About the Baroque Band

About The MEMF Baroque Band

The MEMF Baroque Band – a (sort of) manifesto by  Alan Morris, previous Band Coordinator.

We have been meeting about three times a year for a little while now. Under the very able direction of baroque ’cellist Lynn Selwood we have studied a good range of works by recognised masters such as Bach and Handel and less well known composers such as Pepusch. All very enjoyable and very rewarding. But I think it is useful to give thought to why we have a band, and then to plan a little more systematically for the future with coherent objectives as a guide. If you think this a little pedantic, please excuse me, I am a recently retired academic and habits die hard! Also I want to point out some of the problems of organising the band with the hope that my friends in MEMF (and beyond) will help maintain our success.

Why did we start the band?

The initial stimulus was that in the past, when MEMF put on a major work requiring a band – an oratorio by Handel it might be – the standard of performance amongst the sight-reading instrumentalists was not great, and time had to be devoted to straightening out technical problems with the band and that detracted from putting the work together. Hence was conceived the idea of having a training day to sort out problems in advance of the main day. This has paid dividends: our performance say of the St John Passion could not possibly have been as good otherwise.
But beyond that, we meet to enhance our orchestral technique and our understanding of baroque practice. I have to be straightforward here and make it clear that the main end is to get the string playing of the band good and stylish. After all the strings (together with the continuo) are at the heart of the baroque orchestra. But wind players can certainly learn from understanding what the fiddles are doing. And very often in baroque bands the string parts were doubled by wind, particularly oboes but also recorders.
But a baroque band does more than fiddle away by itself. The vast bulk of the baroque repertoire involves other artists: soloists, both instrumental and vocal, choirs and dancers. Our band would quickly turn in on itself if we tried to perform only music for strings. Hence we welcome other musicians, particularly singers, so that we can learn how to accompany them.

So what are the objectives of the band?

Plainly, the main thing is to enjoy making music together. But some more specific aims include, in no particular order:

  • Preparing for major works put on by MEMF
  • Training in baroque orchestral playing
  • Learning how to work with soloists

Am I good enough?

It has come to me once or twice that some members of MEMF think the band’s standard will be too high for them. Well, OK, we aspire to great heights. Some of the music we have played is hard (Bach). Much is more straightforward and I do want all members to feel they can come along to our meetings and gain something from them. (If only a burning desire to practise more.)

Do I have the right instrument?

Another aspiration – the violins should all have short bass bars, low bridges, un-raked necks etc. etc. but let’s be practical. We hope those playing in the baroque band will move in that direction: perhaps the first thing is to buy a baroque bow. Then later put on gut strings … and we do have instruments in baroque set-up for loan.

One non-negotiable is that pitch is A = 415.

For the future.

Broadly speaking I would hope to put on 4 types of band meetings. One takes care of itself, preparation for a major work, the next being the B minor mass (wow). Another will be a straightforward training day, tackling less demanding music from say the latter years of the 17th century, to which viols and woodwind would be particularly welcome. Then I would propose a concerto day: who will volunteer something by Vivaldi? – or maybe something a little less virtuosic – and remember there is a splendid repertoire of concerti grossi. And finally a (solo) singers’ day, performing masques, Vauxhall songs, who knows – why not Dido and Aeneas? Perhaps later on we could find some dancers (and watch them fall over as we screw the rhythms!).

HELP!

The band cannot work without musicians and again to be straightforward the core has to be violins. To give a full sound I feel that we need at least six violins and more would be super. Viol players willing to play alto parts and tenor too in 5 part pieces would be very welcome. Recorders and oboes happy to double violin parts likewise. And of course we love violas cellos and double basses.

So PLEASE support your band whenever you can: give it priority so that it succeeds and is fun for all of us. And PLEASE let me have whatever feedback and comments you may have. And tell me what you want to play! (Preferably with a source for the sheet music.)

Alan Morris
Baroque Band Co-ordinator.