Tamesis Issue 225 May 2011
There are no TVEMF workshops in May because it proved impossible to find a suitable
date that didn’t clash with other major events, but we have two contrasting
workshops to look forward to during the next couple of months - Isaac for voices and
instruments with Peter Syrus at Ickenham in June, and Gesualdo with Gerald Place at
Burnham in July. The Isaac form was in the March Tamesis and the Gesualdo form is
I’ve had a most apologetic email from David Allinson, telling me that he needs to back
out of conducting our Christmas workshop. He’s just been offered the post of
Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol music department, starting in late
September. This is a full time post, for two years, and it's the kind of job he’s spent
more than a decade trying to get, so I'm sure we’re all delighted for him.
Unfortunately he’s been warned that he’ll be swamped with marking in early
December and it just won’t be possible for him to do our workshop as well. Although
my feeling is that everyone should take a day off, I understand perfectly that he can’t
risk getting behind with his work so early in his appointment. At least we have the
Victoria Mass to look forward on 27th August, and the form for that is in this issue.
The 2011 Christmas workshop will still take place, of course, with a new conductor
and I hope to have details in the July Tamesis. You will see on the front cover that we
now have David Hatcher for the September workshop and there will be more
information and a form for this next time as well.
The Striggio Mass workshop last week was an amazing musical experience. I hope to
have a review of it from an EEMF member in the next edition, but meanwhile many
thanks to everyone who helped to make the day run smoothly, and of course
particularly to Philip Thorby for his electrifying direction.
The workshop at Waltham Abbey proved to be very successful. Philip Thorby managed
the huge forces with his usual skill and humour and Striggio's 40-part mass turned
out to be rather good. We even managed the 60-part Agnus with no real problem,
though if anyone did sing wrong notes they were unlikely to be noticed! I had been
concerned over the logistics of coping with 130 or so participants but the hard-
working band of helpers managed to serve the tea and cake very efficiently. Many
thanks are due to Kate Gordon for handling the unprecedented number of
Our next event features the music of Heinrich Isaac directed by Peter Syrus. Those of
you who have been to any of his workshops will know that Peter's preparation for such
event is second to none so I thoroughly enjoyed the Easter course at Wedgwood
Memorial College which he tutored jointly with Alison Crum and Roy Marks.
On the 2nd of July we have a workshop on Gesualdo with Gerald Place who tutored a
very successful Gesualdo session at the recent Renaissance Day. The idea is to
choose repertoire which is not too extreme so that we can enjoy some of this exciting
music without tears (except perhaps brought on by the beauty of the music).
Letter to the Editor
The March article on the posture of winds was interesting. There has been a
considerable influence of Alexander technique in the Suzuki world, and in that context
violin-playing posture began almost exactly as described - the right shoulder drawn
back so that the left points forwards towards the conductor or music stand, if
standing, the left foot pointing in the same direction as the shoulder, heels a few
inches apart and the right foot roughly at right angles with the left. The key is to get
the violin "along the shoulder" and NOT pointing to the floor like a cravat. The phrase
"under the chin" so often heard is absolute poison.
There is also Suzuki flute, and though I am not familiar with it, I would lay bets that it
follows exactly the recipe laid down by Shelagh Aitken.
I used to feel that a lot of the parents thought we were being very fussy in trying to
establish an exactly right posture with lots of little exercises before the pupils had
played a single note, but before training as a Suzuki teacher I constantly had
backache when playing the viola, and since then - although obviously getting a lot
older - I never have. I have also instinctively transferred those posture rules to all
types of recorder and to sitting. It's really worth it.
If you subscribe to the Harpsichord & Fortepiano Magazine, you may be interested to
know that it has been purchased by Early Music Media Limited, but subscriptions will
continue as usual and Micaela Schmitz will continue as editor.
Thoughts about posture and playing Baroque music:
3, The Strings
I’m not a string player, so I spent some time talking about
the particular issues of string instruments with Lynn
Selwood, a Baroque cellist, teacher and coach who
assisted Laurence Cummings at the ‘Saul weekend’ at
Nottingham University a couple of years ago.
