SWEMF Workshop
13th January 2024 – Freshford Village Hall, near Bath

Schein’s “Banchetto Musicale”

‘A cold coming we had of it’, but not quite the worst time of the year, just a rather narrow way in the final stages of the journey! At least no camels were involved. (Poetic references concluded, with apologies to T.S Eliot.)

The hall was warm enough, the facilities unrefined but quite adequate to our needs. A prompt start (good) meant that the couple of us who were late felt guilty (I was one) but we were readily absorbed into the proceedings without fuss. Suitable coffee, lunch, and tea breaks helped us keep up momentum – and thanks go to those who helped with the ‘housework’.

Alison Kinder is the kind of tutor who can get the best out of a group – and the emphasis there, to play on words a little, should be on ‘kind’. Her approach is warm, friendly, but clear. She knows exactly which musical elements to home in on, but doesn’t belabour them or intimidate the participants.

The result was that our playing of three of the suites from Schein’s Banchetto Musicale (8, 10, 16) improved each time a section was looked at in a little more detail. Not emphasizing the ‘weak’ notes; giving due weight (but no more) to dots and ties; smoothing the sequential notes, but marking out those where the intervals were greater: these were just three ways in which the music took a turn for the better each time we pursued a section. And failure to keep together, at a couple of points, was met with lightly humorous encouragement to rectify that failing; no guilt-inducing verbal chastisement here, just a gentle indication (though these are my words) that such rhythmic ineptitude let us down somewhat, and we could surely do better.

Three suites in the same vein by the same composer could have been a bit ‘samey’, but variations were introduced so that we played one suite entirely without 4-foot recorders, and yet in another used the 2-foot range to good effect. Moreover, the contrasting timbres of recorders, strings, and brass/reeds were put to good effect by using them (or silencing them) at different points. It kept us on our toes, and meant that variety spiced up the run-through performances of each suite (as a whole) in turn.

I hadn’t entirely been looking forward to this workshop, because previous experience of the repertoire had been largely with recorder groups dominated by too many descants. For this workshop, however, the potential recorder ‘squeakiness’ I had feared was ameliorated not only by the strings, brass and reeds but also by the fact that recorder-players now seem so much more ready to use the lower-range instruments when able to do so. Omitting the louder instruments from time to time also gave the softer instruments additional chances to shine through as well as giving some welcome lip-rest to those who needed it. All was reliably underpinned by an improvised continuo from organ and theorbo. My misgivings were thus ably put aside by the way in which the workshop was organised and conducted. Thanks to Alison for her input, and also to organisers Jenny Tribe and Rachel Berger.

Simon Pickard