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FW: Ideas for leading a period musicians' group

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  • Barbara Krege
    I thought this was very interesting. Jayne Barber al-Barran ... From: CalontirDance@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Carol O Connell Sent: Mon 4/13/2009 3:48 PM
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 14, 2009
      FW: Ideas for leading a period musicians' group

      I thought this was very interesting.

      Jayne Barber


      -----Original Message-----
      From: CalontirDance@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Carol O'Connell
      Sent: Mon 4/13/2009 3:48 PM
      To: CalontirDance@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: Re: [CalontirDance] Outline from Orchestration Class

      Thanks, Christian! And happy belated birthday!

      On Sun, Apr 12, 2009 at 11:48 PM, Christopher Mortika

      > Last weekend, at the Bellwode event, I presented a lecture on
      > "Orchestration under Fire".  The first half hour described a
      > hypothetical group of musicians who answer a call to be a local music
      > group, as a basis for a discussion of various facets of local music
      > group dynamics.  The second half hour addressed organizing musicians
      > at events.
      > I had many more people sitting in on the lecture than I had prepared
      > handouts, and some people asked me to post the outline here.  With
      > some emendation and explanation, here's what I talked about:
      > The hypothetical performers in question are an autoharp player, a
      > 'cellist, her 15-year-old sister who plays viola, three people with
      > soprano recorders --one of whom is a novice, another of whom really
      > loves Celtic music--  and a trombone player.  (Honestly, when I first
      > started a music group in the SCA, the collection of people who
      > gathered were just about as motley!)
      > The goal of the discussion is to provide guidance in how to run a
      > standing musical ensemble in a volunteer organization.
      > Our first question: Who's allowed in?
      > 1) My experience has directed me to allowing people to join a group
      > whether or not they have appropriate or period instruments.  If
      > someone can play a saxophone or beat out chord-riffs on a guitar,
      > welcome them and let them know that there are Renaissance analogues
      > for their instruments.  But first, find something that they can do, to
      > their satisfaction.
      > In particular, I think it's silly for me to shake my Yamaha plastic
      > Baroque recorder at somebody else and say that their instrument isn't
      > period.
      > A more serious issue might be instruments that are beyond your skill
      > at orchestration.  For example, in our hypothetical ensemble, the
      > autoharp player is going to need somebody to write out chords; the
      > violist is probably going to need music written in that bizarre "alto
      > clef" notation, and the trombone is likely to be louder than all the
      > rest of the ensemble combined.  Consider this your opportunity to
      > learn about chord theory, alto clef, and mutes for brass instruments.
      > Don't let this overwhelm you.  One good resource is "The Essential
      > Dictionary of Orchestration", ISBN 0-7390-0053-5, published by Alfred
      > Publishing Co.  It's designed to help composers write for different
      > instruments, but it's great for arrangers, too, and that's essentially
      > what you've become.  Another good resource is the other members of
      > your ensemble.  We'll discuss this later under the subject of
      > leadership, but for now, just bear in mind that the group needs to
      > figure out how to work all these instruments into a coherent ensemble;
      > you don't have to do it alone.
      > 2) I've also been happy to include people who have, initially, limited
      > musical skills.  We've all be beginners, and there's a lot of music,
      > authentic to our period, interesting to play, attainable by people
      > with modest skills, and commercially available.  I like the advice,
      > "If you think you can judge someone else's level of ability, then you
      > bear responsibility for finding them something within that level that
      > they can do to be successful."
      > A good source for playable, simple music is a music education company,
      > Sweet Pipes.  I recommend their titles "Songs and Dances of Olde
      > England", "Renaissance Time", and "Piper's Fancy".  I'll also point to
      > the SCA dance arrangements by  Lady Phaedria d'Aurillac (Kristina
      > Pereyra) http://sca.uwaterloo.ca/~praetzel/phaedria.html<http://sca.uwaterloo.ca/%7Epraetzel/phaedria.html>and Mistress
      > Arianna of Wynnthrope (Karen Kasper) http://sca.uwaterloo.ca/Arianna/.
