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Reviews and Reports

Workshop for voices, viols and recorders directed by Andrew Doldorph, Thorverton, Devon. 18th October 2014
Cantantibus Organis Caecilia Virgo. Workshop directed by Nancy Hadden, Compton Dando, 22 November 2014
Monteverdi and Purcell. Workshop for voices directed by by Venetia Caine and Tony Bevan, Glastonbury, 7 February 2015
Maestri of the Churches and Acadamies of Rome. A workshop for voices, wind and strings, directed by Nancy Hadden St John’s Church, West Bay, 14 March 2015
Plainchant Vespers for the Feast of St. Mark. Workshop directed by Emma Hornby, St Paul’s Church, Clifton, April 25th 2015
Gibbons and Byrd Verse Anthems Workshop for voices and instruments directed by William Hunt held at the Chapel, Exeter School, May 16th 2015
Dance through the ages. Workshop for dancers and instruments directed by Philippa Waite, WI Hall Backewell, Bristol, 6 June 2015
Hassler: A German Polychoral Giant. Workshop for singers and instrumentalists directed by Peter Leech, Corsham Town Hall, Bristol, 11 July 2015
Sacred Masterpieces of 16th Century Seville. Workshop for singers and instrumentalists directed by Pam Smith, St. John's Church, West Bay, Dorset, 1 August 2015

Pictures from Baroque Playing Day, Cheddar, 26th September 2015

Workshop for voices, viols and recorders directed by Andrew Doldorph, Thorverton, Devon. 18th October 2014

Andrew Daldorph stepped in at short notice to lead a most enjoyable workshop day in Thorverton, near Exeter. Music for the day included:
* instrumental and vocal movements from Rameau’s opera Hippolyte et Aricie
* a lively setting by Claudio Monteverdi of Laudate Dominum, which also had some miserable ‘misericordia ejus’ passages; slow, descending chromatic phrases
* a chanson by Clément Janequin, A ce Joly Moys de May, which exhorted us (in old French) to celebrate that joyful time of year with much dancing and gaiety
* a madrigal by Claude le Jeune, Petite importune Mouche, in which the singer envies the freedom of a fly to alight where he pleases on his beloved lady. Many changes of time-signature effectively conveyed the fly’s restless progress.

We began the day with a very effective warm-up: a round in D minor, which singers and players learned by ear and then put together using a variety of vowel sounds and dynamics. The emphasis was on listening, tuning and balance, and then the piece was changed from minor to major, so the contrast of thirds and sevenths became the focus. I personally found this a very relaxing and useful way to warm up my voice and ears.

Then followed a unison song by Monteverdi, Musiche de alcuni eccellentissimi Musici composte per la Maddalena, which enabled us to get used to singing together, to apply our warm-up experience of major/minor contrasts, and to sing in Italian, never easy when elisions are required. Andrew put together a performance plan for this piece, which enabled each group of instruments, recorders, other winds, strings and higher and lower voices to alternate and contrast effectively.

Andrew’s pace for the day was measured and relaxed. He encouraged us to think about how to achieve good, authentic effects in our performances, allowed plenty of time for repetition and we played and sang reasonable chunks of a piece rather than being stopped every few bars. He himself accompanied and embellished all the performances throughout the day on the keyboard (harpsichord mode), very expertly, often one-handedly! The instrumentalists also provided some competent, pleasing decorations, especially the string players. Andrew’s sense of humour came through when there was a troublesome tuning moment and he commented that just about every note had been covered!

The music from the Rameau opera was challenging at times, the soprano part often unremittingly high and the alto part rather too low. I’m not sure how the basses and tenors found this. Even the sopranos had to read ‘down an octave’ for one piece. One scene for choir had a worrying moment when, at first glance, it seemed that the tenors – we had 6! – would have to sing from the alto C clef. However, Mary Thomas had spotted this in advance and transposed it for them – phew! – one more example of her superb effort and preparation, such as copying music, providing refreshments, setting up the church etc. Special thanks were also paid to Andrew’s wife, Sally, who had done much cutting and pasting in preparation for the day.

