With Merry Glee

Over two months after the actual performance, I’m finally sorting through some of the music the Brigantia Consort performed this summer.

The first track went up to Soundcloud just over a week ago; since then it has had 48 plays and six downloads. I promise you only one of the plays was me! I didn’t advertise it very widely, and I know it might seem like small beans, but if those are unique plays rather than duplicates it has already been heard by over double the number of people who came to the concert. A larger concert audience would of course have been good (apparently, there was some sort of game involving kicking a ball around happening at the same time — who knew it would affect our numbers?), but being able to reach people who couldn’t be there is wonderful. The recordings were made, with the help of Dearest Button-Pusher, on a little Olympus LS-10 linear PCM recorder.
I’m not sure whether we’ll keep using Soundcloud, or move to something like Bandcamp. It seems like Soundcloud is great for getting rough tracks out there quickly, while Bandcamp might be better for a more polished album with artwork and so on, or at least fewer sirens than on “She’s Like the Swallow”. I love Steve Lawson‘s approach of putting all of his stuff on Bandcamp with a pay-what-you-will label. As an aside, I also really have him to thank for making me aware of Bandcamp and Soundcloud, and his article on Talking About Awesome Things gave me a major kick up the backside.
Coming soon: a way for people to give money to Brigantia Consort. That will probably start with a PayPal button, unless someone can tell me what the cool kids are doing these days.
Today I blogged ever so briefly on She’s Like the Swallow; it will be interesting to see what the publicity there, and here, does to the Soundcloud stats.

The Week, er, Behind

On Monday I posted about all I have to do this week.

Things are some things that didn’t get done. I still haven’t rescheduled my dental appointment, and there are a few other phonecalls that have piled up, which isn’t so good. I fought with the piece for the St Paul’s competition but still I don’t have a rough draft I’m happy with, so I’m having to consider whether I’ll submit anything at all. I didn’t get around to finding recordings for the choir at St Andrew’s to listen to, and I didn’t get to the recitals at Trinity that I wanted to attend.
There were some good things, though. The choir rehearsal at St Andrew’s yesterday evening went well despite my rather shallow preparation and only having two people there. It’s quite hard work to sing with so few people present and those who did turn up worked hard and did well.
Also yesterday I met with Rev Kathryn Robinson, the newly-appointed Performing Arts Adviser for the Barking Episcopal area. It was good to meet her and to talk about some of what I do, what’s going on at St Andrew’s, and some of the collaborations that might be possible.
The Brigantia Consort rehearsal on Thursday night felt efficient and useful, despite all of us being rather exhausted. We’ve managed to share out the writing of programme notes in a way that I think makes sense, we made some decisions about clothing (always difficult if you decide you don’t want to just wear black), we narrowed down some of the repertoire for the concert on 11th July and oh, yeah, we rehearsed some music. I don’t want to speak too soon — it definitely needs more work — but tuning between serpent and violin does seem to be improving.
At Quire on Wednesday night I did not completely disgrace myself at playing a rather tricky bassline on an instrument with a turning circle the size of an elephant, and as usual I enjoyed the rehearsal immensely.
Teaching on Monday and Tuesday went well. It was the first week of trying out some new timing for Tuesdays, which looks like it’s going to work a lot better for my students as well as meaning I get home a good 45 minutes earlier. Hooray! The long-term viability of making the journey from Leytonstone to North London two days a week has been weighing on me recently; the later nights on Tuesday definitely weren’t helping. I was still too tired to do as much psalmody-related reading as I would have liked, though.
Today has been a Day Off, except that writing this post probably counts as work, oops. Tomorrow will be mostly church and another attempt at some composing, and then a look at what lies ahead next week.

