:: coaching


Wednesday, January 11th, 2017


It was in my early years with the Hilliard Ensemble that I learned about coaching. The group ran its own summer school and had been asked to coach in mainland Europe, particularly in Finland and Germany. Our annual visits to Kangasniemi at the invitation of the Sibelius Academy – intense coaching sessions followed by traditional wood-smoke saunas and swimming in the lake – were the ultimate in combining business with pleasure. None of us had coached before, and it took a while for us to figure out how to do it. We were going through a huge change of approach to our own music making, moving away from the conventional leader/led string quartet model to a cooperative venture that would eventually revolutionise our ideas about how the music worked. We didn’t really know how we did it. It was an instinctive process – something we rarely talked about – and as we got more and more into it we rehearsed less and less, increasingly aware that no amount of rehearsal would reveal more than a fraction of the musical possibilities, some of which we would only discover in performance.  We enjoyed testing each others’ listening to the limit whenever we could, and on the Hilliard Live recordings in particular you can almost feel the risk-taking as we pushed the music into one-off new shapes (and that’s exactly how Officium worked). We were incredibly fortunate to work with a number of groups who would go on to become hugely successful – Singer Pur and Amarcord from Germany, Köyhät Ritarit and Lumen Valo from Finland and the Scandinavian Trio Mediaeval were just the tip of an enlightened ensemble iceberg.  When I came to edit the Cambridge Companion to Singing some years later the ensemble singing chapter wrote itself – I’d had several years to contemplate how we actually did it.

It was very simple. Once you realise that every note you sing is communicating information to the others, and that you are similarly receiving information from them, all you have to do is listen. The person with the moving part effectively has control at any given moment, and in almost any piece of renaissance music the lead will pass from part to part. You negotiate in real time. It’s easy until someone tells you it‘s difficult, and it enables you to perform the music differently each time. You don’t expect a definitive performance and you don’t count the beats  – the text provides the rhythm. It’s endlessly creative, and was a far cry from the dull discipline we’d been brought up with – aim for a rehearsal close to perfection and reproduce it in performance; mark the score to make sure you got it exactly right, do as the director tells you.  I haven’t marked anything in a score for years – if something works I’ll remember it, if it doesn’t I’ll try something else next time. In the bad old days we used to mark exactly how long the final chords were. Why on earth would you want them to be the same every time?  The art of successful coaching is really to persuade your students that it really is that simple, and that they already possess the tools to make it work. So much more rewarding all round than simply telling them what to do.

Red Byrd, the Sound and the Fury and the Dowland project worked in much the same way; for me it’s the only way to work (it’s been a very long time since I worked with anyone who wanted to tell me what to do…).  I still coach some amazing groups (most recently Nobiles and Sjaella from Germany)and I’d certainly never dream of telling them what to do. Even the young musicians who did my ensemble singing MA at York (invented by the singers who would later become Juice) were given complete freedom to explore their collective creative personae once they‘d grasped the secret of how musical communication works.  In time the less courageous tend to revert to something more conventional and predictable, but I can always recognise those who really got it: you can never tell what they’re going to do next.

Sound & Fury, 3 Medieval Tenors…

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013


Caron cover

Sound & Fury Caron review

Long review of the Caron box set in the US mag Fanfare (http://www.fanfaremag.com/content/view/52971/10262/). The reviewer comments on the fact that we don’t do concerts but just focus on recording. He then adds that we must do a great deal of rehearsal as such recordings would impossible without it. Hmmm…which just goes to show you can’t tell anything about the rehearsal quotient just by listening to the results. When we’re all competent sight readers and have been singing the same texts since childhood, and have literally decades of experience singing 15th/16th century polyphony what would rehearsal achieve? If anything we’re more in need of a reverse-engineered concept that would enable us to unlearn what we know all too well: risk-taking not reinforcement, negotiation on the hoof, not sanitized pre-planned effects. In practice, the S&F recordings are mostly not the first takes so the music does evolve during the recording process, but what evolves is the musical conversation we have with each other, not some over-reaching concept of how the music should go.

