…is finished…sort of. As with all books, you don’t ever actually finish – you just get to a point where it seems OK to stop. Neil Sorrell and I have finally got there and it’s on its way to Cambridge University Press and we now await editorial fall-out from some of the fireworks we may have set off, and a publication date.
The Plainsong & Medieval Music Society symposium
I gave a paper entitled ‘Finding a Voice: the medieval singer in the 21st Century’ at the Birmingham University PMMS symposium hosted by Mary O’Neill. I was focusing on the early 13th century repertoire that Jan Walters and I did in Braunschweig last season, so to get an idea of the difficulty of being anywhere near right when you perform music from 800 years ago I played an old demo of my blues band in 1964, then fast-forwarded the conference to 2811 and tried to reconstruct the song from the scrap of paper on which I’d written the words and chords… distressing some German musicologists in the process (and they weren’t even alive in 1964). But I think it made the point – that worrying over the niceties of pronunciation, syllable counts, mode and the like are as nothing when you have no idea what the singers actually sounded like. After all, music is for listening to, and it doesn’t really matter what it looks like.
The Sound & the Fury
We recorded five new masses at Karthause Mauerbach (2 by Caron and 2 by de Prioris – who was new to me – and one by Pierre de la Rue). These sessions are always inspirational (though sometimes a bit awkward, with our wonderful resident musicologist sitting in like a member of the politburo representing the dead composers). We also did the usual live broadcast – this time preceded by a spontaneous performance of ‘Flow my Tears’ with Evangelina Mascardi.
The two of us were caught by Bernhard Trebuch having a quick run-through in the corridor 2 minutes before we went on air.
Constant Penelope & Syd Barrett: unlikely contemporaries…
David Sloan played the legendary Gentle Power single at his daughter’s wedding (having thoughtfully rejected the idea of asking us to do it live…), and we hear that the album Circus is in real danger of being re-released. Sixties freak beat (as it’s apparently called now) is commercially viable in a way that it obviously wasn’t in the sixties. There won’t be any reunion tours though since we only get together when one of us dies, and hopefully that won’t be for a while yet. Cambridge memories came flooding back with the new Syd Barrett book by Rob Chapman. I didn’t know the Floyd members, though my wife Penny was at Cambridge Art School (the famous Tech) with Syd Barrett and actually introduced me to the then unknown Dave Gilmour whom we encountered on our way to the Arts Theatre for one of my very rare opera gigs. Syd Barrett: a Very Irregular Head mentions Syd and Dave swapping Chuck Berry licks in the Cambridge Tech canteen, which is exactly what Penny remembers (the Chuck Berry bit, that is) and which none of the other Floyd histories mention). ‘Memphis Tennessee’ was a favourite, apparently. Penny’s folio contains at least one fascinating sketch of an arty guitarist but we don’t think it’s Syd, sadly. This is one, though, is unmistakably the Barrett head:
When I taught at the University of York several of my postgrad students were Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd fans, but unfortunately none of them wanted to do a PhD in Prog Rock.
Now that the history book is finished I have time to update the tenorography for the Yale tenor book web page. Very sad to hear of the death of Robert Tear, who was a choral scholar at King’s Cambridge when I was a treble there. It was hearing him (and fellow tenor Brian Head) sing day after day that convinced lots of us that we’d be tenors when we grew up. Robert Ponsonby’s Guardian obit perfectly captures the man.
Videos with Harp
Back in January Jan Walters came up to York and Mick Lynch filmed the two of us in St Denys church (which has some of the oldest and finest stained glass in the country). It was very cold and one of the cameras packed up, but Mick did a great job, aided by Ambrose Field as sound man. Jan did a solo Cantiga and we did spontaneous performances of an anonymous Minnelied and song by the troubadour Bernhard de Ventadorn. There’s clip from our 2009 Braunschweig performance here, but the acoustic was a bit much for one singer and a tiny harp.
April Diary/site updates
I will be updating the other pages when I have a minute. There have been interesting developments in my ECM vihuela project and all sorts of things are bubbling away for later in the year. There are two interesting projects this month. The practical experimental sessions for the SouthamptonUniversity Conductus Project finally start. Chris O’Gorman and I will begin looking at facsimiles and finding out how to declaim 13th century Latin, and we’ll be joined for some of the sessions by Rogers Covey-Crump. Ambrose Field and I will be be doing an interview down the line for RTE Lyric FM’s The John Kelly Ensemble on Thursday 14th April ahead of our gig on the 16th at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork. The interview goes out on the 15th in the afternoon. This is an exciting new venue – a converted and restored church – and it’ll be the Opening Weekend. Tickets are free and expected to be in short supply, so grab one while you can.
Much of May will be spent exploring France, Italy and Germany, ending up with PhD viva-ing in Gothenborg and a conference on the Tenor in Schwerte. That’s followed in rapid succession by coaching the vocal ensemble Versio in Helsinki and returning to chair the ensemble contest at the Tampere International Vocal Festival.
There’s an internet radio festival of the music of Gavin Bryars on the New York based radio station Q2 from April 14 to April 20.