The Seattle Recorder Society welcomed Sally Mitchell to lead the evening’s Back Room Gang.  When she was asked to substitute for Laura Townsend, she thought about it for about two seconds before saying, “Oh, yeah!” and looked forward to getting to know that night’s Gang.

O Virgo Splendens by Anonymous

With about twenty people on Zoom and about as many in the sanctuary, our warm-up piece was the antiphon canon O Virgo Splendens from Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (The Red Book of Montserrat) complied by Anonymous in the late 14th century.  Our Music Director Vicki Boeckman pointed out how the letter “O” was immensely ornamented and should be played with very smooth articulation.  Our first time through we played the canon in three parts as written: “Really beautiful, cool!” and then the second time we played in unison: “Beautiful, beautiful, thank you!” remarked Vicki.  We played in two measure phrases with fermatas and then a breath before continuing to the next phrase.

She encouraged us to keep playing this incredible piece in our own groups as a warm-up to settle in, even try turning our backs to each other to feel the space and the breaths.

Christe by Fulvio Caldini

Fulvio Caldini (born 1959) composed Christe Opus 59/D in 2006.  Composed specifically for four recorder voices, it’s less minimalistic than many of his compositions.  Usually the Christe (Kyrie) is the first movement of the Mass.  One look at the written music ahead of time for me alerted me to the importance of counting in this piece, as the time signature changed a total of 63 times! Generally, leading up to each set of a half note followed by a tied half note, there was a group of quarter notes.  This group at first had three quarters, then grew to four quarters, followed by five quarters and so on up to twelve and then decreasing, leading up to the halves.  The shape/articulation/gesture then depended on if the group had an odd or even number of quarter notes in it. Vicki encouraged us to play around with shading of finger holes to avoid going sharp as we got louder.

On our first attempt, Vicki exclaimed “So pretty, it’s more and more gorgeous as we go!” She instructed, “Don’t shy away from those moments!” when playing the dissonant chords, and we isolated and practiced those unresolved then resolved chords.  On the higher notes we were reminded that we needed less power but breath support and narrow air.  We started the piece in unison, but then the basses and tenors moved scalewise.  The basses had the melody – a fun line (shh, don’t tell the Altos that!).  Vicki said she wished each of us could come to the front of the playing group and listen to the rest of the recorders!  “Gorgeous, really amazing!  It’s powerful, like power within us, the feeling of being connected to the earth, grounding.”  By the end of the piece, it was quite austere; “Isn’t that amazing…minimalistic tendencies with a small amount of effort for this effect.”

Kyrie Eleison by Lance Eccles

Our final piece was Kyrie Eleison by Lance Eccles (born 1944) in which Vicki announced we would find a lot of his “Ecclesness” in this Descant/Treble/Tenor1/Tenor 2/Bass score.  Eccles lives “down under” in Australia, so beware that the measure numbers are below the staves.  Although the time signature changed often, the eighth notes remained constant.  With smooth articulation, those with the theme were also coached to have no haste in playing.  We looked over the music and identified when any one voice had the theme, interspersed throughout.

Lance Eccles being Lance Eccles, he morphed all over the place in different keys.  He alternated between his modern way and a more chant-like feel, trying to find the theme, but constantly interrupted by another voice.  By page 3 it got “a little weird” and a little high for the Altos, but (thankfully) not super-fast.  During our first playing of it, Vicki cheered, “This is going really well, Yea!  Good reading!”  Eccles spent a lot of time in China, so there was definitely an Eastern flavor to the sounds.  Vicki encouraged us to try playing more of Eccles’ music: “It’s so, so fun!” (available for purchase/downloads online).  After the last time through and honoring the chant, we were rewarded with “Yea, fantastic, you did it!”

Back Room Gang

Contributed by Molly Warner

Sally Mitchell happily agreed to come out of retirement to substitute for Laura Townsend in directing the Back Room Gang at the February 3rd SRS meeting. Sally was for many years the music director for both the Moss Bay Recorder Society and the Back Room Gang at SRS; she is one of a large cadre of past SRS presidents as well. She is a top-notch teacher, always with a positive attitude.

Sally appeared at Maple Leaf Lutheran Church, however, with her left arm in a sling, having slipped on the ice and broken her arm. Although she couldn’t yet manage a recorder, “I can still sing my part!” she said cheerfully.  Sally brought to the group of three BRG participants a treasure trove of medieval music (oh yes, she is also a longtime member of the Medieval Women’s Choir).  They began with two short rounds with Latin words, Laudemus Virginem and Splendens Ceptigera, from the Llibre Vermell, a collection of 14th-century Spanish music.  Sally sang while the others played their SAT recorders.

These were followed by the lovely and famous Stella Splendens, also from the Llibre Vermell, in two parts without words but organized into verse and refrain.  The participants experimented with different ways to play it for different effects.  Switching from Latin to French, Sally presented Volez vous que je vou chant, a song by a Chansonnier de l’Aresenal from about 1270.  Sally had devised an Estampie based on Volez Vous, and the three participants had to find which parts of the Estampie came from the original melody.

Finally, the group played Santa Maria, strela do dia, a 13th century song of praise, one of the Cantigas de Santa Maria.  Again, the emphasis was on finding different ways this could be performed for different effects.  Sally said of the group, “They were good sports and they did well!”  Many thanks to Sally for stepping in and providing such an engaging and imaginative introduction to the music of the medieval period!