The obsession with rehearsal is basically a 20th century phenomenon. Perfection is a very Modernist concept and there’s not much evidence of anyone doing very much of it before Wagner. Coincidentally, I learned at the weekend that the King’s Singers do a two hour rehearsal before every concert. That must surely make it more likely that a performance will just sound like another version of the rehearsal.  I have fond memories of early Hilliard concerts with Jan Garbarek, where TV crews would sometimes ask to come and film us. We’d say no, and they’d say well let’s film the rehearsal then. We’d  tell them we didn’t rehearse but might sing a chord to test the acoustic and that would be it. They’d never believe us, and would be mightily exercised when we turned up, sang a chord and then went for a cup of tea while they removed the gear they’d spent hours setting up.

Rehearsal, if you must do it, is more like Qualifying or Practice in Formula 1: it’s about making sure everything works – it has nothing to do with the race itself, where if you’re not absolutely in the moment you might lose everything.

The reviewer didn’t like the cover, incidentally, but he wouldn’t be the only one there. We’ve had some great feedback though, just people emailing to say how much these recordings mean to them – which is hugely gratifying.


Conductus 2…3 Medieval Tenors

Bernhard Jung 0420 resized

Hyperion will release the second volume in the first week of December, for anyone looking for an antidote to Christmas recordings. We’re now planning for the 2015 season, by which time all three CDs will be out and we’ll have a huge repertoire to choose from. We’ve also been debating whether or not to give ourselves a name. The recordings are Conductus 1, 2 & 3, and we refer to the whole process as the Conductus project (the full name of the research project that the live concept has been developed from is the rather cumbersome Cantum pucriorum invenire: finding a finer song). From its initial focus on recording the two-tenor repertoire the project is gradually morphing into a three-tenor performance platform, a process which will be complete when Rogers Covey-Crump becomes more available from the end of next year. We plan to focus specifically on the extraordinary Conductus repertoire for the foreseeable future but may eventually diversify into slightly earlier or later music (or possibly something slightly more radical one day). The term Conductus isn’t (yet) on everyone’s lips, so we’ve started to use the sub-title ‘three medieval tenors’ to give more of an idea of what we’re about. For the record, we do rehearse this music – but that’s because we read from facsimiles as far as possible and they not only take a bit of figuring out but the notation actually shapes the music. But as the pieces become more familiar we rehearse them less, so we can reinvent them each time.


Ambrose Field in Rumania


It’s been a while since Ambrose and I worked together on Being Dufay, and I’m very much looking forward to his new commission for tenor and amplified strings to be premiered at the Jazz in Church Festival in Bucharest next April.Here’s a reminder of our Leipzig gig: http://vimeo.com/41348327


The Dowland Project

There’s been lots of press interest in the Night Sessions on the web, but relatively little in print media. I wonder if it’s that the new media appreciate the risk-taking, whereas the papers look at the date and consider it past its sell-by date (which, for some of it, was indeed a while ago). I’m still very proud of it, even though I sometimes can’t help thinking about what we might have achieved had it come out even four or five years ago.

Here’s a few recent samples from the blogosphere:






Coaching Swedish speaking Finns

I love coaching ensembles. It doesn’t matter if groups are newly-formed amateurs or experienced professionals – there’s always a creative conversation to be had. I had a great time in Helsinki at the weekend, though it was very weird to hear almost no Finnish as I was a guest of the oldest Swedish-speaking male voice choir.   They still have that mordant Finnish sense of humour though:

me: What’s this next piece about?

tenor: We sing it at parties.

bass: Yes, it’s a funeral song.

me: ?

bass: At midnight we turn the lights out, sing it and then carry on partying.


me (on seeing a poster saying FAN in big letters): Does this mean what I think it means?

tenor: Probably not.

me: We get a lot of Swedish TV cop shows in the UK…

tenor: Ah, well it probably does then.

me: How do you manage with just the one swear word?

tenor: We swear in Finnish.

Sadly, I got home to discover that my lovely A3 had been wrecked (together with the four cars parked next to it) by a builder’s van, so I’m entering a period of mourning while the insurers sort it out. The one crumb of comfort was that West Yorkshire Police and LV Insurance have been terrific – efficient and courteous all the way.



