SWEMF workshop
10 June 2023

Twenty singers and five baroque string players descended on the WI Hall, Backwell on one of the hottest days of the year so far to escape the heat in the company of Henry Purcell. It has been quite a while since a SWEMF workshop focussed on Purcell’s music and I for one was looking forward to it.

Ably and enthusiastically directed by Ben England, the day focussed on ‘My Heart is Indicting’, one of Purcell’s best known Coronation Anthems, but we also spent a little time on the verse anthem ‘Behold now, praise the Lord’.

‘My heart is indicting’ was composed for the coronation of James II in 1685, set for eight-part choir, strings and organ. Due to the way numbers attending our workshop split, some lower voices were one to a part, but ably supported by the accompanying strings. Of course the original performance in Westminster Abbey featured much larger choral resources, trumpets and percussion, in addition to an organ installed under the direction of Purcell himself.

After initial warm-ups, Ben emphasised that the day should be fun, before reminding us that ‘My Heart’ is not an easy work. Perhaps with this in mind we tackled the sections in reverse order, starting with the concluding ‘Alleluja, amen’ section, leaving the dotted rhythms and Scotch snaps of ‘all glorious’ until later. We relished the flattened sevenths of Purcell’s distinctive ‘English cadences’ as we went.

Judicious timing of coffee breaks enabled singers and instrumentalists to benefit from sectional rehearsals whilst not wasting any time. This meant of course that Ben worked without a break throughout the morning, which seemed to pass really quickly. His enthusiasm, patience and clear direction meant that we worked hard but did indeed ‘have fun’ – and always knew exactly where we were starting from.

After lunch we turned our attention briefly to the verse anthem ‘Behold now, praise the Lord’ so that we gained some familiarity with it before the sing through at the end of the afternoon. All too soon, after a further ‘polishing’ of our main work, a small audience arrived and we performed both works, revelling in Purcell’s distinctive harmonic and rhythmic devices.

Many thanks are due to Ben, for such an enjoyable and stimulating workshop, which left me with Purcellian ‘earworms’ for the rest of the weekend – what could be better! Thanks also to Heather Gibbard for organising the day and providing lovely ‘instrumental’ biscuits for refreshment breaks.

Peter Crispin