Post archive

Greenwich Early Music Festival and Exhibition, 15th November 2014.

I had the honour of accompanying Michael Muskett, co-author with his wife Doreen of the celebrated Hurdy-Gurdy method, at the Greenwich Early Music Exhibition. Quite a day...



A level accompanying.

On this day, I survived a 2 hour marathon of accompanying, mostly A level singers, at Helmsley. Both inspiring and exhausting. My pupil Richard W. played the 3 Brahm's Intermezzi Op.117 that we had been working on really quite well, I was proud of him, for both our sakes. My own personal little triumph was making a decent job of accompanying Dowland's 'Flow my tears' (Lachrimae) on the guitar: it felt really good.

Church Organist at Kirkbymoorside

I have just learned that I am to be appointed as Church Organist to All Saints Church Kirbymoorside. The organ there is quite a nice instrument, even though it is a 'unit organ' a.k.a. an 'extension organ'. I have already obtained some really beautiful sounds from the instrument so I am quite thrilled and excited about the whole thing, plus, the people are really welcoming and friendly.

Medieval Banquet


Played for a Medieval Banquet in York, in costume and playing hurdy-gurdies, bagpipes and, especially, the lute. The lute really saved the day, with a little discreet amplification it filled the Merchant Taylor's Hall with a beautiful atmosphere, even with my rather inadequate playing.



Just back from Brittany after 12 days staying with friends. Played a little vielle, Northumbrian Smallpipes, guitar and piano. Met and played some tunes with the larger than life bagpiper and bombarde player Jean Baron: a privilege. 

We visited Le mont St Michael early one morning before the worst of the tourist volume had begun; also, on another day, St Malo and its fortifications.
Zeb and Sam seemed to make a very good impression with their music.
A lovely holiday.


NORVIS 2011, a small triumph for the hurdy-gurdy.

I have just returned from Norvis 2011, a week of early music activities and workshops. 

Whilst there I had the opportunity to perform on the vielle (hurdy-gurdy) with my friend Susanna on viola da gamba. The instrument and repertoire were very warmly and enthusiastically received by a great many people, including several tutors. Many of them very kindly told me that they had had no idea that the instrument was capable of such refinement and of sounding so sweet. 
I have rarely felt better pleased


Ryedale Community Opera: A Pig's Tale


Let the annals record that having been asked to play piano for the 2 performances of this project, the music director on bringing me the score and seeing my hurdy-gurdies immediately asked if I would also play hurdy-gurdy for the overture, because...
The 'opera' is set in 14th century France and the overture is an orchestral 6/8 jig (trotto), drone based and mainly in G, so it has worked out very well, first performance last night. I am told that it is clearly audible in the mix. I am using the top octave up to D in order to cover the range of the tune and to avoid getting lost among the violins.
Playing the Neil Brook C/G lute-back, lots of compliments on the sound and appearance of the instrument, and lots of interest in its workings and design.


Organ for the Ryedale School Carol Service

I played for the Ryedale School Carol Service last night on the Helmsley Church's Harrison & Harrison organ. Great fun! I especially enjoyed playing the last verses with the descants 'going' and full organ. The feeling of musical power that one experiences from the powerful pedal notes is really quite extraordinary. I  played a Rawsthorne prelude on Hark the Herald to finish.

Tes Yeux and Bushes and Briars, Songs with vielle

Songs here:
    this was only the rehearsal, on the evening t was more in tune, or so I believe.

Summer 2010: Viola da Gamba; Vielle a roue; and France

Back home at last having driven c.2300 miles (3680km) !! Thank you to the Ford motor company for keeping me safe. I have had a good time but I didn't get in any walking, and that is a shame.

Taking and playing the viola da gamba was a success but I missed being able to play the vielle as much as I would have liked: annoyingly, it transpires, one cannot play two instruments simultaneously.

Our new French friends are delightful and I thank them for their kind hospitality.

The folding stool that I have been regularly benefiting from and upon which I have received a great many compliments is widely available on Ebay at this time search for 'folding black portable wooden stool'

Viola da Gamba: the connoiseur's choice for bass line instrument.

I began to learn how to play the Viola da Gamba today. What a wonderful instrument! the lower bass notes are so rich and the notes, especially the higher ones ring out and resonate for ages. I think that I can tell already that it will be a 'mistress' requiring daily courtship in order to be sure of making progress: like the violin. For anyone completely in the dark the Viola da Gamba is a large cello-like instrument, also played with a bow, but having tied gut-frets for melodic intonation and 6, or 7, strings. I have chosen to attempt it because of the numerous sonatas and suites for vielle that really require it: very probably in preference to the harpsichord. Great fun !!!

Lute Lesson or The Road into the Hills.

I went for a lute lesson this week in Richmond, quite a delightful spot however....

