Only took me two months to pull this together for Mistress Linette: Link goes to MP3.
Only took me two months to pull this together for Mistress Linette: Link goes to MP3.
Ages ago, I had this idea that, to sing/chant alliterative poetry, one should assign fixed tones to the stressed syllables, and then fill in the other syllables as needed.
I was thrilled to find that 'The Rhythm of Beowulf' suggested a similar scheme, a year or three ago. (Where does the time go?)
Yesterday in the car, I was trying it out. At a first go, it's really really hard to let go of years and years of singing one way and suddenly sing another.
Then I thought: What if... I played the 'stress notes' on the lyre or harp, and sang the others? Dividing the work between hands and voice might help maintain the separation between the fixed pattern and the changing ornamentation - sort of like the principle behind playing guitar chords, I guess.
Wow, okay, it sounds a lot less novel when I put it like that. Heh.
Still, that's similar enough to some of the kinds of improvisation that I have done that I think I might be able to get it to work. Will have to try soon!
Saturday was Storvik Performer's Revel, and on a lark I debuted 'The Tale of Guthrun' - a prose recitation of her story that I hashed out in the car on the way over. I was able to incorporate a good number of call backs to the poetry ('as greater than other men as the leek is greater than the grass,' etc) and it got a really good reception! I had opened by saying that I don't normally do storytelling, and when I finished, someone said, "You should do it more often."
Yesterday, I also tried telling the tale with my harp in my hands. Mostly open fifths, home and away, with pauses in the tale for longer melodic riffs. I think it worked pretty well! I'll try lyre next.
Working on class notes for 'Summer's End Schola' up in the East. Research for Performing Arts and Never Apologize: Do's and Don't for Bardic Performance.
Got the lights from my friend! Have to figure out where to put them in the basement next.
Found an old issue of the Folk Harp Society Journal that my harp teacher gave me at our last lesson (a year ago) - had her article on ap Huw figures in it. I practiced my thumb choke and short plait tonight, because what's the point in keeping old articles around if you don't use them? Also read the article on ergonomics and worked a little at getting my seat at the right height.
Briefly pondered the applicability of harp figures from 1600 (the ap Huw manuscript) to a time 600-700 years earlier. Then wondered if assuming they didn't use any similar figures was any better. Perilously close to "well since we don't know how they did it" territory, but I think different - I'll have to ponder it some more and see if I can't write up something sensible about it.
So - I took a quick look to see if there was a website I could post to introduce the curious to ap Huw. Unsurprisingly, Bill Taylor has an awesome article about it. (Unsurprising because he also has an awesome recording of his interpretation.) More surprising (to me) was a book I had not heretofore seen by Karen Marshalsay, Key Techniques for Harp, which is supposed to teach the ap Huw figures. And zoom, I have plonked down my $40 to get a copy. (Note for the interested: The book is 20 GBP. When it says "Post to UK/Europe/Other Destination" and gives 25 GBP, that's the total price - 20 GBP for the book and 5 GBP for shipping. Which is way more reasonable than I read it at first!)
More stuff from years past, although this one is more recent than I thought it was. In 2009, someone asked on the Merry Rose mailing list for a structure for an initiation for new household members. I replied at length, first with a general format and then with a specific example.
I. Welcome and Invocation
The leader welcomes the initiate(s) and attendees and states the purpose of the gathering.
II. The Initiate Is Informed
The initiate(s) are called forward. The leader (or an assistant) describes the ethos and goals of the household and the duties, responsibilities and privileges of its members. A brief history of the household may be included.
III. A Pact Is Made
The leader asks the initiates if they understand their responsibilities, and the initiates reply with some version of "I do." The leader asks if the initiates if they wish to join the household, and again they reply something like "I do." Depending on the structure of the household, the attending members may be asked if they agree to accept the initiates and guard and train them, or the household's leader (may or may not be the ceremonial leader) may make the decision unilaterally.
IV. Tokens Are Given and Received
Some items symbolic of the household or of the pact are given to the initiates, and their symbolism explained to the attendees.
V. New Members Are Welcomed
The leader presents the initiates to the attendees as new members of the household. There is cheering, hugging, ceremonial buffeting, whatever works for you. If possible, a shared meal or refreshment should be offered.
For an imaginary household named Glad-Wood
Hall. It's main focus is A&S (early period and Anglo-Saxon in
particular) although some members fight, and it's starting to become
active in service. Several founding
members have small children, and keeping things kid-friendly is a
priority. Glad-Wood Hall is run by its founding Lord and Lady, and the
household's scop will serve as the ceremonial leader.