The end of one-to-one music teaching?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

I suppose I’ve done five or six years of one-to-one teaching all told – early in my career when like lots of aspiring performers I was glad of the money as well as interested in it for its own sake. Like most of us, I’m sure I passed on the pearls of wisdom that had come my way from those who’d taught me (what else could you do when that’s all you know?). Mostly I taught only sporadically, except for a year at the Akademie in Bremen where I tried to do a whole day once a month. The Aka’s policy, like most conservatoires, was to employ recognised performers to teach – with the usual problem that many of them weren’t there half the time. I eventually realised I couldn’t make the kind of commitment the job really needed, so when they offered me a full professorship I turned it down and I haven’t taught one-to-one singing since.

The one-to-one is a complex relationship. There’s a social dimension and a kind of  intimacy that doesn’t happen in any other teaching context. For some students this can be very valuable, though it often leads to a kind of teacher-dependency that only benefits the teacher. It was refreshing to read that the RNCM is considering alternatives. In purely pedagogical terms – in other words if you ignore the social chemistry – there are very few advantages in one-to-one that you wouldn’t get with one-to-two (or three or four). Until the mid-twentieth century class teaching in big musical institutions was common place (and in the 19th century it was the norm). You could still get an individual lesson, but it would be in public. This has all sorts of advantages – other students can learn from your learning, and you are inevitably learning aspects of public performance at the same time. And, of course, the teacher has to behave himself. I had a plan for the Vocal Studies MA at York that would have worked in a very similar way – I’d teach all the singers in public on the course like a kind of seminar, and any one-to-one would happen on a consultancy basis as and when necessary (ie not very often). Obviously, that was a non-starter then, though one of the positives from the present scandals is that institutions might consider more enterprising teaching regimes.

Rather than teach singing (which I believe to be a simple process, most of which can be taught in a very small number of lessons) I do a lot of ensemble coaching. This is very different – dynamic, interactive, a process of creative learning where singers discover things for themselves with each other rather than have me telling them what to do. I was asked in the coaching sessions for the Cambridge verse anthems conference at the weekend why I didn’t demonstrate. Demonstrating invites imitation, and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone else to do it like I do: much better to let them figure it out for themselves (and thanks to the brilliant guineapig singers, who, by and large, did).

Singing teaching could be like that too, but the drive to produce generic-sounding voices makes it all too easy for the student just to do as they’re told and absorb the magisterial wisdom on offer. There needs to be some creative thinking from students (who need to be more proactive), teachers (who need to be less possessive) and institutions (who just need to be a bit braver and less intimidated by their own past – and their singing teachers…).

Well, maybe one day…

Conferences, Concerts & Workshops

Sunday, February 24th, 2013


At the Chains of Gold event in Cambridge next weekend I’ll be doing a talk on Friday 1st March entitled Historical singing style: can it be done? What’s the point? followed by three verse anthem workshops the next day (with Bill Hunt and Fretwork). Conference registration is now closed but it’s still possible to attend the workshops.

I’ve now decided on a title for my Association of Teachers of Singing conference keynote in Bristol on July 19th; it’s called Singing interpreted: the silent language of historical pedagogy. More info when I’ve wriiten the abstract…


The next performance is on April 13th at the Cambridge Festival of the Voice in the Emmanual United Reform Church (a bit later than the music but a lovely acoustic). I’ll be doing a short talk first and the programme (with Mick Lynch’s film) will be similar to the one we did in the York Early Music Festival but with a couple of additions from the forthcoming CD. Chris and I will be doing a short performance also of new material (without film) at the PMMS conference in York on July 10th, and a more detailed exploration with Rogers Covey-Crump (and film) at the Cantum conference in Southampton on September 9th. That will be followed by our first full-length trio performance in Otterberg on September 22nd.

