Sing as though the sun is beating down on the back of your neck…

Another excellent workshop on Saturday with the irrepressible Richard Wilberforce guiding us through some Spanish Renaissance vocal Villancicos. The manuscript from which these delights were taken is the Cancionera di Upsala. Any relief that we didn’t have to sing Swedish was quickly swamped by the realisation that summer holiday Spanish wasn’t a lot of help! However, although Richard spent some time going over rough pronounciation (more to get some sense of style and some consistency), he was much more concerned with bringing out the beauty of the music.
The Villancicos are a mixed lot; some sweetly longing for the lover who never turns up, much praise of the Virgin Mary, and in one case a stern warning against becoming a cuckold! All share a definite sense of the strong tune (usually from a popular song) and often a chorus with a strong beat crying out for a backing group of percussion and plucked strings. We were encouraged to sing keeping in mind “the sun beating on the back of our necks and the colour of red tomato that you only get in a very hot climate”.

Looking forward; Heironymus Praetorius in Loughborough (June) and French music for the Baroque band in Warwick (July).

M Ashley retirement J SpencerA sad day at the AGM as we bade farewell to our retiring Chairman Mike Ashley, who has stepped down after 3 years in the Chair preceded by 9 years as Treasurer. Heather Holt will take on the role as Acting Chair. David Yates also retired from the role of Secretary after several years. Two new Committee members were elected. Details will be in the minutes which will be circulated to members as usual.

How to make your brain ache while your heart melts

You’ve guessed it: sing Medieval music. A good turnout of around 50 singers enjoyed a fantastic workshop with Andrew Kirkman, bringing to life the delights of Josquin des Prez, Ockeghem, Dufay and Lionel Power.

This is tricky stuff: not written for our standard SATB choirs at all, and containing harmonies and rhythms that we don’t come across in the more familiar territory of later centuries. Andrew Kirkman’s approach was that we still needed to think of it as any other music and bring out the beauty of the lines rather than worrying too much about e.g. where the text underlay was “meant” to go.

The result was a day of fierce concentration and, in those heady moments when it all came together, heavenly music. Andrew expressed his appreciation for the high standard of MEMF sight-reading, although many of us were battling against some very non-standard ranges! It’s all a matter of having a go. Sight-reading/singing is the same as most musical skills in that it needs practising and a bit of risk-taking.

So if you fancy having a go at some more lesser-known repertoire, the next MEMF workshop is Monteverdi, The Sacred Dramatist. See the Events Diary for details.

 

A Christmas Feast For The Musical Soul

A good turnout for the (slightly experimental) Messiah workshop with Steve Davis on 5th December. We had quite a well balanced chorus and band, complete with 2 trumpets and 2 oboes plus our Chairman on the theorbo adding colour. A longer review will appear in the next Newsletter.

Although this is a familiar work to most, there are still a few of us who rarely get the chance to sing it. Steve Davis took us through the most popular choruses but also a selection of the lesser known items for variety. It’s just such lovely, well-crafted music to sing and play, so descriptive.  Steve was an energetic and encouraging conductor.

The festive energy was enhanced by a break for mulled fruit punch and mince pies before a final run through.

I’m sure the attendees will agree this was a great start to the Christmas season. If you have suggestions for future, similar events, do let the committee know!

Looking back and forward

The Kerll workshop was an excellent day. David Hatcher is a superb tutor who knows just how much to rehearse without becoming tedious and can get the best out of singers and players alike. The music is quite complex and was apparently much studied – and copied – by Bach and Handel. We had to work hard, but it was all very rewarding.

We have a break for the summer, but look forward to Will Dawes of Stile Antico introducing us to music by Giaches de Wert on September 19th.

The Russian Baroque experience on 28th September

It was an absolute privilege to be part of the group of singers assembled at St Nicholas Church in Warwick to be led by such an inspiring tutor. He knew exactly how to structure the day, beginning with simple yet heavenly music so that we could experience singing in Russian, then each new piece set new challenges, the previous ones having laid down the essentials of singing in this unfamiliar language. There was just the right amount of singing interspersed with interesting stories of life in the Russia of Catherine the Great. There was just the right amount of sitting and standing and the music he selected for us was just unbelievably sublime, a good mix of homophonic and contrapuntal textures.