The dance movements for instrumentalists between choral scenes in the opera were a delight, and although at times one could have wished to be singing or playing for longer, Andrew devoted time to singers and instruments in fairly equal measure, giving us a chance to learn from and enjoy each other’s music. I shall certainly be hunting out a recording, or watching out for a performance of the Rameau opera; ‘feel-good’ music even when singing about troubles and hell! Monteverdi’s Laudate Dominum was a refreshing change from the better-known Beatus Vir, and the Janequin madrigal about May is a super little piece to add to any choir’s repertoire.

Thank you Andrew, and to Sally, for a great day of music, and to Mary, who in addition to all her organization had procured an audience of some 15 or so friends and neighbours, who appreciatively encouraged our end-of-day run-through and made us feel that the musical enjoyment had not just been our own.

Heather Kershaw

Cantantibus Organis Caecilia Virgo. Workshop directed by Nancy Hadden, Compton Dando Village Hall, 22 November 2014

From a tiny bit of biographical information, that St Cecilia is said to have heard heavenly music at one moment in her life, has grown the legend that claims her as the patroness of all Western music; which brings us to our workshop!

Nancy Hadden has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a musicologist and renaissance flautist, so what better person could we have to guide us through 16th-century music celebrating St Cecilia on, most appropriately, Nov 22nd?

Some 37 singers and instrumentalists gathered in the pleasant surroundings of Compton Dando village hall to start the day off with Francisco Guerrero's Dum Aurora (1589). The words are the Benedictus antiphon from the office at daybreak, on the feast of St Cecilia, virgin and martyr. From there we moved on Virgo Glorioso, a hymn to the musical saint by the Flemish composer Thomas Crecquillon (c. 1505–c.1557), Nancy’s professed favourite. There was lots of imitation through the parts, and new phrases of music came in tandem with new phrases of text, which made for engrossing playing, with the occasional dissonance to spike it up.

Ferdinando di Lasso (1560–1609) was our next challenge, with his Cantantibus Organis. This was a darker, thicker textured, more rhythmic piece in 2 sections. We finished the day with Cecilia Virgo by Peter Philips (1561– 1628), technically a challenging and complex piece showing distinct Italian influences,

Our grateful thanks go to Madeline and her team for organizing such a fascinating day, and to Nancy, who is so skilfull at knowing just how much we can achieve in 6 hours!

Stella Worrall

Monteverdi and Purcell. Workshop for voices directed by Venetia Caine and Tony Bevan, Glastonbury, 7 February 2015

It was a chilly day when we filled St Mary’s hall with singers in winter woollies, to tackle two contrasting seventeenth-century works by Monteverdi and Purcell. In more ways than one, a warm-up was required, but after Venetia Caine had led us through some exercises, first humming then singing scales, both the room and the vocal chords felt significantly cheerier. A few altos volunteered to augment the tenors to help balance the choir, and there wasn’t much difference in the range required, as both parts turned out to need bottom F.

Monteverdi’s Latin mass of 1641 is, unusually for him, scored for only four voices; an intimate, meditative piece, probably designed for Eleanor Gonzaga of Mantua’s private devotions. It is written in the old style, probably intended for a small chapel rather than the grandeur of St Mark’s, Venice. Mindful of its scale, Venetia encouraged us to sing softly and sensitively, aiming for a gentle lilt rather than a slavish crotchet beat. Dotted crotchets were to be approached with a rocking sensation, a contrast to the double dotted drive we encountered later with Purcell.

There were a few note queries – should certain Bs be flattened? – and Venetia made us aware of the constant shift in tonality between major and minor. It was precisely the mix of B naturals and B flats, sometimes in the same bar, that gave the piece its distinctive colour. The Kyrie began with a series of fugal entries, followed by a yearning, descending figure for ‘Christe eleison’. Throughout the day I was reminded what great word-painters Monteverdi and Purcell were. There was a shiver when we sang the pianissimo chords of ‘Et incarnatus est ‘, and again in the stark fifths of ‘crucifixus’. Venetia then guided us through the lovely change to triple time for ‘et resurrexit’, and a joyous, dance-like ascension. A measured Amen led to the beautiful Sanctus, which interwove simple, minim statements with soaring upward figures in open, angelic harmonies. We came down to earth with the Benedictus and Agnus Dei. Thank you, Venetia, for navigating us through this deceptively simple and precise work, and also to Simon Pickard for grounding us all with his organ accompaniment.

