Past President Laura Townsend opened the meeting inquiring about first time attendees and asked a new participant joining via Zoom from Olympia to introduce herself. Laura then followed with some announcements:
Sarah Jeffery’s evening on March 25.
The Next Level recorder workshop to be held Feb 21-26 in Carmel Valley, CA still has a few spaces available.
Molly Warner added that registration for the Winds and Waves workshop, taught by Frances, Tish, and Clea Galhano in Lincoln City, Oregon April 27-29, has just opened registration.
At this point, Laura introduced Charles Coldwell, co-director of the Recorder Orchestra of Puget Sound, who led this month’s playing session.
Charles began by noting that this month’s program had a definite New Year flavor.
Back Room Gang
Laura led the Back Room Gang exploring a delightful suite of dances by Praetorius. They discussed the character of the dance called a Bransle (pronounced “brawl”) and found ways to make the dance feel light even at a moderate tempo. As usual, a wide-ranging variety of technical issues came up for the individual players and the group cheerfully worked on some solutions together.
The first piece was the New-Yeeres Gift, a galliard from Antony Holborne’s collection of Pavanes, Galliards and Almains, published in 1599. Charles noted that the tactus is the half note, and he would lead the two Holborne pieces by beating in 3, though in the measures with hemiolas, it might be easier to think of the meter as 6/4. He asked us to note the repeats and then had us check for intonation before beginning, noting that it is often best to start intonation checks with a soft breath and then add air if needed to bring the pitch up. After playing through, we spent some time practicing the hemiolas in bars 29-30. In parts that had half notes dividing up the hemiola, Charles instructed us to use a hard articulation like “t” on the half note that was on the hemiola beat (1st and 3rd half-note beat in bar 1 and 2nd half-note beat in bar 2), and a softer articulation for the other half notes. For tempo, he noted that although the Galliard is a vigorous dance, it involves kicking and jumping on the beat, so it cannot be played too fast.
The Heigh Ho Holiday
The second selection was from the same collection. Charles noted that Holiday could be “holy day” and as Jan 5 was the 12th day of Christmas, this selection could also be viewed as appropriate to the day. He warned that the rhythms in this piece were trickier than those in the previous one, noting that sometimes some parts would have clear hemiola while others did not. For example, in bar 11, the soprano part could be thought of as being in 2 beats (like 6/4 meter) but if he conducted that way, it would be confusing. So he recommended articulating the notes as if it were written in two beats even though he was conducting the measure in 3.
We next turned to Charles’ arrangement of Sibelius’ Andante Festivo, which we have played now every year since 2016. Charles told us that the Berlin recorder orchestra had recently uploaded a performance of their version, where they had placed some of the sections an octave lower than ours. Charles’ arrangement keeps the notes at the same pitch as the strings in the original version. Charles noted that his version sounds quite different from the string version when played on recorder, in part because strings can play softly when playing high notes and recorders cannot. He also told us that the piece was originally written as a string quartet and played for the 25th anniversary of a plywood mill in Finland, but when he was asked to provide music for the opening of the New York World’s Fair in 1939, Sibelius rewrote it as a full orchestra piece and added tympani and string contrabass parts. Sibelius said the piece should take five minutes to perform, but in a recording of a performance under his directorship it took six, so at our meeting we used the quarter note as the tactus to slow it down, even though the notated meter is cut time. Charles told us that between the two written versions, the orchestra piece had more variable dynamic markings, perhaps because it is possible to achieve more dynamic contrast with a full orchestra. We played through it easily and nicely with little need to focus on particular sections, perhaps because we play it every year, and so we quickly moved on to the next piece.
Auld Lang Syne (Beethoven version)
Charles noted that a translation of the title might be “old long since”, or perhaps less literally, “days gone by”. Robert Burns sent the lyrics to the Scottish Musical Museum, a publication, in 1788, saying the source was “an old man singing”. Robert Thompson set it to music in 1799. Beethoven composed his version for two violins, cello, soprano, tenor, and bass voices, and piano, and some of the rhythms are a little different from the version we are most likely used to. Before we started, Charles noted that for the second ending, we would need to make a quick jump over the first ending and that the fermata in bar 32 would be quick. He also noted the wide jumps in the contrabass part, and said that if it was easier, the contrabass could skip the second note in each pair. We practiced the places where there were 16th notes, and then played the piece through.
Charles noted that the title means “little street procession”, perhaps reminiscent of New Years celebrations where people dance in the street. Charles first learned about its history while on a cruise visiting Uruguay and the Tango Museum of Montevideo located in the cafe ‘La Giralda on Jan 6, 2019, which is why he chose it for our New Year’s session. The composer, Rodiguez, was an architecture student who composed it as a march. On February 8, 1916, Rodriguez asked Firpo to rework it as a tango for a performance that very evening. Firpo accomplished this, and the performance was a success. Firpo recorded his tango version for two violins, one bandoneon (a type of accordion), one flute, and a piano in November 1916. Charles based his arrangement for recorder orchestra on Firpo’s and another early recording.
Charles noted that interesting rhythms at the beginning in the great bass and contrabass are played with a staccato with light accent. Other parts have this later. He noted the one repeat and told us to do trills in whatever way was easy. Then he led us through the music noting that parts he labeled A1, A2, A3 etc were different versions of the same theme, and that for, example, A3 returns to the first theme much like a Rondo. We practiced bar 42, where Alto 1, Alto 2 and Tenor 1 have eighth notes off the beat while sopranos play on the beat, and then ended the evening with a “good first run through” of this lovely tango.