I am so very glad that I attended. That workshop and Peter’s CD have opened up a whole new world of music for me that I had previously not experienced. Let’s hope he comes again to inspire us.

Susan Francis

Peter Leech was masterly. He handed out a wealth of music, assured us that singing in Russian wasn’t all that difficult and managed to sing tenor, conduct and play the piano simultaneously! His enthusiasm was infectious and his praise generous. I found the pieces themselves very interesting, musically and historically. We were treated to humorous anecdotes and relevant developmental facts from someone manifestly an expert in his field. The final rendition of the pieces we had been studying was quite stirring. I heard a few murmurings that the attendance was low (about 30, I think), but I don’t think the workshop suffered from that. I certainly enjoyed it and am considering attending the Handel and Purcell workshop in Birmingham on November 16th.
Chris Prior.

Summer Revels 2012

taborAs we assembled to start the afternoon workshop with Jeffrey Skidmore, the heavens opened once again, proving that moving the Revels to midsummer is no guarantee of better weather!   Of course, as soon as we started exploring the South American Baroque repertoire we could feel a hint of virtual sunshine even if the actual temperature stayed chilly for the time of year and we thought wistfully of the roaring fires that Middleton Hall staff kindly provide for Winter Revels.

The South American Baroque selection that Jeffrey had chosen allowed us to sample a variety of moods and languages from an area of music that he has studied extensively and continues to research for his group Ex Cathedra. With a balanced group of singers and instrumental group we tackled a lively celebration piece, a sweet invocation of the Virgin Mary, a solemn processional enlivened by discreet percussion, and others. Jeffrey Skidmore is not afraid to test out different combinations to enrich what are sometimes simple pieces, clearly written for local singers/congregation and band to learn by heart and no doubt play repeatedly during services, much as happens in some churches today.

After a satisfying workshop, the MEMF AGM took place. Welcome to two new Committee members, Meg Forgan and Jonathan Spencer. Farewell and heartfelt thanks to Jim Rowley (former Chairman) and Kate King-Smith  – both long-standing members who have made a huge contribution to MEMF. Minutes will be sent round as usual.

figures dancingThe traditional evening entertainment allowed MEMF members to share some of their favourite party pieces, and take part in madrigal singing and Playford dances. What a treat to leave at the end of the evening in almost daylight!

A full review will appear in the next Newsletter as usual.

Midlands Early Music Forum events in Winter 2011-12

Early musical instruments PraetoriusThe first outing for the Renaissance BIG Band on 26 November brought together a splendid selection of earlier instruments, a few singers and even a couple of drums. Kathleen Berg steered us rapidly through a programme of Susato dances, and the “In Dulci Jubilo” arrangements by Hieronymus and Michael Praetorius. This was also the first outing for MEMF’s new Roland electronic harpsichord/organ/fortepiano, purchased with the assistance of a generous gift from a benefactor. It is intended that the keyboard will be available both for use at workshops and also for loan to groups and individual MEMF members. More details on how this will work later.

The next Winter workshop is a treat for lovers of the earlier repertoire. David Hatcher will concentrate on Josquin and Lassus renditions of Praeter Rerum Seriem. This workshop on 21 January 2012 is for singers and renaissance-type instruments (A=440).

Our workshops are open to members of MEMF, members of other early music forums, and also to non-members and you don’t have to be a regular member of any choir or music group to come along (you do need to be able to sight-read to some extent).

We are also very happy to see members come along just to listen in to workshops in which they have an interest but can’t actively take part in – for example singers observing an instrumental workshop. Since we are often lucky enough to be working on music not readily accessible elsewhere, this can be a way to get to know some unusual repertoire even if it won’t be too polished! Members are only charged a fee for observing for certain events such as the forthcoming Master Classes with Philip Thorby.

See the Diary for events coming up. You can print off a booking form before each event to send in to the workshop coordinator.