Aldeburgh residency

I had a bit of a fright when I saw that this seemed to be billed as Concerto Caldonia John Potter Singers but I think this is just a web cock up. My illustrious colleagues are billed in full here. Still no idea how this will work, though it will be fun if YouTube clips of previous CC Aldeburgh residencies are anything to go by. The concert is on Easter Saturday, and we’ll be joined by James Bowman (whom I haven’t seen since David Munrow days). I haven’t sung at Snape since sharing Handel’s L’Allegro with Peter Pears. He’d just been knighted and we weren’t sure if we could still call him just plain Peter. The concert was exciting: the conductor fell off the podium in the rehearsal and conducted the whole thing with one arm in a sling. Half a conductor…

Finland visits

My next Finland visits are April 27-29, June 4-8, September 13-16 and October 25-28, so if anyone wants any coaching while I’m there, let me know.

ECM  lute projects

Progress is being made on both the Josquin/Victoria edit and the proposal to record the Sting, John Paul Jones and Tony Banks songs (though there’s no sign yet of the Dowland Project Night Sessions). There’s a new lute songs page here, and Ariel, Jake and I will be doing some of the new material in Navarra in September.


Singing in the Rhine

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Schloss Engers

…or rather, very close to it. August ended with a fabulous coaching week at Schloss Engers (not far from Koblenz). Werner Schüßler and I were asked to work with four ensembles as part of the Vokal Stern events organised by the Kultursommer Rheinland-Pfalz. The plan (devised by Jens Kaiser) was to invite four of the most exciting young ensembles from Germany and Italy for an intensive week of concerts and workshops. Brilliantly organised by Willi Becker, assisted by the incredibly efficient Jens and Angelika Müller, it was one of the most impressive summer schools I’ve ever worked at. The music making was first class – if you haven’t heard of Sjaella, Nobiles, Schwesterhochfünf and Eos, you will one day. There was also wonderful hospitality at all the glorious churches we sang in – a very big thankyou to all involved. We’re planning to repeat it in July 2014, possibly inviting an English group or two. So if you think you might like to attend drop me a line via the message box on the Contact page.

Which reminds me:  it’s not too early to think about applying for the Tampere contest for vocal ensembles  –  June 5-9 next year. It’ll be another highlight in the acappella calendar.

Jana Jocif Dowland Project

The previous week the Dowland Project had a great gig in Radovljica (photo above courtesy of Jana Jocif) – despite the fact that I managed to miss the plane (wrong passport…) and had an attack of vertigo when I eventually got there. Huge thanks to Domen Marincic for his hospitality (it’s a wonderfully creative festival) and also to Janez Mavec for a great time at Lake Bled and for taking care of doctor appointments (and to the doctors station in Radovljica, whose staff were fantastic).  I gather I’ve been very lucky – some people are completely incapacitated for months on end, but I’m pretty well back to normal.

We’re working on a US West Coast DP tour in August next year, which could dovetail with a Canadian tour I’ve been asked to do with the Responsio Project (a new work by Peter Togni based on the Machaut Mass).

Voices & Vihuelas

Ariel Abramovich and I are working on a number of expanded projects that will involve Anna Maria Friman and Jacob Heringman. There are two basic programmes: a sacred one featuring a mass and motets by Morales, and a secular English and Spanish programme. The latter is called Amores Pasados, taking its title from the set of three pieces composed by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones for Red Byrd in 1987, rearranged for 2 vihuelas and Hardanger fiddle.  We’re delighted that Genesis keyboard player Tony Banks will also be setting some 16th century poetry for us, and both 20th/21st century composers wil be presented in the context of  16th century villancicos and lutesongs.



The first album is  now out (full details on the Hyperion site here or you can get it on Amazon here). The next recording is in January, and we will be introducing new music in our concerts in York (in July) and Southampton (September), ahead of the third recording session in the autumn.


S&F Caron

Sound & Fury

Several people have been in touch asking where they can get hold of physical copies of the Caron set (as opposed to downloads). These albums are on Bernhard Trebuch’s new label (not ORF) and distribution is still being organised. There’s a website under construction (http://www.frabernardo.com/) but in the meantime you can order copies (30 euros for the 3 CD set which includes digital copies of the music) at  office@frabernardo.com.

I’m now taking some time off, after a pretty frantic summer.

