FW: Ideas for leading a period musicians' group
FW: Ideas for leading a period musicians' group
I thought this was very interesting.
From: CalontirDance@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Carol O'Connell
Sent: Mon 4/13/2009 3:48 PM
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[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> "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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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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