Another week goes by and we are still here. The change in the weather over the last couple of days has been a bit extreme. It should have been the Gate to Southwelll Festival this weekend, they would have been cursing.
Two different things for you this week. Firstly Sicut Cervus by Palestrina. (European Sacred Music p. 270). You will also need this analysis sheet. Video playlist.
Read John Rutter’s note at the bottom of p.374 then listen to his performance of this edition with the Cambridge Singers.
The words: Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus. Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks: so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
This motet is an absolute gem, fitting the words perfectly. I want to show you some of the skill that Palestrina uses in this piece. Bear in mind that the original singers would only have the notation of their own line in front of them.
The more that I examine Sicut cervus the more I find. The rather crude yellow, green and red scribble is a diagram of the polyphony of the first 23 bars.
Second thing: I have made a very primitive multi-tracked version of Nada te turbe for us to have some fun with. There is a full version and four versions each with a part missing. You can sing with the full version or put in the relevant missing part. You can just sing for fun or to practice …….but……I would like to replace my voice in the recording with yours, especially sopranos but I am not proud of the other parts either. Listen to the recording through headphones (on high volume); record yourself singing on a computer, tablet or phone and send the recording to me (audio or video but the final version will be audio). I suggest that you don’t listen to the recording, you won’t like the sound of your unaccompanied, solo voice. Nada te turbe audio files: Full: Soprano: Alto: Tenor: Bass:
Have fun, and let’s see how it sounds – it must be an improvement!
This week we are looking at Northern Lights. We have done well with it and our performance back in the Autumn was reasonably successful, There is, however, a lot more that we can do with it.
I have sourced a couple of performances that are interesting. The first is by the eight voice group Voces 8. They are one of my favourite groups for a number of reasons; one of which is that they are very good. The blend and balance that they achieve is remarkable, obtained through personal practice and detailed, thorough rehearsal. There are things that we can learn from them.
The other performance is by an American University Chamber Choir with an improvised piano accompaniment by Gjeilo himself.
You will need to warm up before tackling the rehearsal video. It might also be useful to look back over God so loved the world videos as some of the points are the same. Listen to the Voces 8 performance first, warm up, watch my video then sing along with Voces 8 and at some point watch the other performance.
After last week’s long missive, I’ll try and make this week’s a bit shorter.
As predicted this week has been a lot warmer. I’ve got a few bedding plants out so we’re looking forward to a bit more colour in the garden.
Only one person has sent a positive reply to the virtual video so I’ll tell Michael to loo elsewhere. thanks to those who responded.
This week we are looking at O Lord in thy wrath – Oxford Tudor Anthems p. 231. Orlando Gibbons was one of the last English polyphonists, succeeding people like Byrd, Tallis, Weelkes and Tye. His church music was written for the recently formed Church of England and is exclusively in English. O Lord, in thy wrath is regarded as one of the gems of the period.
The text is the first four verses of Psalm 6 and often performed during Lent.
O Lord, in thy wrath rebuke me not: neither chasten me in thy displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak: O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore troubled: but, Lord, how long wilt thou punish me? O save me, for thy mercy’s sake.
Search for recordings and you will find them in various keys. There is a good reason for that. The original manuscript is down a minor 3rd – the first note is a D. It is known that the church choirs in the early 17th century consisted of young boys and men. Boys with unchanged voices would not be able to sing that low in our modern pitch. There is oodles of research on early pitch but no-one knows for certain exactly what the pitch was in any region of Europe. it varied from country to country, and even from city to city. It gradually became unified that the A above middle C was 440 vibrations per second, but even today certain German orchestras tune to 445 and some American to 436. It is generally accepted that Tudor pitch was approximately three semi-tones lower but contemporary professional choirs choose whichever pitch suits them best.
For those of you who wish to learn notes here are audio files as per previous weeks:
Good afternoon. It has all gone a bit quiet this week, is everyone alright? Perhaps you are just frozen, it has been chilly out. It’s nice to see your other interests and talents coming to the fore. Lots of you displaying craft and artistic skill. Catherine points us to “happy little clouds and a gentle voice” https://www.youtube.com/user/BobRossInc/featured
Perhaps when we meet again we should have an exhibition.
This week we are going to focus on I carry your heart. Toby Young is a young(ish) composer/arranger who has done work for groups like The Kings Singers and Voces 8. I carry your heart was commissioned by The Kings Men, who are the altos, tenors and basses of Kings’ College Choir.
The text of I carry your heart is by the American poet e.e.cummings, who was quite distinctive in both the content of his poetry and the lack of capital letters and unusual punctuation. Toby Young adapts and shortens the poem in his setting of this poem that is about love in its purest form. I have prepared a sheet with the original poem in its entirety and the “lyrics” of the setting here https://www.dropbox.com/s/fzle83f9y8mplza/I%20carry%20your%20heart.pdf?dl=0
Both versions give you an idea of the style that we should be aiming for. In both performances there is precision of ensemble and attention to balance. Your attention is drawn to the tune, whichever part it might be in but little details are clear. e.g the alto part in bars 36-40. Before any of that can be achieved everyone needs to be sure of the notes.
I was contacted last week by a Michael Dobbs regarding making a choir remote video.