Biographical List of Tenors: the Update!

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012


It’s up and running at last. There are links from the Yale site to both the original Pdf and the Supplement here, and the two lists are themselves now linked. Thanks to Jamie Forrest at Yale for sorting it out. You can get straight there from here.

Inevitably, the Supplement is out of date, and there are bound to be omissions of people’s favourite tenors. At the moment I can’t see myself doing another update (this one took for ever, and I’m embarking on a new writing project over the winter) but I’ll keep any complaints/suggestions on file just in case I do return to it in the future. As always, many thanks to all those who contributed suggestions to both lists. If I’ve missed you off my acknowledgements lists, do let me know and please accept my apologies. It’s been a wonderful experience engaging with everybody (even those who got quite cross when they discovered I’d overlooked their main man).  The earliest work on the original ‘tenorography’ was done by my son Ned, then my unpaid research assistant at the University of York. In the meantime he’s produced his own book, so now we’re a two-author family.


August dates:

Dowland Project

The Dowland Project will be doing the final concert the Radovljica Festival on August 19th.  The concert will be taken by Radio Slovenia and we hope this may form the basis of a BBC programme about the group. The Radovljica programme will be a variation of those we did in Slovakia last month and there will be more Schubert…

Latest news on the next album from ECM is early 2013…


After that I’m doing a week’s coaching at Schloss Engers (Neuwied)  with some fantastic groups from Germany and Italy. There will be three concerts in the Rheinland-Pfalz area (it’s part of the Kutursommer) – details to follow.

Lute songs old and new…

Plans for next year are developing fast. There will be a Morales programme with Anna Maria Friman (soprano), Ariel Abramovich and Jacob  Heringman (vihuelas). This line-up will also be doing new pieces composed for us by living singer-songwriters and rock musicians, in the context of 16th entury music. Ariel and I will also be including prog-orientated pieces in our lutesong programmes – looking for parallels between Dowland and his contemporaries and modern singer-songwriters. More soon.

June concerts, worshops, recordings

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

[updated 11 July]


June 3 BBC Radio 3 (17.00): The Choir (discussing chant with Aled Jones)

The interview took place down the line from Radio York, with me sweltering in the tiny studio having run most of the way there. But great as always to talk to Aled Jones – and he’ll play tracks from Red Byrd and the Hilliard Ensemble among others.

June 4 Bratislava: Dowland Project at St Martin’s Cathedral (Convergence Festiva)

These two Slovakian gigs will feature our first forays into Schubert Lieder, following the experimental performance on BBC3’s Schubert Remix.  John Surman, Milos Valent and I are doing an interview at 11.00 at the Artforum bookshop if you want to come along and chat.

June 5 Kosice: Dowland Project at Premonštrátsky kostol (Convergence Festival)

DP Convergience

Is it possible to get closer to musical heaven than being on stage with Milos Valent, Jake Heringman and John Surman roaring away at full throttle? It’s like falling off a precipice and discovering you can fly. These were great gigs – and a big thankyou to Josef Luptak and his team for giving us the opportunity. The Schubert worked really well, and we’re going to try some more in Slovenia.  There’s some video of the Bratislava concert here, and an intervew (in Slovak) with Milos). There’s also a video and a bit of an interview with me (in English!) from our Prague concert last year (courtesy of The Times of India). Latest hint from ECM suggests the Night Sessions album will appear early next year…

June 7-11 Rhineland ensemble coaching sessions

This was a magical time too:  I had a wonderful time with Werner Schüssler’s two ensembles.  The youthful Vocal T and the multi-instrumental Four Reasons were a delight: creative and intelligent musicians who really understood how to collaborate.

June 14 Goldmark Gallery Uppingham: Gavin Bryars Ensemble

Programme to include Laude, Irish Madrigals and extracts from the Morrison Songbook.

This was very atmospheric – very intimate space and very high-powered audience. Lovely people – it makes such a difference when everyone appreciates that this is something more than just a job for us.