Purcell’s anthem My heart is inditing, written forty years later, also focuses on a Catholic Queen – Mary of Modena, second wife of James II – and was apparently sung after her entrance during his coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1685. This is a very public piece, theatrical and ceremonial, with a double choir of eight voices and a string section. We were very fortunate to have a seven-piece string band, and Simon, who flicked the switch to harpsichord, to support us and give the piece the pomp and scale it deserved.

Tony Bevan led the afternoon’s workshop, deftly dividing his time between the singers and instrumentalists. He wisely kicked us off with the easier last section, ‘Praise the Lord’, so we could get used to the larger, double-choir sound. The words, from Psalm 45, were in English, as expected from a protestant country scared stiff of any return to Roman Catholicism. In my opinion the anthem felt more theatrical than spiritual, with many references to the Queen’s clothes, her handmaidens and her hopeful fecundity (as Edward James pointed out at the end of the session). I wondered if Purcell had been briefed to pull out all the dramatic stops to bolster up a very unpopular Catholic King, who was, in fact, deposed by parliament four years later. But the music is gorgeous and Tony Bevan encouraged us to articulate it carefully, paying attention to the lilting dotted quavers and the distinctive scotch snaps. Tony reminded us that Purcell was acutely sensitive to the English language, and that we should be too.

Like Monteverdi, Purcell moves between duple and triple time, and there were some spine-tingling moments when, after ending on a minor chord, the choir burst in on a major one. As Tony pointed out, this effect on the entry ‘Praise the Lord’ is electrifying. Throughout the piece, Purcell contrasts ceremonial eight-part counterpoint with softer ’feminine’ sections, using two groups of three voices which respond to each other, as in ‘ Hearken O Daughter, consider” . Tony worked us hard for a couple of hours and we all noticed how much better the sound was when we stood up to sing. After a tea break we sang through the whole piece with the orchestra and found it a very satisfying experience.

Thank you Venetia and Tony, for your leadership and musical expertise, Simon for his subtle continuo, and not least Jenny for keeping us refreshed, especially when the tea-urn was playing up.

Sarah Harding

Maestri of the Churches and Acadamies of Rome: Palestrina, Morales, Marenzio
A workshop for voices, wind and strings, directed by Nancy Hadden St John’s Church, West Bay, 14 March 2015

On a cold but lovely, sunny day, 51 singers and players met in St John’s Church, West Bay, for a workshop tutored by Nancy Hadden. She had emailed all the singers' music to them in advance, so once the instrumentalists had been sorted out, we got off to a good start with Morales' Salve Regina. Our next pieces were by Palestrina: Pulchra Sunt and Dum Aurora. Throughout the day Nancy emphasized that, as well as being part of a choir, we had individual responsibility to structure our own parts. In this polyphonic music especially, we had to consider whether our part was a key feature, or whether another part had something interesting to say and we should melt a little into the background. This stimulated our concentration and made us listen to the other parts. Nancy repeatedly commented on our good sight-reading skills, and even indulged us with a rallentando at the end of one piece, to see if we were watching her, which we were!

The final challenge was Marenzio's Lamentabatur Jacob, which was for three- part choirs. The church was very cold, but the organizers did their best to look after us and provided well-organized hot drinks. Poor Wendy Carnell, who had organized the day, had tooth trouble, but her husband, Peter, and Paula Biss stepped in, together with lots of other friends who helped. She and about 12 others came for our final run-through.

Thank you to Wendy and Nancy for an enjoyable day. One of the things I value the most is meeting up with people at these workshops and making more musical friends. There was a lovely, convivial atmosphere at this event.

