Welcome & Announcements
From my Zoom perspective at home, the in-person session of the Seattle Recorder Society was well-attended, and there were eighteen of us online plus, I can report, at least one small dog! President Laura Townsend began with announcements, and then introduced Nancy Bent, the board’s nominee for President-Elect. Note that our annual election and other business will take place at 7pm on April 14 (not April 7 due to Good Friday), in our usual hybrid format (on Zoom and at Maple Leaf Lutheran Church) and immediately prior to the playing session. Molly Warner reminded us that March is “Play the Recorder Month,” so it was fitting that we had the honor of being directed by Peter Seibert, Director Emeritus, for tonight’s playing session. Details for all the events announced by Laura can be found in the calendar section of this newsletter. She also reminded us that members may place notices in the SRS newsletter if they are looking for ensemble-mates.
Earlier this week I returned from the Next Level Recorder Workshop in Carmel Valley, California. The teaching, learning, music, merry-making, camaraderie, and food were all wonderful! With Tish Berlin, Frances Blaker, Maria Diez-Canedo, and Anne Timberlake as faculty, I’m still basking in the glow of this fantastic experience. Did I see you at the Columbia Gorge Early Music Retreat, and will I see you at the Port Townsend Workshop? By the end of this month (or perhaps earlier), registration for Port Townsend Workshop will be open. While there are plenty of online workshop opportunities, the in-person ones have started up again and I encourage you to enjoy and take advantage of them!
Look Down O Lord by William Byrd
Having selected four pieces composed by William Byrd for us, Peter transcribed all of these pieces for recorder himself, making this playing experience even better! Tuning, of course, was first, with those of us at home on the honor-system for tuning, followed by the warm-up piece Look Down O Lord (with text by William Leighton ca. 1565-1622). Peter encouraged us to think of long lines of singers singing this piece. He asked that we mind the text and observe the breath marks where all of us breathed together, instead of just plowing through like a computer-generated rendition. After a few improvements, and another time through, Peter cheered, “Good! Very, very nice!”
Fantasia No.1 à4 by William Byrd
Fantasia No.1 à4 was originally an instrumental piece composed by Byrd for viols. As was typical of instrumental music, this piece started with an idea, then got more tense and more involved as it went on. After our first attempt, Peter congratulated us, “That’s not an easy piece to get through! Well done!” We focused on the individual parts in the second half, where Byrd was evidently having some fun! It is generally difficult to write and to make four moving lines all fit together, and Byrd was a master at this. In those days there weren’t any bar lines, Peter reminded us, so don’t cling to those. After our last time, Peter declared, “Lovely! Thank you!”
Laetentur coeli by William Byrd
The Latin title and text of Byrd’s Laetentur coeli (from Cantiones I 1589) was based on Isaiah 49:13 “Ye heavens praise, and earth rejoice…” This antiphon has a Psalm in the middle of it, played by the upper three voices. To demonstrate this melodramatic music, Peter sang the first few lines for us. He reminded us that there’s “one flat except for when there isn’t” and we proceeded to play the first few lines. “Isn’t it wonderful how the five parts flow? Keep thinking: smooth rendition….let it bloom!” Peter cued in the parts (to spare some of us having to count seventeen measures of rests) and challenged us to imagine singers in a cathedral. When we finished this piece, Peter enthused, “Isn’t that gorgeous? Wow! Wonderful music. Thank you!”
Ave verum corpus by William Byrd
Our last piece was Byrd’s Ave verum corpus, a much later piece (from Gradualia I (1610)) which didn’t look like the last piece at all. This one had all the parts moving together in the beginning. Ave verum corpus was popular with both sacred and secular groups. It’s best with Alto/Tenor/Tenor/Bass, advised Peter, but could also be played up an octave on the upper voices. After sight-reading, we went back and “polished up a few things” including – for expressive reasons – adding an eighth note rest to breathe at the end of the phrases, and to give space before the final Amen. We gave extra attention to the final three bars of a long Amen: “This is dramatic stuff! Wow!” When Peter asked if it sounded good to us (at home and in-person) we applauded! Peter, as both a musician and composer, said that he’s moved by the notes even though he’s not religious: “The sound of the music, the way the harmony and the notes relate is what is moving. We achieved more than just playing the proper notes and ending together – we actually made music!”
Back Room Gang
After joining the large group for Peter’s first piece, the Back Room Gang adjourned to the library for some further discussion and exploration of Byrd’s music. First up was a detailed review of the parts that Back Room Gang members had played in Look down, O Lord which are all quite lovely on their own as well as in combination. Various aspects of playing Renaissance polyphony came up, including counting half notes, strong entrances after rests, flowing musical lines, tying across the beat, and holding one’s own rhythm while others are playing something quite different. Next up was Byrd’s beautiful three-part Alleluia quae lucescit for soprano, alto/tenor, and bass. This serene piece from 1610’s Gradualia gave everyone a chance to practice holding long notes and then playing smooth moving notes. It was agreed that Renaissance polyphony presents plenty of challenges that are very rewarding to play, once you know more about the style.
Seibert takes a look at the late Renaissance composer’s life and music in Spring issue of American Recorder
William Byrd was born around 1540 and died 400 years ago on July 4, 1623. I’ve intentionally omitted writing any of his biography here, and will instead direct you, dear readers, to the American Recorder Society’s Spring 2023 publication of American Recorder, “In the 400th anniversary year of the death of Byrd, who is called by some ‘the father of British music,’ Seibert takes a look at the late Renaissance composer’s life and music.” Play-along music is also available on the ARS website. And, if you are not a current member, I highly encourage you to join this fabulous organization!