June 15 York: Workshop with Ensemble Norma (York)

Norma were really fired up after their success in the Leipzig competition. It was great to work with them (I still feel guilty about their not making the final at Tampere last time). They’re hugely versatile, and we had a very creative time. Keep an ear out – they write or arrange all their own stuff (some of which you can hear here).

June 17 : Alcalá de Henares  (Clásicos en Alcalá) : Dowland recital with Ariel Abramovich (lute)

Alcalá is the birthplace of Cervantes. As a coda to our Dowland recital we’ll perform Robert Johnson’s ‘Woods and Rocks and Mountains’ (thanks to  a bit of detective work by Robert White).  Thomas Shelton’s translation of Don Quixote was published in 1612, as was the play Cardenio which drew on it (and which may have been co-authored  by Shakespeare). The Johnson song is believed to have been composed for this production.

Ariel Abramovich and I have done a lot of Dowland over the last four years or so, but this must have been the most appropriate venue ever: the Corral de Comedias is an exquisite 17th century theatre, perfect for our Pilgrim’s Solace programme.  And it was great to do the Johnson ‘Don Quixote’ piece just yards from where Cervantes was born.

June 20-25 Vienna: Sound & Fury recordings

This will be an Ockeghemfest…, with multiple versions of the Missa Cuius Vis Toni.

Our last Ockeghem effort was greatly appreciated by Todd McComb. He seems particularly gratified by our musica ficta – for wich we have to thank Jaap van Bentham. The Cuius Vis Toni will be a field day for ficta...

See the next post above…

July 10 Harewood House:  Conductus Project concert and CD launch

A late night event in the medieval church in the grounds of Harewood House as part of the York Early Music Festival, this will be the first live concert following the research and recording sessions for Southampton University’s Cantum Pulcriorum Invenire project. It will be by candle light, and feature the first showing of a specially commissioned film by Michael Lynch.

We enjoyed this a lot, especially the gasps from the audience when Mick Lynch’s horses seemed to go for Chris O’Gorman’s head… Another very atmospheric gig (very efficiently organised by the York Early Music Festival team. For details of the CD see the Hyperion website.


Diary updates

Friday, March 16th, 2012


March 23  RNCM seminar, Manchester

This is the second of two for RNCM postgrads, and it will focus on Daniel Leech-Wilkinson’s ebook The Changing Sound of Music: Approaches to Studying Recorded Musical Performances

March 25  BBC Play Schubert for me

The original invitation for this was for the Dowland Project but getting the band together from four countries for one song wasn’t feasible, so Jacob Heringman and I are going to busk a ‘remix’  of ‘Pause’ from Die schöne Müllerin. It’ll be an interesting challenge, and if it works we may do extended versions in the DP gigs this summer in Slovakia (Bratislava, June 4; Kosice June 5) and Slovenia (Radovljica August 19). We were asked to do it live at 11.00, but that’s way past our bedtime so we’re recording it earlier in the day.

I’ve given up expecting ECM to tell us a release date for the DP Night Sessions. We’ve done three CDs in thirteen years so we’re used to waiting. But the new album is our most radical and innovative yet, so it should be well worth waiting for.

April 14 BBC Music Matters (interview with Neil Sorrell)


This will be an interview with Suzy Klein in London and us down the line in BBC Radio York, discussing issues in A History of Singing. It’s always a bit odd with two of you in a booth not talking to each other but to someone else who isn’t there, but we hope it will be entertaining (and possibly even informative). Neil and I are currently writing a blog post for CUP New York to coincide with the American publication next month.

April 26 Leipzig A Cappella Festival (Being Dufay)

Really looking forward to this one, and to catching up with old Leipzig friends. It’s been a while since we’ve done Being Dufay. This is a great festival, run by one of the legendary German a cappella ensembles Amarcord, whom I coached at a Hilliard Summer School in Cambridge many years ago.

April 27-8 Sibelius Academy (examining, coaching, seminars)

The Sibelius Academy in Helsinki has one of the most creative performance doctoral programmes in the world, and I’m delighted to be joining a team of examiners. I’ll also be doing a day of seminars and consultations on a range of subjects and  a day’s ensemble coaching. This is the first of three annual visits.

