played in the evenings.
Michael became godfather to our eldest daughter and wrote to her regularly, even after moving to Germany. He had strong religious beliefs and a huge affection for the liturgy and the performance of music within the context for which it was written. He used the space in St Augustine’s, Kilburn, so well to enhance the singing of the mass.
Michael was warm, irrepressible, very funny, and a brilliant raconteur — he is greatly missed.
I first knew Michael in the late 70s when he deputised from time to time as an alto at St Paul’s Cathedral. He was then working in the field of arts management (with Juniper Arts Music) and was active on the early music scene, and it was as a consequence of the ground-breaking 1977 conference “The Future of Early Music in Britain” (which we both attended, and which was the catalyst for the eventual formation of NEMA) that he began the publication of Early Music News, which was subsequently taken up by the Early Music Centre.
In 1977, my wife and I attended the baroque music summer school at Schloss Ebenthal in Austria, run by the legendary Horace Fitzpatrick. On our return, I told Michael about the attractions of the course but also of its lamentable organisation, and by the following year Michael had got himself enlisted as the administrator. Fitz proved too difficult a character to go on working for, but it was not long before Michael’s administrative abilities were put to better use at Benslow. I remember being entertained to lunch at his favourite Hitchin restaurant when I went to see him in my capacity as Deputy Chairman of NEMA to discuss possible areas of collaboration. Our paths diverged after he left Benslow, and I lost contact with him, though I continued to watch his progress in Germany and on the international early music scene. He will be greatly missed.
Around the time of my retirement from the Civil Service I belonged to a lunch-hour choir called Treasury Singers; at one rehearsal, a one-day workshop at St James, Piccadilly, was advertised, to study a mass by Valls under a certain Michael Procter - what better possible introduction to the delights of singing Renaissance music! On this occasion - it must have been early in 1990 - Michael spoke of his plans to hold a week of Schola Polyphonica at Pontlevoy in Touraine, and unhesitatingly I applied. This was for me the first of a series of summer weeks with Michael in France, Italy and Belgium. Later there were weekends in Munich, Berlin and of course Cambridge. Every time Michael's inspiring leadership meant that I was never disappointed, and I now feel a deep sense of loss at his untimely passing.
During his time as Director of Benslow Music Trust, Michael Procter conducted the Orpheus Choir of North Herts for over 5 years. During that period, we visited Bingen- am-Rhein, Hitchin's twin town, on 2 occasions. In 1984 we sang the Byrd 4 part Mass there for the Rochusfest at a High Mass, and in 1988 Josquin Pange Lingua, together with works by Lambe, Taverner, Byrd and Browne. Another year, we took part in the Ludlow Early Music Festival, contributing works by Schutz, Sheppard and Tallis. The choir learned so much from Michael with regard to singing early music - he wanted us always to concentrate on the long legato lines. He was a purist with regard to pronunciation, and sometimes in the same concert we had to change from German 17C Latin to French 15C, then on to English Tudor Latin! On the lighter side, I remember after a rehearsal waiting for bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau to be delivered to Benslow; I also recall singing English Madrigals in a boat trip down the Rhein. Some of us attended a weekend course on Palestrina which he gave at Fawley Court, the mansion near Henley run by Polish monks, who fed us daily on cabbage soup. However, the music, and Michael's leadership, were inspirational. Michael's early death is a tremendous loss to us all.
Much excitement in Waltham Abbey - 12th May 2012
How much excitement can one small English town stand? Not only was there a combined EEMF/TVEMF workshop on Biber's Missa Bruxellensis in the abbey directed by Philip Thorby, but there was also a cucumber festival in the adjoining abbey gardens (http://cuefest.co.uk/)!
Inside the abbey, we were insulated from the noises of the desperate stall-holders and excited vegetable enthusiasts... more esoteric sounds were soon to be heard... none more esoteric than the first attempts at music requested of the band of violins, violas, cornetti, sackbuts, continuo and natural trumpets! Philip remarked that he presumed we always make an effort to do badly first thing in the morning simply to give him a good feeling at the end of the day about how much he managed to improve things! (It really was bad and things really did improve! :-)
Philip was on top form, leading the singers and the instrumentalists through this most splendorous piece of music; he always knew just the right thing to say, be it words of encouragement or humorous dig, to get us to improve our performance.