I’m a retired videomaker living not too far away in Woodborough. In spite of retirement, I still produce a few free community videos for good causes – see https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz3TUg6N9Q03mtU-OHBVVBg/videos Unfortunately the current situation rather limits my subject matter – and then I noticed the new phenomenon of virtual choirs on YouTube. I’m sure that you’ve seen these, but if not, you can see an example at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xWUL4N26vM . This is something I’d like to have a go at, and I have the video editing skills and facilities, so all I need now are performers – hence the contact! The procedure involves each participant recording themselves singing (at home) whilst listening to a backing track via headphone or an earpiece. Each recording would then be emailed to me and edited into a virtual choir video for publishing on YouTube – all with the utmost social distancing! Hopefully all of the singers would enjoy the experience and your choir would get some extra publicity for the post-lockdown recovery. If you think some of your members might be interested, please get in touch by email (email@example.com) or by phone on 0115 9652376 to have a chat. Please note that this is my hobby, and that these community video services are provided completely free of charge. Michael Dobbs If you are interested in having a go please contact me and I will set it in motion. We would do something in just four parts, short and simple. I would sent out a master track; you would have to film yourself singing with it and sending it to me and I would send the recordings to Michael.
Have a good week, the weather is going to be warmer.
I hope that everyone continues to keep safe and well. At least we have something else to commemorate this week. People in Southwell have embraced the spirit of VE Day. Here are some pictures that I took on our daily exercise walk yesterday. https://flic.kr/s/aHsmN5c7h3
This week I am giving you the opportunity to check the notes of Laudate Dominum. Firstly, an apology: I neglected to check the pitch of the Netherlands Chamber Choir version, sorry. Thanks to those (sopranos!) who pointed out that it is a tone higher. Ruth has sourced a recording by the Cambridge Singers, conducted by John Rutter, which is of exactly our edition. Thanks, Ruth. It can be found on the Newstead Abbey playlist at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9Gytr4q-Y6SzafzUHpXFYlu1GHdsu9RN It is a good recording but the articulation is a too detached for my liking.
I haven’t made a video of my own this week but have fabricated a series of audio files for you to use. They are all in our key and are at a slower speed. There is one for each part with the relevant notes highlighted for you to listen and sing along with plus an equally balanced full version. The sounds are synthesised and there are no words but I hope will be useful for you to learn your part. You can work at your own pace then sing along with the full version or at full speed with the Cambridge Singers.
The first thing to do is read the notes at the bottom of p.376, if you haven’t done so already. Did you know that they were there?
Read the text: Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes; laudate eum, omnes populi.Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia ejus, et veritas Domini, manet in aeternum.
and translation: O praise the Lord, all ye heathen: praise him, all ye nations. For his merciful kindness is ever more and more towards us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever.
Read the text out loud remembering to keep the tongue and jaw very relaxed. Find the different mood in each line. On the first line the mood is Praise, the second merciful kindness and the last endureth for ever
Listen to this performance: I have chosen this version because it sung by the Netherlands Chamber Choir. Sweelinck was a Dutchman so the pronunciation of the Latin is as close as we can get these days to that which he would have expected. Having said that, the Dutch are big fans of the English Cathedral tradition so there is a certain “Eau de Kings College” about it. The pronunciation is not wildly different from that which we expect. I have also chosen it because the tempo is a bit slower than the version that John Draper found.
Next week we shall do some work on the notes; I am waiting for a new bit of technology to help me. In the following video we shall explore some of the melismatic* figures that appear in this motet.
*(Melisma (Greek: μέλισμα, melisma, song, air, melody; from μέλος, melos, song, melody, plural: melismata) is the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession.)
I have not had much feedback on the new format and what I have had has been positive so I’ll keep going with it.
Renwick has sent a video made by Ellie Martin, director of Mansfield Choral Society, that you may find entertaining: https://youtu.be/1qPEOfKBEVA Mary also sent a video of her and her work colleagues having a bit of an energetic break from their stressful load: https://share.icloud.com/photos/0A_a6KiMY945PZwyV6JdzUJVw Mary’s granddaughter and Rhoda’s chicks are all doing well. Nancy and Ruth are spreading a lot of joy with their craft skills. Anyone else doing good works or are in receipt of them? Tell me and I’ll spread the word.
This week we follow up on last week’s session on God so Loved the World. A big part of rehearsing, from my point of view, is that it is reactive.It is important that you ask questions, disagree and suggest topics for future weeks so that we are developing together and not just on my whim. I have an idea for next week, but am prepared to divert if an alternative is raised.
Today we are thinking about how the way that we sing words affects tuning. You will need your copy of God so Loved the World again.
When we use our voice, speaking or singing, the sound is produced by air passing over the vocal folds in the larynx. Everything between the larynx and the ears of listener has the potential to influence that sound. Words are formed by the tongue and lips. The sound leaves the body through both the mouth and nose.
You can see by this diagram that the tongue takes up an awful lot of space having the potential to restrict both the oral and nasal cavities. The voice will sound at its best when there is as much space as possible between the larynx and lips. That space is at its largest when the tongue is relaxed and the tip is against the lower teeth.
The English language doesn’t require an awful lot of mouth movement to be understood in conversation. Other European languages (Italian, French, German etc.) need more physical flexibility to be understood. So, when we are singing the mouth has to move a lot more to maintain that space. English vowels also tend to be produced further back in the mouth which tends to dull the resonance and make them sound “flat”.