      >  Most of their arrangements have a very simple 2nd-soprano line,
      > intended to be practical for beginners.
      > Limited musical skills can also be addressed by giving people a chance
      > to practice music before rehearsals.  This is a judgement call; some
      > people think that an ability to sight-read music is an essential skill
      > for an SCA musician, and require it of anyone who joins their group.
      > That's not my position: if a new musician needs to take music home and
      > "woodshed" it for a week before he's comfortable playing the pieces in
      > a group, then I think it's my job to allow for that.
      > One other note: I've found it useful to implement the following
      > custom, which some people have taken to calling "Christian's Rule": if
      > you're trying your best, you aren't allowed to apologize.  Everybody
      > flubs notes and rhythms; sometimes this stuff is hard.  Do your best,
      > and don't apologize for it. (On the other hand, if you haven't
      > practiced, and you're not as familiar with the pieces as you should
      > be, then perhaps an apology would be in order.  But only one.)
      > 3) On the other hand, I *have* refused to seat people in a local music
      > group, based on their levels of maturity (or professionalism, if you
      > like) .  The group I founded in the Twin cities, named the "Warwick
      > Consort," was built on an expectation that everybody would actually
      > practice and improve from one rehearsal to the next.  If someone asked
      > to join, but was interested in just treating the rehearsals as a
      > recreational activity, we recommended other performance opportunities
      > that were closer to that expectation.  (For example, we made sure to
      > come to weekly Baronial meetings and toodle in a corner, welcoming any
      > who would join us.)
      > I think this extends to other personality issues.  The Warwick Consort
      > gelled as a group of friends who trust one another, and there have
      > been people who insisted on joining but whom we felt would bring
      > unwanted drama or a lower level of trust to the group.  So we
      > declined. (But we had a certain freedom in doing this.  See the
      > discussion on "Naming the Group" below.)
      > Second question: What are the ensemble's goals?
      > 1)  It helps to start an ensemble with an expected performance with a
      > due date.  "We're going to enter Kingdom A&S".  "We're going to play
      > background music at feast for the upcoming Coeur d'Ennui event."
      > "We're going to sing two madrigals before court at Coronation."  It
      > helps focus people's attention. At least for me, I don't want to have
      > a rehearsal that's mostly people just chatting or filling each other
      > in on current events.  A looming deadline is an excellent means to
      > focus the mind.
      > What kind of performance venues are available in the SCA?  Honestly, I
      > would avoid spotlight performances at feasts.  People are there to eat
      > and talk with their friends, and asking everybody to shut up and
      > listen to a performance is an imposition on a captive audience.
      > (There are ways of minimizing the imposition, and if you're smokin'
      > hot, people will consider it worthwhile, but it's a risky sell for an
      > up-and-coming ensemble, and if people near you *don't* shut up, the
      > rest of the hall won't be able to hear you anyways.)
      > Instead, there's ambient background entertainment: during the day,
      > before court, during feast.  There's playing a processional or
      > recessional for court.  (Check with Their Majesties' chancellor and a
      > court herald first, of course.)  There's the music pit for dance
      > balls.  The Warwick Consort decided to work with some event stewards
      > and have small "house concerts" in quiet areas of events.
      > What do you do with members who can't make the performance?  Well, you
      > want to keep them coming to rehearsals; if you tell them, "See you in
      > six weeks," you probably won't.  So, put them to work providing
      > solidity for weak parts, or listening to a run-through to check for
      > things like balance and coordinated articulations.
      > Eventually, you'll end up with a series of cascading short-term goals.
      >  You'll have a ball coming up in a month, and something fancy at a
      > court two weeks later, and a competition a month after that.  That's
      > terrific; if an ensemble member can't make one performance, they're
      > still involved because they might be able to make another.