The Week Ahead

This week is looking pretty typical in terms of what I need to do, at least musically.
I’m teaching tonight and tomorrow night. I’ve done most of the preparation for that, but need to remember to bring music with me for my students. I’ll be leaving home at 2pm each day and spending a lot of time on public transport… I usually use this time to read. Right now the important reading is all to do with psalmody and church music. I had rather hoped to have finished my psalmody-related reading by now and be well into writing workshop outlines, but the last few weeks I’ve been flagging.
Wednesday night there will be a London Gallery Quire rehearsal. Some of the music is a bit technically challenging on the serpent so I need to take some time to look at it.
Thursday night Brigantia are rehearsing at my place, and I need to practise that music beforehand, too. I also need to spend a significant amount of time on programme notes and organisational aspects of our concert on 11th July. It would be nice to get a gallery up on the website, too, but I don’t think that’s going to be realistic this week.
Friday night I am taking the choir rehearsal at St Andrew’s, and I will need to learn the hymns well enough to accompany. I also want to find recordings of some of the pieces for a joint Evensong on 27th June at which we’ve been invited sing. We’re a small choir and don’t usually have all four parts at rehearsals, and it can be disorienting to suddenly have whole sections of tenor and alto rather than one each, and any bass part at all. Since I haven’t been taking the choir rehearsals for very long, I don’t even know what the facilities are like for listening to a CD. This could be a challenge.
I’ve been working on a piece for a competition which has a deadline of 30th June. Late last week it became clear that I’d managed to go onto the wrong track and was writing something that wouldn’t really be suitable for the terms of the competition, so I went right back to the drawing board, decided to ditch the organ for now and stick to SATB a capella… I found a new text, but alas no English translation that is in the public domain in this country, so ended up commissioning someone else to make a new one for me. I ought to try and have at least a rough draft by the end of this week.
In addition to that, there is a final recital at Trinity College of Music that I’d like to attend, I need to reschedule a dentist appointment (cancelled this morning due to transport difficulties), I have two peer support meetings and one project planning meeting, perhaps some other meetings getting in there as well and a physiotherapy appointment on Friday afternoon. Errands need to get a look-in, too.
I’ll try and report back later in the week with how I’m getting on…

Brigantia Consort hath a website.

It’s very rudimentary, but Brigantia Consort now has a web presence. Yay!

Why the rush to get this done? Well, we’re busking tomorrow morning at Parliament Hill Farmers’ Market, weather permitting, to raise money for Shelter. While we’re there we’ll also hand out some flyers and maybe even sell tickets for our next concert:

With Merry Glee
An eclectic programme of psalmody,
folk music and improvisation
with an early music twist.
Anna Michel — violin
Jessie Holder — voice, recorder
Kathryn Rose — horn, serpent
Sunday, 11th July 7.30pm
St John on Bethnal Green
200 Cambridge Heath Road London E2 9PA
Tickets £5 (£4 conc.) available at the door
or contact brigantiaconsort@gmail.com
Pretty neat, eh? There’s a lot to do yet, of course. But the posters and tickets themselves have the address of the blog where we’re parking the website for now, so there had to be something up there, even if it’s rudimentary.
Meanwhile, I’ve not been posting here much, despite my best intentions. I think that after I stopped posting lots of degree-related things, I sort of “lost the voice” of this blog. I suspect the only way to develop it is going to be to post, though, and I make no guarantees about just how often I’ll manage that.


Good rehearsal today with the other members of the Brigantia Consort — we looked at some new repertoire, rehearsed stuff we’ve been working on for performance probably this summer, and did some improvisation.

We recorded some of the rehearsal, and it was interesting to hear the results. Two things, to my mind, really stood out.
The first is that we do talk rather a lot between playing. Of course this is necessary to an extent and good conversations about the music now can make for much less work later on.
Some of the talking, I think, is because we don’t have fixed repertoire, very tight limits on rehearsal time or any concrete engagement to work toward. We have some idea where we’re going, but because there isn’t a huge amount of urgency in getting there we have the flexibility to take the time to discuss things properly. Another factor is that as our instrumentation is non-standard (various combinations of voice/recorder, violin/recorder, horn/serpent/voice) and our repertoire rather eclectic we do have to approach each work from a few different angles. Baroque bow or modern? Vibrato or not? Should that line be played on the recorder, or sung on a relevant syllable? Do we need to scratch this arrangement and write our own, or can we swap the voices around to make it work better? Are the instruments being faithful to the stresses of the language if there are words? That does take a lot of talking through!
It’s a great luxury to have rehearsals that are laid back enough that we can burst out laughing, explain things in detail or go off on the occasional tangent; on the whole I think we are reasonably focused. But listening to a recording, it’s amazing just how much chattering we do, and how little playing. Perhaps we would be better off making more notes and fewer words.
The second thing, and one we all noticed, is that the improvisation was superior to playing from sheet music in just about every way. It wasn’t just that we had warmed up by then; if anything I was getting tired, mentally if not physically, from lots and lots of C basso transposition. It is partly that improvising freely as we did today gives us the option to play to our strengths and avoid technically challenging passages. The biggest difference, though, is that without the dots in front of us we are forced to listen. Intonation and timing immediately improve, because we’re not worried about playing or singing a “wrong” note, but instead listening to one another and really playing together, really creating something that none of us could create on our own.
We are learning what we need to do to rehearse better. As far as focus and use of time are concerned, we’ve started jotting down a rehearsal plan at the beginning of every session. That sounds like an obvious thing, but most of my chamber rehearsals have had such a limited repertoire that the schedule would sort itself out quite simply, and most larger ensembles have been led and planned by someone other than me. In this group we do need to spend time surveying repertoire together, sight-reading together, and improvising. Each having more than one possible instrument, and having to adapt our repertoire accordingly, also requires a different sort of rehearsal than just going in and learning the music. There are also administrative tasks, and we’re still figuring out who is best in which role as far as paperwork is concerned. In order to keep track of all this I think the best thing is going to be to start a notebook, much as I have for each of my music students, and jot down not only a plan for each rehearsal but any comments on pieces and secretarial tasks.
The other thing I think will be useful is to start each rehearsal differently. Today we started by singing a piece we know reasonably well, then launched straight into sight-reading. It was useful, but given how much the improvisation changed our playing, I think it would be good to incorporate that into the beginning of the rehearsal. I know that with choirs and other larger ensembles, some sort of warm-up routine does seem to make a difference not only with the quality of each individual’s playing and singing but with people’s ability to listen to one another. It would make sense, then, rather than just doing our individual instrumental warm-ups (if any) and having a quick tune, to do some kind of communal warm-up. I think this will need to be fairly flexible but it would make sense for it to include some sort of improvisation.