Hwaet! Hear me, hearken my words
Welcome all comers to wide Glad-Wood Hall
Travelers come from Kingdom Atlantia
Seeking our fire solace of hall
Aethelstan and Godwin, come before the high seat of Bertwald our ring-giver and Cynwise who bears the mead-horn.
(approach the lord and lady on their bench)
Brave Bertwald in bygone day
Raise our high hall happy were we
Cynwise loves music scops were well-fed
Glad-wood sang Wonderful sound
So our hall named for noise most merry
Know you, Aethelstan and Godwin, that Bertwald seeks peace in the land. No coward he, and warriors welcome to our hall, but he seeks not out strife and blood. Glad-Wood Hall he fills instead with learning and with art. Bright Cynwise passes the horn to scribe and to scholar as well as to soldier - all are honored here. Even the smallest, babes at the breast, be welcome when we set our tables.
Bertwald and Cynwise seek ever out new knowledge to ornament our hall. They seek also a willing spirit, to help our hall-mates according to need and to ability. Know that if you are in need, the men and women of Glad-Wood Hall will help you best they can, offer they knowledge or time or a strong back. If you seek knowledge, it will be shared; your knowledge, you will share freely. Do you understand our compact?
Lord Bertwald, Lady Cynwise, to you I present these far-travelers, seeking shelter in Glad-Wood Hall.
You, Aethelstan, I have heard you are a scribe and also a tailor. Is this so?
It is, your lordship.
I have need of a scribe and a tailor in my hall. Will you join your gifts to my household?
Gladly, my lord.
Then take from my hand this ring of bright gold, and also this quill, so that you may do good work for us.
You, Godwin: it is said that you are a gleeman of note, a singer of fine songs. Is this so?
It is, your ladyship.
Music is always welcome in Glad-Wood Hall. Will you join your gifts to my household?
Gladly, my lady.
Then take from my hand this silver penny, and also this cup, that your throat shall never be dry.
Now drink you both from my mead-horn, and be welcome in our hall.
Behold! Our guests brothers become
Gleeman and scribe great their gifts
Welcome them warmly well-wishes bestow
Then sit for feast food shared as family
First, before I forget - one of the reasons "Veni" was giving me such a headache was that I had it in the wrong mode. It's Mixolydian, not Lydian. Now that I'm starting on the right note, it works great.
I've had the week from Introvert Hell (four 10-11 hour days of business conference) so I was not as well-practiced, well-rested or even coherent as I might have been. But! I had a lovely time.
Got to sit with the Bright Hills Bards, who are always awesome.
Entered a bunch of old stuff into the Northern European A&S display.
Showed a few interested folks the lyre; Mistress Molly very generously gifted me with veil pins for the demonstration.
The Anglo-Saxon poetry class had four! students, who followed right along and said I was making sense. We didn't do a writing exercise, at least partly because I forgot to bring paper and pens for it. D'oh. So (since at least 3/4 were performers) we talked performance modes instead.
Also in good scop fashion, after I performed "Beocat," I was asked to do it again for the kitchen folks. Kitchen folks approved and offered me a small measure of mead. Yum!
Got to geek out a bit about my garb with Aaradyn. Possibly a bit too much... ("Why did you pick purple and red?" "Oh! Blah blah Arnegunde blah blah round pins blah pin suite blah blah") Pleased to report that the chained pin suite/belt combo works very well to hold the coat/robe in place in lieu of the round pins.
Ooh, also on the costuming front: Since it was chilly, I wore the wool veil I made originally to go with this ensemble. As it is a bit heavy, I put on my gold-threaded headband (just for bling), then over it put a linen cap from Revival Clothing. I pinned the heavy veil right to the cap instead of to the headband. Worked like a charm! (Got the idea from this book, I think. Or possibly this one.)
I went outside to say hello to Aaradyn and Baron William, and Aaradyn introduced me to her Highness, who was lovely. We spoke for a bit about poetry and music, and Baron William said some very nice things (apparently I wrote a poem about armoring? And he's kept it? Very sweet!)
Finally: the performance! It was not error-free, unsurprisingly, but I think it went very well. I was not pleased with myself for being on-book, and my eye contact for those pieces was sketchy at best, but life's life. Despite all my good intentions, practice has just not been happening - although I wonder if it may, soon. It feels sort of like my energies are swinging back into this. Still, self-care first - work has picked up with a lot more responsibilities and I need to do things like get exercise and play with the kids. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. One thing at a time.