Mary Thomas

Plainchant Vespers for the Feast of St. Mark
Workshop directed by Emma Hornby, Reader in Music at Bristol University held at St Paul’s Church, Clifton, April 25th 2015

Fourteen singers, including the vicar of St Paul’s, attended this really spectacular day at St Paul's Church, Clifton. We were joined by eight of Emma's Schola Cantorum, all delightful young singers.

The choir was divided into two halves, with two tenors, three basses and a couple of high voices in one, the remaining women in the other, and no time was wasted in getting to grips with the twelve or so pages of plainsong needed for the service for which we were preparing at 4pm. A short warm-up included thinking about our breathing, expelling all the air from our lungs and then holding our breath as long as possible before gently allowing our lungs to refill. The introit would have been instantly recognisable: Deus in Adjutorium meum intende, exactly as in the opening of the Monteverdi Vespers. There were six psalms, each with their individual antiphon, which is sung both before and after the psalm; a hymn (Tristes erant Apostoli), responses, and to finish, Regina Caeli (solemn tone).

About half the group were familiar with plainsong, though mainly 19th-century, Solesmes style of performance. Here we had the same chants, but there were subtle differences in the early approach used by Emma. We were allowed to do trills at the quilismas, which was delightful, and plenty of breath-taking (at every quarter bar) was encouraged.

The psalms were sung alternatim, as in the Roman Catholic Church today, with a long breath halfway through the line, and the new verse overlapping the end of the previous one; quite hard to do when it is new to you. In fact Emma remarked that she has written as essay entitled 'Preliminary thought on Silence' (freely available at academia.edu). Her explanation for the long silence is that, in Greek the same word is used for both breath and spirit; when you have expelled the old breath and then slowly breathe in, the Holy Spirit enters too.

There was a lot to learn, but there was time for a run through and a cuppa before the small congregation arrived (around seven people, enough to make the occasion feel real). The service began with the Pater Noster and Ave Maria said silently to ourselves. We then stood to sing the introit. Richard Holroyd (the vicar) sang the responses and prayers splendidly, and we concluded confidently with the well-rehearsed Regina Caeli. In thanking Emma, Clare remarked that the day had focussed on a much earlier repertoire than SWEMF usually explores. More please!

Jenny Tribe

Gibbons and Byrd Verse Anthems
Workshop for voices and instruments directed by William Hunt held at the Chapel, Exeter School, May 16th 2015

In a very interesting day at Exeter, Bill Hunt (formerly of Fretwork) led the singers, viols and recorder-players into a new depth and understanding of the glories of the verse anthem, a peculiarly English form of post-Reformation music.

We focussed on just two pieces, perhaps 13 minutes of music: See, see the Word is Incarnate by Orlando Gibbons and Christ Rising by William Byrd. What a treat it was to be given time to get to know and appreciate these two pieces. Bill Hunt described the upheavals in English church music in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Music was to be sung in English for the first time, with a new insistence on clarity, specifying only one syllable to one note. He also detailed some of the rhetorical devices and nuances involved in word setting. For instance, in simple terms, to flatten a note is often to soften it, to make it gentle. To sharpen a note is to harden it, so it is louder, more assertive. So we sang, ‘For in that He died,’ with ‘died’ sinking to an E flat—sad and soft —followed by the phrase ‘He died to put away sin’ with a rising B natural—uplifting, bright. Shorter notes were used to give emphasis and repetition, longer ones for contemplative words: ‘all men do die’, for example. Once one started to notice these subtleties, every single phrase took on a deep and different meaning.

In Gibbons See, see the Word is incarnate (known as the mini-Messiah, as it tells the entire story and significance of Christ’s life in 7 minutes), the beat (tactus) is interrupted, giving urgency, building up the excitement by putting entries on unexpected up-beats. It was wonderful to see how cleverly Gibbons and Byrd had constructed these pieces, with rising phrases and climaxes and a balanced overall shape. Our lovely viol- and recorder-players had the words in their parts too, so that they could colour their playing accordingly, and we had a very enjoyable and educational day.

setting was delightful, in the chapel of Exeter School (designed by Willam Butterfield), looking over rolling playing fields in the spring sunshine. Our thanks to all who organized it, and our appreciation to SWEMF, which enables these remarkable opportunities to study with knowledgeable tutors.