      > Remember the hypothetical recorder player with a passion for Celtic
      > music?  How do you accommodate that interest into your group's
      > short-term goals?
      > 2) You should have at least one long-term goal: developing a healthy
      > group.  By this, I mean an ensemble with a good group dynamic:
      > everybody feels welcome, they have an interior motivation for
      > practicing and performing at their best, they all trust one another.
      > Part of this might be an extended effort at recruiting.  Some
      > ensembles, for example the DragonLion Consort in Ansteorra, or the
      > Lion & Lily team in Atlantia, are really not looking for new members.
      > Other ensembles are.  It's not a cut-and-dried issue. Any new members,
      > even those ho get along great with the current roster, will change a
      > group's social dynamics, and might require a change in orchestration
      > or repertoire.  This might be a good thing, but it shouldn't be a
      > *surprising* thing.
      > (Being open to recruiting new members is sometimes a good barometer of
      > the pressures the group has on the local SCA environs.  If there are
      > musicians in the local chapter who don't want to have anything to do
      > with your group, there's something going on that you might want to
      > address.  This might be a canary in a mine shaft.
      > One problem with recruiting new members into an established group is
      > that, with any luck, you've all gotten better as the ensemble has
      > practiced and rehearsed.  If everybody's ready to tackle Byrd's
      > Fantasia a 6 #2, or a crazy Spanish ensalada, what do you do when
      > somebody wants to join ho is just learning her instrument? The Mighty
      > Jararvellir Music Guild is the ensemble out of the barony in Madison,
      > Wisconsin, and their solution was to require everybody to play out of
      > their comfort zones during the first hour of the rehearsals.  So,
      > veteran players would be learning alto fingering, or bass clef, or new
      > instruments, or such, during the first hour.  New members felt right
      > at home.  And then they brought out the heavy-lifting pieces during
      > the second hour.
      > Eventually, your ensemble will develop a group identity.  You'll want
      > to come up with a name.  If your ensemble takes it's identity from the
      > local SCA chapter, say, "The Ivory Keep Singers" or something, what
      > does that suggest about "Who's allowed in?"
      > One more thing: try not to apologize when naming your group.  If you
      > feel you want to name yourself something that boils down to "Don't
      > expect too much of us; we kind of suck", then I'd recommend you go hit
      > the rehearsals some more and come back when you're ready to ask people
      > to pay attention to you, without apologies.
      > Third question: What does an effective leader do?
      > I'm a big fan of Max DuPree, the author of "Leadership is an Art."
      > His thesis in that book is: "The first responsibility of a leader is
      > to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two,
      > the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the
      > progress of an artful leader."
      > Essentially, the job of leading an ensemble is team-building. (a)
      > Identify your members' strengths.  Who's the best at keeping a
      > consistent tempo?  At counting long rests?  At coming in with a clear
      > voice and rock-solid pitch?  At knowing music theory?  At knowing
      > music history?  At keeping the atmosphere light when it needs to be?
      > At congratulating other musicians at their personal triumphs and
      > achievements?
      > Then (b) revise your goals based on those strengths, as well as the
      > members' individual goals.  (Remember that Celtic-music enthusiast?)
      > Every member of the ensemble  should feel like he or she is
      > contributing his or her A Game, both musically and socially.  And
      > everybody should feel like he or she is getting something important
      > out of the group.
      > There are other, important aspects to team-building.  How will you
      > decide to celebrate your group's achievements?  Why does the Grimfells
      > music group have potlucks?
      > I've had success with teen-agers who've wanted to sing in the choirs
      > or play in the ensembles I've run, but there have been unexpected
      > aspects.  Acting mature is usually not an issue, but expect crises.
      > Reliability is an issue because a teen's life is outside his or her
      > control; even if she swears that she will certainly be at next week's
      > rehearsal and the performance on Saturday, she might get grounded, or
      > her family might decide to keep her home for a grandparent's birthday
      > or something.  In general, it's useful to get the parents / guardian
      > "on the team" for the ensemble as well as the teenager.  One other
      > note: general life experience will be an occasional issue that needs
      > addressing.  There are "common sense" matters that a 16-year-old, no
      > matter how mature he is, has yet to deal with, and about which he'll
      > be ignorant.
