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A BOUQUET: A joint workshop for singers commemorating the contribution of HANNAH DAVIES (1934–2015) to our enjoyment of early music

Workshop directed by David Allinson, Gloucester, 19th November 2016

This workshop was conceived by BMEMF as a commemoration of Hannah Davies and her contributions to early music. Hannah had herself organized many early music workshops and tours, including some combined with SWEMF, so it was felt this would be an especially appropriate way to commemorate her.

The atmospheric, but sometimes chilly, Parliament Room at Gloucester Cathedral has become a regular venue for SWEMF in recent years. Located in the far north of the region, with good transport links, it was an ideal venue for hosting a joint event with BMEMF.

The tutor for the day was David Allinson, who knew Hannah well, and who had chosen a selection of choral pieces for the day based on no particular theme other than ‘Hannah had especially liked them’. At the beginning of the day David expressed his intention that the workshop should be fun and celebratory, rather than solemn – David’s energy, and his passion for the music, meant that this goal was easily achieved.

The workshop was very well attended, and well organized: the logistics of providing refreshments for so many people had clearly been given some thought, and the music scores had been compiled into a booklet that we were encouraged to keep at the end of the day. We were well-balanced across the voices, which meant we were able to produce a wonderfully full sound. We worked on several pieces, and the standard of the group was sufficient to achieve a relatively polished run-through of each piece without dwelling for long on specific voice parts or sections of the music. For some of the runthroughs David asked us to mix ourselves up so that, as far as possible, each of us was standing next to someone singing a different part. This was a little daunting, but very worthwhile as it enabled us to experience a more balanced sound than we otherwise would.

For the last hour of the day, we were joined by members of Hannah’s family, which made the occasion even more special. Hannah’s son spoke briefly about the fund in Hannah’s name that is being used to promote early music at Bristol University, and to which the profits from the workshop would be donated. David said that he would also like to donate his fee for the day to the fund.

As a member of SWEMF, I was pleased to have the opportunity to join forces with colleagues in BMEMF and share in this special, and very enjoyable, event to commemorate Hannah.

- Sara Scorey (SWEMF)

This was a choral day with a difference, it was in memory of a very special person who spread the word about early music and who encouraged people to enjoy it with her. She worked tirelessly for the Border Marches Early Music Forum and she had a network of contacts that enabled her to engage stimulating conductors, and to find magical places to sing.

The Parliament Room next to Gloucester Cathedral was another beautiful place in which to hold a choral day. There are three rooms in all, the large halftimbered room in which the singing took place, a fully panelled room, and a room for tea and coffee.

76 singers gathered here with great expectations of a glorious day singing motets, with David Allinson conducting. Of the nine EMFs, eight were represented, which indicates how much Hannah was loved, and David is respected. He chose some of Hannah’s favorite motets, which he had conducted in such places as Tewkesbury Abbey, Grosmont church and at Giarole Castle in Italy. David said that some of these occasions had given him the finest experiences of his conducting career.

The day began with the usual warm up exercises, shaking legs, rotating parts of the body and massaging the face with what David suggested were Paul Hollywood’s hands! After some challenging vocal exercises, such as singing the alphabet backwards, we started with Pater peccavi by Duarte Lobo. David had, by accident, come across the original print of this motet in the Plantijn Moretus Museum in Antwerp. It is relatively straightforward and it was obvious that the sound was going to be exceptional. Twelve tenors must be a record for a choral day! David said it was going to be a high quality day. The divided sopranos were well balanced, the seconds singing sustained notes on D and E, which can be quite difficult.

Next came Trahe me post te by Guerrero from the Songs of Solomon. David said that describing the translation to a group of students could be quite a challenge when breasts are likened to grapes. David vividly describes the tone he wants, using similes such as: carissima in delitiis needs to be sung as on one’s knees with a rose between the teeth saying ‘my dearest ...’ etc. It is this ability he has with language that makes his choral days so rewarding.

Sicut lillium inter spinas by Palestrina, with another text from the Songs of Solomon, came next. It is essentially a canon in thirds and David described the lines as being ‘cantilevered ‘ over each other. The sound was rather ‘white’ with some more exciting moments. He advised that listening to others was better than listening to oneself. Another Lobo was Audivi vocem de caelo, which was described as the basses being like a ripe plum with the other parts circling around it like wasps. This is a six-part motet and it illustrated how well balanced the choir was. It is a piece that should be enjoyed as it is, without too much analysis.

Another piece that should be enjoyed without too much explanation was Ego flos campi by Clemens non Papa. This is a motet in seven parts, with the tenors and basses divided, and again it demonstrated how good it was to have a strong male chorus. David described it as a duvet, warm and simply beautiful and it certainly produced a glorious sound, sometimes like a gentle tide moving in and out in the section ‘Fons ortorum’.

The last motet was Versa est in luctum by Alonso Lobo, written for the funeral of Philip II of Spain in 1598, another glorious but rather sad motet. The words are about weeping and grieving, but it is still possible simply to enjoy the beauty of the music.

The day was interspersed with activities such as coffee, lunch, tea and occasions when everybody was mixed up and singing in ‘strange’ surroundings, all very good for the soul! After the afternoon break Hannah’s husband Roy and his family came into the room and they listened to the singing, probably remembering the funeral just over a year ago when there was also some lovely music. This was a memorable choral day and thanks were expressed to John Wren for organizing it and to David for choosing, interpreting and conducting such a splendid group of motets in memory of Hannah Davies.

- Ruth Fraser (BMEMF)

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Last modified: 16 January 2017