Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 225
There are no TVEMF workshops in May because it proved impossible to find a suitable date that didn’t clash with other major events, but we have two contrasting workshops to look forward to during the next couple of months - Isaac for voices and instruments with Peter Syrus at Ickenham in June, and Gesualdo with Gerald Place at Burnham in July. The Isaac form was in the March Tamesis and the Gesualdo form is enclosed.
I’ve had a most apologetic email from David Allinson, telling me that he needs to back out of conducting our Christmas workshop. He’s just been offered the post of Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol music department, starting in late September. This is a full time post, for two years, and it's the kind of job he’s spent more than a decade trying to get, so I'm sure we’re all delighted for him. Unfortunately he’s been warned that he’ll be swamped with marking in early December and it just won’t be possible for him to do our workshop as well. Although my feeling is that everyone should take a day off, I understand perfectly that he can’t risk getting behind with his work so early in his appointment. At least we have the Victoria Mass to look forward on 27th August, and the form for that is in this issue. The 2011 Christmas workshop will still take place, of course, with a new conductor and I hope to have details in the July Tamesis. You will see on the front cover that we now have David Hatcher for the September workshop and there will be more information and a form for this next time as well.
The Striggio Mass workshop last week was an amazing musical experience. I hope to have a review of it from an EEMF member in the next edition, but meanwhile many thanks to everyone who helped to make the day run smoothly, and of course particularly to Philip Thorby for his electrifying direction.
The workshop at Waltham Abbey proved to be very successful. Philip Thorby managed the huge forces with his usual skill and humour and Striggio's 40-part mass turned out to be rather good. We even managed the 60-part Agnus with no real problem, though if anyone did sing wrong notes they were unlikely to be noticed! I had been concerned over the logistics of coping with 130 or so participants but the hard- working band of helpers managed to serve the tea and cake very efficiently. Many thanks are due to Kate Gordon for handling the unprecedented number of applications. Our next event features the music of Heinrich Isaac directed by Peter Syrus. Those of you who have been to any of his workshops will know that Peter's preparation for such event is second to none so I thoroughly enjoyed the Easter course at Wedgwood Memorial College which he tutored jointly with Alison Crum and Roy Marks. On the 2nd of July we have a workshop on Gesualdo with Gerald Place who tutored a very successful Gesualdo session at the recent Renaissance Day. The idea is to choose repertoire which is not too extreme so that we can enjoy some of this exciting music without tears (except perhaps brought on by the beauty of the music).
Letter to the Editor
The March article on the posture of winds was interesting. There has been a considerable influence of Alexander technique in the Suzuki world, and in that context violin-playing posture began almost exactly as described - the right shoulder drawn back so that the left points forwards towards the conductor or music stand, if standing, the left foot pointing in the same direction as the shoulder, heels a few inches apart and the right foot roughly at right angles with the left. The key is to get the violin "along the shoulder" and NOT pointing to the floor like a cravat. The phrase "under the chin" so often heard is absolute poison.
There is also Suzuki flute, and though I am not familiar with it, I would lay bets that it follows exactly the recipe laid down by Shelagh Aitken.
I used to feel that a lot of the parents thought we were being very fussy in trying to establish an exactly right posture with lots of little exercises before the pupils had played a single note, but before training as a Suzuki teacher I constantly had backache when playing the viola, and since then - although obviously getting a lot older - I never have. I have also instinctively transferred those posture rules to all types of recorder and to sitting. It's really worth it.
Yours, Hilary Potts
If you subscribe to the Harpsichord & Fortepiano Magazine, you may be interested to know that it has been purchased by Early Music Media Limited, but subscriptions will continue as usual and Micaela Schmitz will continue as editor.
Thoughts about posture and playing Baroque music:
3, The Strings
I’m not a string player, so I spent some time talking aboutthe particular issues of string instruments with LynnSelwood, a Baroque cellist, teacher and coach whoassisted Laurence Cummings at the ‘Saul weekend’ atNottingham University a couple of years ago.
The way you lift your instrument first thing has an effectthat carries on right through your playing day. It maysound trite to say that your feet will always reach theground, but I see people who stand and move as if theyworry they’ll fall off the face of the earth – toes and thighsclenched, hips fixed, feeding tension up through the spineto the shoulders.
Whether you’re standing or sitting, itstarts with the feet. Simply notice what’s happening with your feet: are you letting them spread and be supported, making good, relaxed contact with the ground?
When you’re sitting, you have the added support of the sitting bones. In effect, they become another pair of feet. If you’ve lost contact with your sitting bones, find them by sticking your hands under your buttocks to locate the rounded bony protrusions. As you move around, notice the effect of shifting weight on your balance and the amount of tension you need in your legs (less is more!).
Lynn and I talked about supporting the instrument. Gambists and cellists have the same issue: how to support the instrument without clenching their knees. Lynn finds a foot position which gives a leg angle on which the instrument balances. If you look at the rotation of the hip joint as the hip bends, the hip naturally opens outward. The people who designed early instruments had a good practical understanding of the mechanical structure of the human body. They designed instruments which, when held the way the makers intended, work beautifully.
References to posture problems are found from the earliest treatises on. The problems early music performers face are not new, but we need to look at ourselves before we blame the instrument.
The shoulders are often the most active part of the body. Think of Jacqueline du Pré playing the Elgar Cello Concerto, her shoulders rising and falling, leading the emotional expression. One of the great things about watching her is the sheer exuberance of her performances. Her shoulders are a compelling visual cue to how she feels performing. When I watched her performance of the Adagio, what I noticed is that her shoulders did rise, but always fell back to an open position.
Lynn talks a lot to her students about shoulders. We can all benefit by using her image of the arms as wings opening outward. Collapsing the torso forward and down into the instrument happens with both cellists and gambists. To avoid this, think of creating a circle with the arms, completed by the bow.1 In particular, extending the bowing arm without raising the shoulder allows you to use the whole of the bow, right to the tip.2
1 Look at the film of Jacqueline du Pré again. 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue-46cfAaVc. At 32 seconds, there is a very nice shot of Wieland Kuijken. Note his open, relaxed shoulders. If you go to a concert in which Adrian Butterfield is playing, watch him. He rests the violin on his shoulder, which allows the whole body to become a resonating chamber, lifts his arms without disturbing his shoulders, and doesn’t distort his head/neck relationship by wedging the violin under the chin. The violin is balanced on his shoulder.
Many Early Music violinists have abandoned the chin and shoulder rest combination. If you do use it, make sure that the shoulder rest is high enough. A study done at the University of Utrecht by Criss Taylor3 found that all but one of the eleven violinists who took part had chin rests that were not high enough.
One thing applies to the arms, wrists and shoulders, no matter which string instrument you are playing: you don’t want to grip the bow. Lynn said she has students swing the bow arm lightly back and forth, stopping at the top of the arc in front of the body to bring the hand into the most natural playing position, fingers with just enough tension to hold the bow in place.
Look at Adrian Butterfield’s bowing hand: he holds the bow so lightly, you feel that it his held in place by the lightest touch, no matter how fast the passage he is playing. The fingers don’t hold the instrument up. It is lightly balanced between the shoulder (or shoulder rest) and the thumb of the left hand. The pads of the fingers drop onto the strings, springing back up when the note is finished.
Elegance, ease and poise. These words were as important to 18th Century musicians in describing the performer as the music being played.
The next article will be on plucked instruments. I will end with an article on the voice.