      > What musical considerations will an ensemble have to address?
      > 1) Voicing.  Much of the ensemble music repertoire from the
      > Renaissance is not specified as being for one type of instrument or
      > another.  Praetorius didn't write string quartets or recorder
      > quartets; he wrote quartets, and let the musicians determine what that
      > meant.  If you have a vocal piece, you could decide to sing all the
      > parts, play all the parts on instruments, double some lines with voice
      > and instrument, or mix-and-match however you please.  Will you add
      > percussion? Will you change the arrangement as the piece progresses,
      > so that it changes texture?
      > 2) Range.  Clearly, if all you have are soprano recorders, you don't
      > want to be picking pieces that require a fuller range between parts.
      > This can be tricky with some sheet music, where the arranger thought
      > it simple to write the soprano and tenor lines as if they were in the
      > same range, instead of an octave apart.  Squishing lines like that is
      > a simple way to foul up good music.
      > Here's a tricky question: the viola plays in the same range as which
      > recorder?  Answer: the bass.  (I refer you again to the Alfred book on
      > orchestration, which details every instruments concert-pitch range.)
      > One observation: if you have recorders and bowed strings playing
      > together, recorders get softer at the bottom of their ranges, but
      > strings don't.  So where your piece moves into its higher registers,
      > the recorders will be more present, and where the music is near the
      > bottom of its range, your sound will be more "stringy".  Make sure you
      > use this as a "feature" of your sound, rather than suffer it as a
      > "bug".
      > Is there a problem using a 'cello in an ensemble with recorders?  Not
      > usually.  The 'cello doubles the bass line an octave lower.  This
      > extends the range, which should likely sound fine.  But be careful of
      > putting violins on the melody/soprano line, where they'll sound below
      > the alto recorders, that's part of the "squishing" (or part-crossing)
      > that you'll want to avoid.
      > 3) What to do with that autoharp, or any other chording instrument.
      > Medieval music (for my purposes, pre-1470's compositions) doesn't use
      > chords the way modern music understands them, and it's likely that
      > chording instruments won't work right.  16th Century composers don't
      > talk about chords in the same way we do, but Renaissance music
      > certainly seems to have a clear chordal harmonization.  Chording
      > instruments are great for filling in staid middle parts, and provide a
      > nice pitch stability for choirs.
      > 4) In addition, there's all the normal aspects of musicality: making
      > sure everybody comes in together, articulates a passage the same way,
      > keeps the same tempo, stays in tune, and so on.
      > 5) Finally, you get to address the question: "Is [the piece / the
      > instrument / the technique / etc] period?"  For my money, if I'm going
      > to expend the energy to master a piece, I think it ought to be
      > appropriate to the SCA, which usually means composed in the Middle
      > Ages or Renaissance.  Your mileage may vary.  As I said up above, I'm
      > pretty flexible when it comes to the authenticity of instruments:
      > authenticity is a journey, not a destination, and I try not to tell
      > other people where they should be on their journey.  As for
      > techniques, I try to research and encourage period techniques.  Why
      > exert the effort to sound good, if through that effort you sound like
      > a modern jazz ensemble or folk-music group?
      > That was the first half of the course.  The second half dealt with
      > Very Short Term music groups, assembled at events.
      > For example, people getting together to play music and deciding, after
      > a half-hour, that it would be fun to continue noodling in public or
      > maybe to work up a couple of pieces for some simple performance later
      > in the day. Mistress Gwyneth's "Wavering Consort" is a good example of
      > this; she carries music to events in case people want to gather and
      > sing.
      > In brief, almost all the issues that the first half of the class
      > addressed, are also dealt with for such an ad hoc group, in miniature.