Celia James

Dance through the ages
Workshop for dancers and instruments directed by Philippa Waite, WI Hall Backewell, Bristol, 6 June 2015

Philippa Waite has been at the forefront of historical dance for several decades as a choreographer and reconstructor. She gave us a fascinating overview of dance from the middle ages to the 18th century. This was a practical workshop, in which we danced a whole range of dances, using the building blocks of steps called singles and doubles in different ways, depending on period and country. The differences involved:
a) parallel or turned-out feet
b) moving with feet on the flat or on toes
c) rise and fall or moving on one plane
d) whether the shoulders face forwards and move in the same way or in the opposite direction to the feet
e) the posture of the body
f) different ways of ‘reverencing’ (bows, curtsies and flourishes)
. Philippa was exceptionally clear in distinguishing these details.

The day was brilliant for beginners and experienced, and for musicians as well as dancers. The players were given tips on how to play for dancing, the most important (and obvious once you have danced to live musicians) being to maintain the same speed throughout and a definite pulse. At the ends of phrases, you might have to cut notes short in order to take a breath and come in again on the beat. Musicians must have lightness in their playing and be able to look at what the dancers are doing in order both to accompany and lead. Knowing how to dance the steps associated with a piece of music tells you how to play it.

The participants ranged from former historic dancers to rank beginners, and included Philippa’s current students, Morris dancers, others with experience in flamenco and ballet, and musicians wanting to know how to add feet to the dancemusic of the period. Philippa was very good in realizing that some people would not be used to dancing all day, and she allowed plenty of opportunities to relax or just walk around to relieve our leg muscles. After warm-ups, we danced a 15th-century Estampie; an early 16th-century French Pavane; an Almain; then, to test us utterly, a 15th-century Italian dance for six people called Gelosia, which had four changes of rhythm and types of step, and called for a certain amount of acting. The next variation was a 16th-century Italian Pavane, where we had to assume a ‘peacocking’ posture. Then two 16th-century French dances of a less courtly variety, which required less brain-power, but more energy and sideways steps: Washerwoman’s Branle, Branle Pinagay. This was followed by a late 16th-century dance from England: Earl of Essex Measure. We then sped into the late 17th century with Hole in the Wall, a country dance from a publication by John Playford.

Philippa’s main expertise is as a teacher and performer of baroque dance, which, we could see, was much more sophisticated (and confusing) than the earlier dances. It requires turnout and mirror-image footwork, as well as steps initiated on the upbeat rather than with the pulse. We learnt some minuet steps; it was incredibly difficult to get all the different movements as well as having to think across the beat. Baroque dances have different affects; for example, the minuet requires ‘moderate gaiety’.

There were many dance treatises written in this period, and dance was linked to the 18th-century discipline of rhetoric. Academies were established which set standards for dance protocols. Dancing masters advised on etiquette as well as teaching dance. The leisured classes spent a lot of time learning and perfecting dance. Country dances (such as Hole in the Wall) were for the least proficient dancers and Rigadoons for those who excelled. Minuets came towards the lower end of the continuum. Philippa ended the day by demonstrating a hornpipe, which was poetry in motion. We certainly left with an appreciation of how you need a lifetime to study baroque dance.

Heather Jenne

I need not have worried about the shoes I would wear - those on the dancers’feet varied from boots to trainers to walking shoes and even bare feet, and everyone managed fine. There were about 16 of us, musicians included, and Philippa took us through dances from five different centuries. Most amazing was how long the basic steps (single simple and double simple) persisted from earliest times right up to the age of the minuet, which Philippa describes as ‘a real calf-killer’, as it is danced on tiptoes with descent to the flat only on 2nd and 6th beats of each two-bar phrase.

