EASTERN EARLY MUSIC FORUM
Tutored by Dr Peter Leech
S an EEMF novice, I have to say that, as my friends and I gathered at Rushmere village hall on a delightful spring Saturday, I had very little idea what to expect. The attraction for me personally was that I had sung almost no Charpentier, but as an enthusiastic chorister I welcomed the challenge of studying a work that was entirely new to me, and of escaping, if only for a few hours, the stresses of my over-busy twenty-first century life. I felt reasonably confident that, having performed baroque music before, I would soon be into the swing of it, as it were, and that I would in any case find somebody to help me through the harder bits.
FIRST mistake! My friend and I volunteered to be first altos, and what should we find but that the first alto part of the Mass, which contains many key entries, was to be sung by…my friend and I. No time to gulp even – Peter Leech, our workshop leader, after a short introduction to the day and the context in which the music would have been written and performed, fired the starting pistol and we were off. In that moment, beads of sweat broke out on my forehead and I began to taste a little of what it must have felt like to be in the front rank of the Light Brigade. That would have been challenging enough, but as a further aid to nervousness, we had to read our line of the score an octave down from the written notes in order to be able to sing in pitch. This presents no problem to a treble recorder player, of course – unless that treble recorder player happens to be me. (I write my treble recorder parts out in the alto clef. Don’t ask.)
PETER explained that the solo parts of the Mass, which we were all singing, might have been performed by opera singers, so I tried to get into the spirit of it by imagining myself in full Louis Quatorze regalia complete with feathered hat, periwig, knee breeches and – you get the picture. It didn’t really work. All I could think was that it must be very difficult to follow a score, by candlelight, if your eyes are further obscured by a mountain of wobbling feathers slipping down towards your nose. I gave it up, and instead concentrated on listening to Peter, who was bringing the atmosphere of 17th-century France very vividly to life for us, and whose energy never once seemed to flag, even when ours had to be restored by tea, chocolate biscuits and delicious ginger cake applied at fairly frequent intervals.
AFTER a slow pub lunch my party arrived back at the hall a few minutes late, and fully expecting to be ticked off for being naughty, but the sound we heard as we sneaked through the doors with muttered apologies blew me away. It seemed incredible that the twenty or thirty disparate individuals who had arrived in the morning had already been moulded into a choir that was making a rather splendid sound. By mid-afternoon break (ginger cake, mmm!) I felt as if I wanted to perform this piece to a paying audience – maybe not the same night, but definitely soon.
AS contrast to the main piece, we sight-read our way through a Requiem of the same period - I’m afraid I have completely forgotten if it was also by Charpentier, but apparently it might have been for an obscure monk – which came as a welcome relief to my friend and me, as the alto part was written at pitch. Simple pleasures.
ALTHOUGH it was hard work I feel very glad that I came on this workshop and definitely want to do another, soon. I met some old friends and hopefully some new ones, and we are all indebted to the energy, erudition and passion of Peter Leech who made the music, and the period, come so vividly to life for us.
MANY thanks also to Keith Briggs who had the terrific responsibility of organising the whole event, and who had worked so incredibly hard to bring it off. Last but not least, a big thank you to the provider of that ginger cake!
Extracted from EEMF Newsletter 65, June 2007