Still ticking.

What have I been up to?

I’m learning to play the organ. This is a lot of fun, but rather difficult. I try to play the right hand line with my right hand, the left hand line with my left hand, and the pedal line with my other left hand. It’s going well, though; I’ve played at a few services, and a funeral, and I have a few more lined up.
I’m also rehearsing a lot with the Brigantia Consort. No, we haven’t a website just yet, but soon, hopefully!
I’m still playing serpent with the London Gallery Quire, and enjoying both the metrical psalmody and the camaraderie.
I’m still teaching piano, and I still love it. I’m finding I do notice the commute much more than I used to, partly because it’s a little further but also because there are days when I don’t have to leave Leytonstone at all, so the days when I travel across London seem very long indeed.
Longer-term, I’m writing some bits and pieces of music, some for competitions and some for specific performance situations. It’s mostly choral, mostly liturgical. I love doing this, but I lack confidence; I’m never quite sure whether what I have written will turn out to be very good, or a bit naff. I guess that comes with experience.
I’m also planning a series of workshops on psalmody. I want to start with the origins of psalmody and then explore how the psalms would have been said, sung or chanted in different liturgical traditions. I know that I won’t be able to do a full treatment in the four to six sessions that would make this a manageable project… at this point I’m just reading a lot and letting ideas slosh around in my brain.


I do seem to be having something of a dry spell, in terms of blogging here. I have been quite busy!

I composed an anthem; it was sung during a church service on 27th September. The sheet music is available here and a MIDI file here; I don’t yet have a suitable recording. The piece is dedicated to Rev Dr Catherine Dowland-Pillinger, on the occasion of her ordination to the priesthood of the Church of England, and the church service was the first Eucharist at which she presided. I’m very grateful to the vicar, music director and choir at St Mary’s, Addington for allowing me to contribute in this way.

Closer to home, I’ve been rehearsing with a couple of other ex-Trinity students. Between us we play an eclectic variety of instruments and it has been good fun finding and adapting repertoire to suit our sound. We’ll be playing this Sunday at the launch of the Roots and Remembrance exhibition at St Andrew’s Church, Colworth Road, London, E11 1JD. The launch begins at 11.30am, after the annual Rememberance Sunday service.

Also at St Andrew’s, I’ve been learning a bit of how to play the organ. It’s a lot of fun, this making notes with my feet, but really very difficult to co-ordinate with my hands! I’ve also been doing some singing in the choir there. We will be having a Lessons & Carols service on 13th December, and welcome anyone interested in singing in our Community Choir to join us for rehearsals on Friday nights from 7pm.

On December 9th will be the annual London Gallery Quire Christmas concert, held as last year at St George’s German Lutheran Church, 55 Alie Street, London E1 8EB. Do arrive 6.30pm for the 7pm start; tickets are £5 on the door. As well as the rare treat of listening to West Gallery music this is a good chance to see the inside of the oldest German church in Britain.

I almost forgot to mention the London Performance Collective lunchtime concert at St John’s Notting Hill at 1pm this coming Thursday, 12th November. This concert of “Known, Visible Music” will include works by Bassi, Piazzolla and Whitlock, as well as yours truly playing the Haydn Divertimento a tre for horn, violin and ‘cello.

It would be great to see some familiar faces!