At one point, he was unsatisfied with the choir's pronunciation of the final syllable of "etiam"... he held out his hand, palm uppermost, and slapped at the long bone above it asking the choir "what is this?" - everyone replied, "your arm" - "that's right, say it again everyone, arm", he replied... now say "etsy arm" - we all got the point, though it took a few attempts to get the last few stragglers in the choir out of the habit of saying "etsy am" (rhyming with "ham"). I remarked to Philip during the lunch-break how fortunate it was that the word "superbum" was absent from the piece or his anatomical gestures might have been somewhat less acceptable! :-)
Many of us took advantage of the clement weather at lunchtime to visit the cucumber festival - it really was a jolly affair. To answer the jibes I heard from people saying that they weren't even in season yet, I now understand from the website given above that May 12th 2012 was National Cucumber Day; I do hope you celebrated in a suitable manner? During the afternoon session, after one prolonged session of getting us to improve some area of our performance, Philip did relent for a while and point out to us just how fortunate we are to live in a country where a group of amateur singers and players can get together for a day and sight-read through a work of significant size and complexity and produce such acceptable results. I certainly agree with him on that point.
On a personal note, I was incredibly happy to see my friend and fellow cornettist Stephen Mounsey at the event. He has had to take some time out from playing for health reasons and I didn't know he was back in the land of the playing - he certainly is and played the second cornett part with his usual skill and vigour throughout the whole of a fairly tiring day! Both cornett parts really were ludicrously high - I think I played more high Bs and high Cs in a single day than I ever have.
Finally it was time for the final run-through. Philip stopped to talk for a while about Michael Procter, who died very suddenly just a short while before this workshop, and his contributions to the early music world; he dedicated our run through to Michael's memory. I thought this a very nice sentiment.
I really enjoyed this day. I think the combination of Thorby, Biber, Waltham Abbey & Early Music Fora Members really worked well! When's the next one?!
Purcell and his manuscripts
Most TVEMF members will have been informed by email of The British Library event 'Purcell and his Manuscripts', held on Tuesday 26 June. This event was to celebrate the launch online of digitised versions of three of the Library's most important Purcell manuscripts, including the autograph score of the viol fantasias.
The event was fully booked and was very successful. I shall be providing an account of the event and David Lewis and Alan Howard will be submitting their papers in full in the Autumn 2012 (no.28) issue of The Viol. Those two speakers discussed recordings of the viol fantasias in the first half of the 20th century and Purcell’s compositional techniques with reference to the fantasias respectively.
However in the meantime you may be interested in accessing the British Library’s digitised Purcell manuscripts. This can be done by going to www.bl.uk/manuscripts and then typing ‘purcell’ in the keyword box.
Stolen Viol Bow
Bass viol bow missing, presumed stolen, while in transit to Viola da Gamba Society member. The bow is snakewood, with a sliding (friction controlled) fixed frog, and is distinguished by a rosette carved on the very end of the stick. The hair is completely new. Please contact the administrator if you hear of a bow like this being sold or found admin @ vdgs.org.uk
News of Members’ Activities
Forum member Clare Goodall has a show at the Edinburgh fringe from 13th to 18th August. Having been to one of her previews at the Hampstead Pentameters Theatre last month, I was surprised to see it listed on the festival website as PG. The intriguing title Sex, Lyres and Audiotape must be the reason because the show is a really entertaining journey through the history of the harp and lyre and their battle for survival, with excursions into the effect of wealth and status on a player’s choice of instrument, and the role of women in medieval music. I’m sure Clare would be the first to agree that her show isn’t aimed at the specialist musician but it should appeal to everyone. From the moment that she appears on stage with her vast collection of instruments - not just harps and lyres but shawms, psaltery and trumpet - she grips the audience with her story-telling skills. An added bonus, at the preview at least, was that members of the audience didn’t just get to ask her questions at the end of the show but were allowed to try out the instruments. More information at http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/sex-lyres-and-audiotape
Petition for fair treatment for musicians travelling on planes with their instruments
Several people have sent me information about this so I’m printing the link so that you can consider signing the petition. It talks mainly about professional musicians but of course anybody going abroad by air with their instruments is affected.