Workshop directed by Frances Eustace

West Bay, 25th March 2017

A glorious spring day in March, bright sunshine sparkling on the sea, wind whipping the trees around, we gathered in West Bay for a day of music from the Spanish Golden Age led by Frances Eustace. 55 of us, old friends and new, from the furthest reaches of SWEMF’s area, all delighted to be there, began with a simple canon, Jubilate Deo by Michael Praetorius. We had plenty of singers for each part and a good selection of instruments including dulcians (kirtles), viols, recorders of all sizes, a sackbut and a cornet.

Attention to tuning and consort thus established, we turned to our first piece of the day, the eight-part Ave Maria by Alonso Lobo. One of 7 motets published in 1602 while he was employed at Toledo, this is a remarkable piece of canonical writing where the lower voices in each choir have the same line while the upper three voices swap lines around in response. Frances expertly guided us through sight-reading a run-through and then skillfully rehearsed us to focus upon interpreting the text to reveal the essence of the piece and consequently our performance improved enormously.

We moved on to Francisco Guerrero’s Duo Seraphim, a highly expressive 12-part, three-choir work which begins with just two voices stating: ‘Duo Seraphim clamabant alter ad alterum’ (two seraphim proclaimed one to the other) followed by three voices singing ‘Tres sunt qui testimonium dant in caelo’ (there are three who give testimony in heaven) then all 12 voices simultaneously announce ‘Plena est omnis terra gloria ejus’ (the whole earth is full of his glory). Thereafter the three choirs represent the Trinity. Frances encouraged each choir to listen and talk with the other choirs as we sang and played. She said ‘You have to sound as though you like what they’ve just sung and that you want to join in with them – not just, oh, now it’s my go!’ Very apt advice which we did our best to follow.

The final piece of the day was the Magnificat Sexti Toni á 12 by Tomás Luis de Victoria, arguably the most sumptuous of his 18 published settings of the song. It includes several changes of tempo from duple to triple and back again, but with clear and precise conducting and a fair bit of work and good humour all around we achieved a very creditable standard, so that the piece began to sound as delicious as it should.

We all really enjoyed this workshop, we sang well and accurately, played with as much feeling and expression as we could, and the final runthrough/ performance was a very worthwhile musical experience, which we and our small audience greatly enjoyed.

Very many thanks go to Frances, who gave us cheerful, intelligent and precise direction, and also to Wendy who organized the day so beautifully. It was thoroughly enjoyable – and when’s the next one?

– Sharon Lambert