My tied-on wrist straps have seemed low. They hold the instrument to my hand well enough, but I can't relax my arm into them and still reach the strings. I recall that at least one of the extant lyres has mounts for a strap, and they're higher on the arms. My knots won't hold up high, though.
Solution: Add friction! Photo essay below the cut.
I worry more about a command performance than a competition. If I mess up during a competition, the worst thing that happens is that I lose. But when someone has requested me to play for an occasion, and I mess that up... it feels like giving a broken present.
I was requested to play my wire harp for my church's summer solstice service. Normally, I do my improv as meditations, but the organizer wanted "Sheebeg, Sheemor." Now, I know that; it's actually the only O'Carolan I know. So I got out the harp for some crash practicing.
"Let's go simple," I thought. "Melody with octave-grabbing on the strong notes." Except I'd grab sevenths and ninths instead of octaves. "Melody with moving drone!" Better, but still not performance-ready.
Back when the Storvik Music Ensemble was running, we had a violinist. He played well enough solo but had no group experience. No problem, that's what ensemble was for. So I'd give him easy parts - really easy. Like, one note per measure. And he seemed offended. He could play more difficult stuff than that.
But not under pressure.
I eventually just played the melody, with one open fifth at the ending. And it worked. I think I missed two notes, but they weren't critical ones and I kept the rhythm going - you could legitimately call it a "variation," I think. Certainly not ear-splittingly wrong. I was happy with the performance, and I suspect I would not have been if I'd gone for something even a smidgen more technically challenging.
Allison Mondel held a three-hour workshop on singing the chant of Hildegard von Bingen in DC this past Saturday, as part of the DC Early Music Festival. I attended and it was awesome.
The focus of the workshop was on reading and performing from Hildegard's original notation. While she did use a four-bar staff with C clefs, she did not use the square neumes that I usually associate with chant. Everything was much more... cursive. Happily for me, it looks rather like what little I've seen of the Winchester Troper's notation, although I don't think the Troper has bar lines at all.
There are times when I'm glad I'm not a "paper trained" musician. This was one of them. People who are used to being able to sing by sight-reading seemed a lot more uncomfortable.
Allison lives in Baltimore but will be moving to Silver Spring. I am very much considering signing up for some vocal coaching. I expect to be somewhat torn - I really love exuberant chest-voice singing, while the "official early music sound" is more in the head and mouth and a lot more pure-toned. But I think I would like to learn the technique, even if I set it aside occasionally, and I would really like to learn how to "tune" properly (Pythagorean-ally?).
A "problem" with "Nam languens" and "Veni, delectissime" is that they're so short. I say "problem" because it's strictly a problem of perception and staging. Bardic performances are supposed to go 3-5 minutes. Long pieces show more skill than short pieces (not really but that's the perception).
Now, there's nothing stopping me from going off and tackling the Battle of Maldon or Brunaburgh as a lengthy performance. (Possibly too lengthy...) But I've put a good bit of work into these shorter, lyric pieces, so I thought - how about combining them into a longer poetic cycle?
Start with "Veni, delectissime" - two people in love.
Then, any combination of "Wulf and Eadwacer," "The Wife's Lament," and "Nam languens." "Deor" could fit as well (it has been suggested as a partner to "Wulf and Eadwacer," with Deor and Wulf being the same man) but the first three all have female speakers. "Deor" would be a sudden shift of point of view... although it could work...
End with "The Husband's Message."
Thematically, it would go:
Sensual love and joy (Veni)
Forcible separation, longing and danger (Wulf)
Meditation on bad times; looking forward to better times (Deor)
More longing, hoping for reunion (Nam languens)
Reunion (Husband's Message)
"Wife's Lament" is a bit of an odd duck with many possible interpretations; the more I think about it, the more I think I'd rather leave it out, at least for now.
The most obvious flaw in this cunning plan is that mixing the Latin and Old English verses into a "cycle" is really dodgy. Of course, I'm not in the least actually proposing that these poems belonged together originally. It's just a nice "program" for presentation.
"Veni" and "Wulf" are performance-ready. I hope to have "Nam languens" done in a reasonable amount of time. The biggest project would be learning/adapting "The Husband's Message," but I've meant to learn it for years now. It's a touchingly sweet poem.