The way you lift your instrument first thing has an effect
that carries on right through your playing day. It may
sound trite to say that your feet will always reach the
ground, but I see people who stand and move as if they
worry they’ll fall off the face of the earth – toes and thighs
clenched, hips fixed, feeding tension up through the spine
to the shoulders. Whether you’re standing or sitting, it
starts with the feet. Simply notice what’s happening with your feet: are you letting
them spread and be supported, making good, relaxed contact with the ground?
When you’re sitting, you have the added support of the sitting bones. In effect, they
become another pair of feet. If you’ve lost contact with your sitting bones, find them
by sticking your hands under your buttocks to locate the rounded bony protrusions.
As you move around, notice the effect of shifting weight on your balance and the
amount of tension you need in your legs (less is more!).
Lynn and I talked about supporting the instrument. Gambists and cellists have the
same issue: how to support the instrument without clenching their knees. Lynn finds
a foot position which gives a leg angle on which the instrument balances. If you look
at the rotation of the hip joint as the hip bends, the hip naturally opens outward. The
people who designed early instruments had a good practical understanding of the
mechanical structure of the human body. They designed instruments which, when
held the way the makers intended, work beautifully.
References to posture problems are found from the earliest treatises on. The
problems early music performers face are not new, but we need to look at ourselves
before we blame the instrument.
The shoulders are often the most active part of the body. Think of Jacqueline du Pré
playing the Elgar Cello Concerto, her shoulders rising and falling, leading the
emotional expression. One of the great things about watching her is the sheer
exuberance of her performances. Her shoulders are a compelling visual cue to how
she feels performing. When I watched her performance of the Adagio, what I noticed
is that her shoulders did rise, but always fell back to an open position.
Lynn talks a lot to her students about shoulders. We can all benefit by using her
image of the arms as wings opening outward. Collapsing the torso forward and down
into the instrument happens with both cellists and gambists. To avoid this, think of
creating a circle with the arms, completed by the bow.1 In particular, extending the
bowing arm without raising the shoulder allows you to use the whole of the bow, right
to the tip.2
1 Look at the film of Jacqueline du Pré again.
2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue-46cfAaVc. At 32 seconds, there is a very nice shot of
Wieland Kuijken. Note his open, relaxed shoulders.
If you go to a concert in which Adrian Butterfield is playing, watch him. He rests the
violin on his shoulder, which allows the whole body to become a resonating chamber,
lifts his arms without disturbing his shoulders, and doesn’t distort his head/neck
relationship by wedging the violin under the chin. The violin is balanced on his
Many Early Music violinists have abandoned the chin and shoulder rest combination.
If you do use it, make sure that the shoulder rest is high enough. A study done at the
University of Utrecht by Criss Taylor3 found that all but one of the eleven violinists
who took part had chin rests that were not high enough.
One thing applies to the arms, wrists and shoulders, no matter which string
instrument you are playing: you don’t want to grip the bow. Lynn said she has
students swing the bow arm lightly back and forth, stopping at the top of the arc in
front of the body to bring the hand into the most natural playing position, fingers with
just enough tension to hold the bow in place.
Look at Adrian Butterfield’s bowing hand: he holds the bow so lightly, you feel that it
his held in place by the lightest touch, no matter how fast the passage he is playing.
The fingers don’t hold the instrument up. It is lightly balanced between the shoulder
(or shoulder rest) and the thumb of the left hand. The pads of the fingers drop onto
the strings, springing back up when the note is finished.
Elegance, ease and poise. These words were as important to 18th Century musicians
in describing the performer as the music being played.
The next article will be on plucked instruments. I will end with an article on the voice.
Opportunities to Make Music
Isleworth Baroque is holding an afternoon workshop on Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes,
for singers, players and dancers, tutored by Helena Brown. There will be parallel
streams for singers and dancers, and the afternoon will start with a “bring and share”
lunch. For more information phone Helena on 020 8580 8429, email her at
helenaisleworthbaroque.co.uk or look at the web site www.isleworthbaroque.co.uk
Uebel bass viol with bow £800 and Uebel treble viol with bow £500
Two Roessler baroque alto recorders A=415 and a tenor at A=440
3 It should be noted that the musicians in the study used modern instruments. For more on the
project, see http://www.violinistinbalance.nl/.
Please call Katharine May (GRSM Hons, ARCM) on 01628 783272 or email
available from teacher with over 18 years experience.
Whether you are looking to pass exams, diplomas,
improve your continuo playing, or just want to learn for fun,
lessons are designed to suit individual needs.