  • at the Thirsk A1 junction I had to drive 6 miles south to Boroughbridge for a diversion and the, of course, back again i.e. 12 extra miles.
  • major roadworks most of the way.
  • accident therefore huge traffic jam on other carriage-way.
  • major road works in Catterick, 20 minutes to go 1/2 a mile.
  • being forewarned, after my lesson I decided to drive north to the Scotch Corner roundabout for the A1
  • witnessed a traffic jam on the other side of the road all the way from Richmond to Scotch corner.
  • access to the A1 southbound blocked at Scotch Corner.
  • twice around the roundabout decided to try for Northallerton on back roads
  • good decision, but many other people were trying it too
  • huge traffic jams going into Northallerton, managed to bounce of them and head off back north on the A19
  • turned off into the wild hills towards Osmotherly then Hawnby then Helmsley then Home, hallelujah.
  • very beautiful up there by the way, but don't break down unless you want a long walk.


Singing and Playing

This last Friday night I had been asked to play something for an 'acoustic' music night at a local village hall. I didn't think that the audience would be likely to appreciate French baroque music so instead I prepared some songs. These were: 'Polly Oliver', taken from the Kidson book of Folk Songs 1891 and collected from a local man at Newton-Dale just up above Pickering; 'Won't You Buy My Pretty Flowers' by G.W.Persley, a sentimental Victorian era song taken from an old Smallwood Piano Tutor; and both together, 'Bushes and Briars' and 'A Farmer's Son So Sweet' from Vaughan-Willams and Cecil Sharp respectively.

In each case I played an independent counter melody accompaniment to the song on the hurdy-gurdy. I thought that the result was very beautiful though I should have practised the songs more thoroughly as it was hard to read my music and words under the light and with a microphone in the way. There was some really earnest appreciation from the audience and this was perfectly satisfactory as I could not expect people used to the usual Americanised beat music to understand or fully appreciate the music that I was offering.


I am rubbish at this blog business.

Anyway, just to say that I am working on giving a little lute demonstration to a class of children at the school where I work. Thank goodness that they will have no REAL lute player to compare me with; had to transcribe 'Weep you no more, sad fountains' from a piano and voice song in Em to a lute and voice song in Dm for one of the pupils to sing: it only took three hours and I have to learn to play it now, or change it a bit. Notwithstanding the above 'moan' I am really looking forward to it.

Did it, no one died. Great hilarity reading from the remarks of Besardo 1610 regarding how to practice etc. The photographs were very helpful, as was showing the youngsters 16th century tablature. I shall endeavour to improve my playing but even that felt acceptably effective.

Listening to music: choices and relevancy.

After 34 years of enthusiasm for music I have amassed a great many recordings of both classical and rock music, although my appetite for rock music has already diminished with the years.

I was thinking about the Bach solo violin sonatas and partitias and how they are among the most beautiful and profound music that I have ever heard: then I was thinking that I could make quite a long list of music of equal value and quality: then I was pondering why it is that I so rarely listen to it these days even though I listen to 'classical' music a lot.

The answer that I feel to be true is that my choices have become about relevancy rather than simple personal gratification. I listen to vielle music because I play the vielle; I listen to lute music because I am trying to learn to play the lute. The situation is interesting because I seek the same nourishment from vielle music written by barely third-rate composers that I would have previously sought for in a Bach cello suite, for example: and oddly, I often find it there.

Another factor that I have recognised is that now that youthful personal ambition is a memory I find virtuosity for its own sake rather childish and even repugnant. I find myself preferring simpler more attainable musical communions that are at home amongst my friends and acquaintances:feeling to me like real music amongst real people. Do not misunderstand me though, I am as content as anyone to be awed by genius and praise it, in its moment I will love it, but I WILL leave it because it no longer has a real home in MY heart.

In Memoriam: Uncle Walter 31/1/2022

I would like to say a few words about my uncle Walt.

My view of uncle Walter was mostly formed while I was a child. I have always felt that he was by his very existence almost a work of art. I am full of admiration that he maintained a good figure almost his entire life and dressed with style: even out in the fields at hay-time.

I remember his prodigious spitting, especially its dramatic effect when aimed at an open fire, when I describe him I find that it is almost the first thing that I speak of, I treasure the memory of it; I remember his loud, gloriously unabashed, singing of Methodist hymns and my mother's futile attempts to quieten him; I remember his way of saying the most ridiculous things and defeating any protest with a huge, grimacing, gum-revealing smile that was triumphantly whipped out with the assurance of someone playing the 'ace of trumps'; and although I never shared his patterns of speech I remember and always loved the entirely unconscious beauty of his North-Yorkshire dialect, especially when I was comforted by having no idea what he was talking about.