      >  You still need to decide on repertoire, you still need to make all
      > the musical decisions, and somebody has to "define reality" and lead
      > the ensemble.  (And at the end, that person should still remember to
      > say "Thank you.")
      > Here are my sources and resources:
      > 1) The Choral Public Domain Library
      > http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Main_Page has thousands of
      > arrangements of period pieces, usually a couple of slightly different
      > versions of popular pieces.
      > 2) The IMSLP / Petrucci Music Library for instrumental works
      > http://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page does the same thing for instrumental
      > works, albeit with a smaller collection.
      > 3) Sheet Music Plus http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/  is a commercial
      > site with previews of the pieces.  It's a large collection that allows
      > you to buy PDFs and download them immediately.
      > 4) For mail-order, I can recommend Honeysuckle Music.
      > http://www.honeysucklemusic.com/  Jean Allison-Olson runs the company
      > out of her house.   She has an enormous collection of great music,
      > concentrating on the Renaissance, and she's wonderful to deal with.
      > 5) One of the publishers Honeysuckle carries is London Pro Musica
      > http://www.londonpromusica.com/  hich is mostly just one guy: Bernard
      > Thomas.  But Dr. Thomas is prolific in his arrangements of period
      > pieces, judicious in his choices as to which pieces to arrange (very
      > little of his work is spent polishing turds), helpful in his editorial
      > comments, and downright gifted in making his arrangements sparkle with
      > the intent and sensibility of the original composers.  (His duFay
      > arrangements sound like duFay, rather than like Bernard Thomas.)
      > 5) If you're going to be working with recorders, you really need The
      > Recorder Book by Kenneth Wollitz  (see
      > http://www.amazon.com/Recorder-Book-Kenneth-Wollitz/dp/0394749995)
      > It's bounced around among a couple of publishers, and I undestand he's
      > at work revising the book.  But it has *everything* you'd want to
      > know: how to play the recorder (he assumes his reader is an adult,
      > playing an alto recorder), how to practice, how to arrange a concert,
      > how to ornament a piece in different traditions, how to play outside,
      > et cetera.
      > 6) Medieval and Renaissance Music, a Performer's Guide by Timothy
      > McGee  (See http://www.librarything.com/work/211430)  Unlike the rest
      > of the theory books here, this is written by one person.  It's a great
      > book, moving in and out of print from the University of Toronto,
      > providing historical backgrounds and contexts for period musical
      > developments.  How would a Renaissance musician have placed a
      > Krummhorn into an ensemble: McGee explains how and why.
      > A Performer's Guide to Renaissance Music, edited by Jeffery
      > Kite-Powell  (see
      > http://www.amazon.com/Performers-Guide-Renaissance-Publications-Institute/dp/0253348668
      > )
      >  I didn't realize this book was in print again.  It's a collection of
      > chapters by professional performers about orchestration of their
      > particular instruments.  So a harpist will talk about how to use a
      > harp in Renaissance music, a percussionist will talk about period
      > drumming practices, and so on.
      > A Performer's Guide to Medieval Music edited by Ross Duffin.  (See
      > http://www.amazon.com/Performers-Guide-Medieval-Music-Scholarship-Performance/dp/0253215331/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b
      > )
      >  This is yet another collection of essays, written by scholars and
      > performers, for performers.  It specializes in Medieval, as opposed to
      > Renaissance performing practices.
      > A Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music, edited by Tess
      > Knighton.  (See
      > http://www.amazon.com/Companion-Medieval-Renaissance-Music-Knighton/dp/0520210816/ref=pd_sim_b_3
      > )
      >  This is a great book, again a collection of different scholarly
      > essays.  The writing style is down-to-earth and engaging.  You can
      > read each of these essays in a half-hour and just feel *smarter* and
      > better informed about what we're trying to do.
      > Christian d'Hiver
      > Companion of the Calon Lily, Companion of the Saltire
      > ------------------------------------
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