:: history of singing


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…


History of Singing/History of the Dowland Project

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

book cover

We must have written it because you can pre-order it on Amazon…It’s ridiculously expensive, but I imagine there’ll be an affordable paperback eventually.

We’re now into copy editing and indexing, the latter now a week ovedue. It’s a bit different from my first effort for CUP, where I was just left to get on with it. The Press’ production and marketing operation is impressively rigorous. Negotiating with a copy editor is a bit like working with a record producer – they represent the innocent  consumer (what lawyers call the vicious bystander…) and see/hear things that you yourself might never be aware of. I generally go with what the editor suggests if I possibly can, and so it is with producers – I very rarely listen to what I’ve recorded between the sound check and getting the first edit. If the producer’s happy, then I’m likely to be too. You have to trust them, and ultimately you have to let go.

Indexing is computerised so that electronic formats aren’t dependent on print pagination. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this  (and I’ve already managed to lose a whole day’s work, which was absolutely maddening);  it’s incredibly tedious until you’ve accumulated a sufficiently huge number of entries to make yourself seem quite clever, and even then you eventually lose the will to live. With Vocal Authority and the tenor book I was left to my own devices; mindful of how thin the VA one is I tried really hard with the tenor index but did it all by hand. I have to say that so far I’m not convinced by the  electronic indexing process – it’s very labour-intensive (there can be  a dozen keystrokes per entry in addition to the term itself). Because it’s electronic you  don’t have to wait for the page proofs (with the real page numbers), but this places a huge burden on authors, just to gain  a few weeks production time. If we could do it with the real page numbers it would take a fraction of the time.  It will have taken me about three weeks, as opposed to about a week if done in the old fashioned analogue way.

A History of the Dowland Project

The book is supposed to be in the warehouse  in January and in  the shops sometime after that, so it will roughly coincide with the new album from the Dowland Project. Not sure if this is good or bad (it’s entirely coincidental).  The DP album is also a history of a kind: it’s material that we didn’t manage to fit onto Romaria plus the ‘night sessions’ that followed Care Charming Sleep. More details later.  There should be live gigs to coincide with the new album, so watch this space.

Being Dufay

Thanks to Mick Lynch for this link to  John Schaefer’s WNYC podcast, in which he plays music by living composers who use renaissance models  – John’s usual imaginative mix including a couple of bits of BD and some nice Nico Muhly. There is a new bit of video from Tampere on the Being page, featuring an extract from Ambrose Field’s new piece.


Most of July is given over to sorting the book so I’m really looking forward to my next musical event, which is being a guest at the Stimmwercktage (near Regensburg) with Paul O’dette.  Details to follow in a bit, but the Stimmwerck site will give you an idea.