I saw him as a simple hard-working man and if we may wish him an eternal future then I wish him a nice patch of garden to work, a hutch for some ferrets and even possibly a sheepdog or two. These pictures don't do him justice, not least because he was so often singing.


Philosophical thoughts.

I wonder, are we necessarily cleverer or more sophisticated than people from previous centuries. I think we may unconsciously hold a deep seated assumption that we are. But what if we are actually duller and less acute: would we even know? We are undoubtedly adept with the use of modern technology but this may make us less acute, rather than the contrary. It is far too easy to imagine oneself superior to someone now 'safely' dead and unable to defend his/her views and position. Is it possible that we may be entirely unaware of our own limitations and arrogance.

In my head this next point is intuitively linked to the last one but I am not quite sure exactly why: not yet.

I was educated as a music student to believe that modern classical music is following a continuing path of development and that any problem (such as the perceived lack of public interest) is ONLY that we just don't 'get it', that we don't understand it yet: but that future generations will. I have come to believe that this idea, as much as it may truly exist, may be false.!

I believe that the glory days of Classical music may have passed; I feel that there is no logical reason to believe that the processes that caused and allowed the flowering of genius into what we call 'classical music' from the 12th to the 19th +/- centuries are necessarily perpetual. I believe that the situation is more like the discovery of a gold mine and that sadly the treasure that we seek is all but gone, save for the occasional discovery of a small but wonderful untapped 'vein'. To change the metaphor, once they reached California, they (the wagons) could go no further west. Although possibility and invention ARE infinite, human experience (psychological/experience) is not. It is still, in essence, a journey through birth, childhood, love, work, parenthood, age and death: and these cliché concepts effectively limit our common experience. I believe that the 'glory days' were possible because of a conjunction of forces, social, scientific/technical, economic, spiritual and psychological. I believe that 'cutting edge' modern 'classical' music is often forced to explore ever-darker aspects of human emotion/psychology as it aspires towards the pretensions of originality and that consequently fewer and fewer 'normal' people are able truthfully to tolerate it. I believe that we have always had genius amongst us but that these days they find themselves writing musical shows and film music i.e. effectively retrospective genres: I would quote as examples Stephen Sondheim and the score for Sweeney Todd and film composers like John Williams and Hans Zimmer. Personally I can not really listen to film music AS classical music because I find its lack of 'directed contiguous musical argument' annoying: but that is another issue. 

One reserves the right to change one's mind about all or any of this.


Bouin's choice of pieces for his method.

I am keen to increase the number of tracks on the jukebox and with that in mind found myself playing through some attractive French folk tunes intended as examples of standard folk style, but then I had a better idea: I thought that I could pick a few nice tunes from out of the Bouin method of 1761. This is proving difficult. The pieces seem neither baroque in any recognisable sense, other than their ornaments, nor popular in the way that the tunes in Corrette can be felt to be. One has the sensation of 'panning for gold': you play through twenty or so tunes and one or two don't sound too bad.
Except for the inclusion of the beautiful Les Bergeries there does not seem to be another quality baroque piece in the entire book. Perhaps further analysis of the pieces might suggest some possibilities regarding the sort of pupils that he was working with and for whom the method was intended.
Meanwhile, right now, I have to work on playing the piano reduction of the orchestral accompaniment to Strauss's Horn Concerto, first movement only thank goodness,  for tomorrow night. Rather fun, or to put it another way, good grief!

Back to School

Started back teaching today after the Christmas break: it felt good.

3 Heavenly days.

So, I am very new to this blogging business. Just after
Christmas 28-30th December my friend C and I spent
three heavenly days playing through Baroque music: bad
colds notwithstanding. I was still so ill that it is almost
only now in retrospect that I appreciate the beauty of it.
The music that we played through was: Naudot 3rd suite
from the Babioles; Dupuits second suite of Amusement
en Duo; Baton 1st suite, op1; Corrette 2 suites for Vielle
+ harpsichord; and Baton's 2nd and 3rd suites from op.1.
I repeat, we had three days, and some of the playing,
had anyone heard it, was really beautiful. We even did
some hand-bell ringing together: perfick!

Corrette Organ Noels.

We have quite a lot of snow. It started to become serious
last Thursday and more fell Saturday evening. In
consequence I was compelled to hike down to church,
aided by walking poles, for the 10.30am service. I am
including this information here because other than hymns
the music that I chose to play were several of the Noels
by Michel Corrette
who was a successful organist in
Paris. Michel Corrette, of course, who wrote the famous
La Belle Vielleuse
. Some of these pieces are undeniably
beautiful and I find it moving that my meeting with
Corrette through the Hurdy-Gurdy has given him, in me,
a new advocate for his organ music. I offer as evidence
track #4 on the jukebox where I have recorded the organ
Noel 'Quoy ma voisine es-tu' which is the third tune
from the 4th Suite of Noels (1753).

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