We started with loosening up and stretching, and learning how to perform the single simple and double simple going forward, backward and sideways, and then applied them to tunes that the musicians, under the direction from the keyboard of Clare Griffel, kindly provided. As well as keyboard, there were two or three recorders, drum, viol and occasionally, plastic trombone! To these, we merrily danced an Estampie, a Bransle or two, ‘Hole in the Wall’ (a Playford to music by Purcell), an Almain, and the saltarello step. We also learned various different ‘salutations’ (curtsies and bows), which were much more interesting if you were dancing the man’s part, as they had the added flourish of a hat, and the furniture of a sword with which to cope.

Sallie’s organization was very smooth. I shall remember the day (for all the right reasons) for a long time, and found Philippa a very sympathetic and fun teacher. Her demonstration of the hornpipe, which depends on absolutely faultless counting, at the end of the afternoon, was marvellously mobile. I hope there might be more dance workshops in the future!

Marion Bolton

Hassler: A German Polychoral Giant
Workshop for singers and instrumentalists directed by Peter Leech, Corsham Town Hall, Bristol, 11 July 2015

The lovely upper hall of Corsham Town Hall was well suited to our workshop on the double choir works of Hassler, with good acoustics and comfortable chairs. Peter Leech was in superb form, taking us through a number of varied works by Hassler and his contemporaries, such as Praetorius and Gabrieli, with enthusiasm, wit, and erudition.

It was a day of delight : the 40 members who attended were well balanced, and relished the to-and-fro of double choir music; the sun was shining and picnics were taken to Corsham lake; friends old and new enjoyed coming together to tackle new repertoire; and a respectable run-through completed the day. Thanks to all, especially to Peter.

Carol Johnson

Sacred Masterpieces of 16th Century Seville
Workshop for singers and instrumentalists directed by Pam Smith, St. John's Church, West Bay, Dorset, 1 August 2015

Forty or so musicians braved the gusty and not-so-summery south coast weather on 1st August to experience a fascinating day inside St John’s, sampling some musical tapas from some of the greatest Spanish composers from renaissance Seville. With a welcoming team to meet, greet, and ensure we were all fully equipped with the correct music, we were off to a well organized, prompt start.

What a wonderful selection of music we were able to study and enjoy, led by Pam Smith’s skilful, experienced handling of the arrangements, instrumentation and direction! å Following an interesting introduction to the background and historical context of this genre, Pam led us through our initial reading of the Missa El Ojo by Francisco de Peñalosa (c 1470–1528), including the contrapuntal complexities of the Sanctus and Benedictus sections. Pam’s delicate handling of the rhythmic intricacies and bar-less nature of the musical flow greatly enhanced our understanding of this fascinating genre.

Our familiarity with renaissance counterpoint was extended with our next piece, Duo Seraphim by Francisco Guerrero (c 1528–99), a composer whose chronology followed hot on the heels of his predecessor. With some challenging and sometimes exposed vocal entries, we worked hard to bring this piece together, the two solo soprano roles being ably encompassed by singers selected from our ranks, Alison Suter and Wendy Carnell.

Moving forward again chronologically, we immersed ourselves in Versa est in luctum by Alonso Lobo (1555–1617), who was appointed Assistant Music Director to Francisco Guerrero at Seville Cathedral, and stood in for him during his leaves of absence to travel to the Holy Land. Lobo’s best-known work, Versa est was written on the death of Philip II of Spain, and comprises mesmerising through-composed polyphony.

Rounding off our day with another Alonso Lobo 6-part motet with madrigalian-like qualities, the beautiful O quam suavis est, Domine (1607), we all much appreciated the benefits of being provided with full score, facilitating our sight-reading and bringing the piece to near-performance level at the first reading!

Towards the end of the day, we had the opportunity to perform to an appreciative audience of friends and family (and a well behaved sheepdog!) who joined us for our plenary concert.

Lucienne Suter

Pictures from Baroque Playing Day, Cheddar, 26th September 2015

Conference Proceedings

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Last modified: 11 November 2015