May 1 Vale of Glamorgan Festival (Gavin Bryars Ensemble)

This will be the first time Anna Maria Friman and I have performed together for some time. The programe will include two new Laude. The band will be touring the Baltic states in the autumn, doing Jesus Blood in a slimmed down version which will include Anna  playing the violin and I’ll get to play keyboards. You have been warned…

May 27 Melk Abbey: Vesper Colomani

This is part of the Barocktage Stift Melk. The programme is called Vesper Colomani and if I’ve understood it correctly will be me and and an actor alternating readings and chant connected with St Koloman, sometime spy, pilgrim and sad victim of mistaken identity whose much-travelled bones have rested at Melk for several hundred years.

In  June I’ll be in Slovakia with the Dowland Project, and have workshops in Germany and the UK as well as recordings in Austria with the Sound & the Fury. July will see the launch of the Hyperion Conductus Project at the York Early Music Festival. Details soon.


Wednesday, August 31st, 2011


It’s coming up to the first anniversary of my return to freelancing.  It’s also the anniversary of my first attempts at blogging (thankyou Ned for getting me started – I’m afraid my efforts are never going to match yours).

Made it!  I was very heartened by so many people  seeming to think I was doing the right thing. Only a few said  I was brave (a polite way of saying I was stupid) and it’s been a very exciting year.

I’ve been quite pleased that the academic/pedagogical side hasn’t disappeared altogether.  I still get asked to do keynote conference papers, and the doctoral examining has branched out into Europe (really interesting).  I’ve done lots of coaching and workshops from Scandinavia to Slovenia, and  I’ve encountered some really creative students wanting more than just one-to-one singing lessons. A bit like having postgrads but without all the bureaucracy.  It’s ideal really – I  get  to do the interesting stuff and none of the boring institutional bits. Can’t help feeling a little Schadenfreude thinking of my ex-colleagues about to start a new term…

I wonder if it’s actually possible to give yourself completely to a regular job or project and still keep the freshness (maybe the naivety) that attracted you to it in the first place.  Three of the most important things in my life have been Electric Phoenix, The Hilliard Ensemble and my university job. I loved and left them all, and for the same reasons:  once I’d got the hang of them and found myself unable to think in terms of permanent revolution any more I just couldn’t knuckle down and get on with it. I never did get to love big brother (though at York I came pretty close once or twice).  A very great friend of mine once said I couldn’t cope with success, but I think it’s more a case of just not wanting to  grow up. I’m actually very lucky to be able to earn a living as a permanent adolescent – like most of the performers I know, in fact.

It’s been liberating to be able to pursue my own projects, whether in performance, writing or teaching. It hasn’t always been easy – the ECM recording sessions were a bit of a shock to the system (my mistake, and it all turned out OK in the end), and CUP took a while to understand what we had in mind for the referencing system in the history book; and telling a conference in Germany that they should all change their singing teachers when one of them was Francisco Araiza was a bit daft. But on the whole I think I’ve got away with it. There’s been lots of interest in the tenor book, and I’ve corresponded (at length in some cases) with people all over the world who know much more about the topic than I do.   My friend Larry Josefovitz, for example  – I don’t think he would object to my calling him that even though we have never met – was able to guide me through the Jewish part of the singing history as a result of his having read the tenor book. Larry’s an Orthodox Jew, an American Zionist, and I’m a heathen with a secular European take on religion and the Arab/Israeli comflict, yet in metaphysical and musical matters we have a huge amount in common. Venn Diagrams again.

