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A 'study' workshop. What kind of creature is that?

Well - to begin with, what shall we be doing? The answer is we will be singing through a selection of works, some of which will come from the following list:

However, instead of just singing these pieces, we shall then spend some time on a closer study of them, involving some account of the ways in which the music has been constructed. After this we will sing the pieces again, and see what has been 'added' to our appreciation of the music.

When we meet to sing Renaissance music, we are often so glad of the opportunity that we want to get through quite a lot of music. Thus it is that sometimes I have heard muttering that the tutor is talking too much, and not letting us sing. I can understand that, and - yes - there are occasionally tutors who become side-tracked. However, I think there is much to be said for the idea that an understanding of the music we sing can enhance our pleasure in performance. So the idea of this 'study' workshop is quite deliberately to limit the number of pieces of music, and not only to try to sing those pieces, but to be prepared to allow the tutor to take us through some of the analysis that can be carried out, to indicate how and why the music is constructed in a particular way, and what questions of interpretation might arise.

It will probably be necessary to introduce a certain amount of ‘technical’ musical jargon at times, although I do not want to suggest that that is the main intention. However, this may provide an instructive way of helping decide whether or not this workshop is likely to be enjoyable for you. So: a little test. If faced with the following musical jargon, how do you feel? Canon in diapente. Musica ficta. Species counterpoint. Points of imitation. Cambiata. If you are already looking for the exit, then perhaps this is not a workshop for you.

However, I suspect that, like me, you will half-know what most, or all, of those things are. For example, I could probably give a fairly satisfactory explanation of a canon, but I might be stumped by in diapente. I recognise musica ficta as having to do with those diacritical marks that indicate sharps or flats, etc. but I might find it a little harder to explain why the composer would not have marked those up anyway—and why modern editors can get very confused about the whole issue. Counterpoint is... well, I have a rough idea, but what are these 'species'? Trying to study such things in the abstract is never the most successful way to engage with them. So, the whole idea of this day will be to let such issues arise out of a discussion of specific pieces. We shall study some pieces of music, and learn/apply only such terms as will help us with those pieces - but, given the constructional principles common to most renaissance music, that may cover quite a lot of the significant ground.

Now - if all you want to do is sing this music, that's fine. If, however, you think it might be interesting and useful to learn a bit more, this could be your best chance for some time! I would certainly number Peter Leech among those few tutors who can expound this kind of musical thinking very well. Indeed, I often think he credits us with more knowledge than we have - so this will be a chance for us to say, 'hold on a second: what exactly is... ?'. (Although we have to assume that no-one will need to be told what a crotchet is.)

At the end of the day we will perform the pieces that we have worked on - and I have every confidence that we will feel more satisfied with our performance for having 'studied' those pieces as well as sung them through in a rather informal way.

- Simon Pickard




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Last modified: 07 March 2017