The gigs have been fantastic – whether sweltering in Seville with Ariel Abramovich, going to Tampere  for jury service and Being Dufay, or  busking with Gavin Bryars at Opera North’s Howard  Assembly Rooms.  I’ve also been inspired by some amazing music throughout the year. Not just by friends and colleagues but by musicians I’ve never met. At the top must be Gianluigi Trovesi, whose ECM recording Profumo di Violetta in some ways epitomises the permanent adolescent musical life. You can’t categorise his music: there’s not a trace of the old avant-garde or of post-modernism either – along with 70s Genesis, Satie or Percy Grainger  he probably wouldn’t cut it in contemporary academia.  We’re going to miss the CD format when it’s gone – just taking the album out of its sleeve is an adventure: the Sascha Kleis  cover (typical ECM – where does that water come from? Bergamo’s on a hill…),  the Roberto Masotti photos, and the touching liner note by Trovesi himself about the town bands that he grew up with in the northern Italian valleys. Then there’s the music – an exhuberant pillaging of Italian opera from Monteverdi to Mascagni. Has ‘Pur ti miro’ ever sounded more eloquent than as a flugelhorn and saxophone duet, or the windband arrangement of the Orfeo fanfare more riotous? He even makes you wish you could play the clarinet. And it all happens in a magical acoustic representation of  the cathedral piazza in Bergamo – where I’ve been so many times with family and friends (and I’m still waiting to be paid for a gig I did in the opera house two years ago).


The coming year is also full of excitements: three CDs to record between now and Christmas, and 2012 will see the release of the new Dowland Project album (actual date to be anounced at the end of September), the first Cantum release (July at the York Early Music Festival) and several more Sound & Fury CDs. On the publishing front,  CUP will launch the history of singing and two other Cambridge Histories that I’ve contributed chapters to (page proofs for the history book are due back at the Press at the beginning of October and it should be in the shops in February). Gigs and workshops continue to materialise, and I’ll even have time to start on a new book…



Tuesday, August 9th, 2011


I’ve just been a guest at the Stimmwercktage at Adlersberg near Regensburg. Stimmwerck is one of the most enterprising and creative acappella groups around, and each year they devote the first  weekend in August to one particular composer or manuscript. This year it was the Schalreuter Handschrift, a huge collection of 16th century motets and psalms, many by composers who are otherwise unknown or whose works only survive in this manuscript. The music was collected from the Protestant cantorate all over southern Germany at a time when the Protestants were seeking to create a functioning liturgical music which would rival that of the Catholic establishment. It’s extraordinarily rich stuff (some of the motets are over ten minutes long) – shades of Josquin but in a parallel universe.


Prosslbrau Adlersberg is in an idyllic spot on a hill just outside Regensburg. It’s essentially a church (wonderful acoustic) with  a large inn, the Prösslbräu  attached. Instead of the nunnery that the church supported, there is now a small brewery which has been in the Prössl family for five generations. It’s the perfect venue for a small festival – music and sustenance  straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were. In fact we shared our dressing room space with a horse and a goat, both of whom were very friendly. horse

As well as joining Stimmwerck for some stunning motets and doing the occasional lute version with Paul O’Dette, I was asked to give a workshop on singing renaissance music. It was bursting with people, and there were some very courageous and receptive singers. I talked for about half an hour first, beginning with the reasons why the modern singing of renaissance music is like it is, and contrasting it with instrumental practice. Early instrumentalists generally have a much closer relationship with actual history, having the benefit of a thriving community of practice with players and makers actually having to do research (as opposed to singers rarely being able to get round the singing teacher problem). I also talked about the real life of renaissance music – the actual use to which it was mostly put (as opposed to the surviving manuscripts which had relatively little use), and Paul O’Dette and I busked a version of one of the Schalreuter pieces. Using the original polyphony as source material for doing your own thing was standard 16th century practice; we did a different version in the evening concert and had the students trying to improve on the original too.  Sometimes workshop participants are bemused by my take on early music (they’ve usually been taught the difference between renaissance right and wrong) but times are definitely changing – and this was one of those wonderful occasions when you could see the lights going on  in people’s heads.

stimmwerckA big thankyou to the Stimmwerckers – Marcus, Klaus, Gerhard and Franz (seen here with yours truly, goat and horse).  It was a  privilege to be part of it.  Stimmwerck have many enthusiastic supporters of all ages, and there was a real sense of a musical community coming together to have a great time.    If anyone fancies rolling up next year, they’re doing music from the Trent Codices – some of the most amazing music ever written – so book early to be sure of a seat. Deutschland Radio are broadcasting some of this year’s music Sunday 21st at 7.00 if you’re near a computer.