Friday, 26 June 2009


Part the second in an occasional series- Recipes for Berenike.


preheat oven to 220C, 425F or Gas mark 7
baking trays at the ready, greased if need be.

book says makes 16, depends how you cut up the dough, say I.

500g/1lb self raising flour
pinch of salt (I ignore that bit)
125g/4oz butter (or margarine - no thanks says Leutgeb. some of my Mother's folks are dairy farmers.)
2 eggs
300ml/ 1/2 pint of milk

sift flour into bowl
rub in butter (think crumble, think bread crumbs)
beat together eggs + milk
pour into flour+butter
recipe says, ' draw together to make a soft but not sticky dough.'
I say pour in, get a spoon out twirl around a bit and bingo dough.
kneed lightly for a few moments until smooth.
lightly flour worktop and roll out dough.
I splat it onto the flour and squish it into a shape 1 inch thick.
They say use a 2 inch pastry cutter, I say find a suitable mug to stamp out rounds.
Place on baking tray and bake in your preheated oven for 10-12 mins until risen and golden.

Eat immediately.

Or put in tin and put into the oven for a few moments to 'freshen' them up.
They need that just baked outer crispiness before you get to the butter, jam, cream, whatever filling you and your guests are diving into.

Disappear into the garden for afternoon tea.

A happy ending

After my HoD fired off his missive, two sleepless nights, much shifting of music stands and checking of music and a concert. After the concert the Mother apologised and boy will be playing next week.

And the scary Russian piano teacher turned out to be very nice in the rehearsal today. Orchestra played well, given that they were all very tired and it was very humid. Then as soon as she went they lost the plot, so we played through something we aren't playing next week and called it a day. They will come up with the goods when needed.

In other news 4 very small tomatoes have ripened in my garden and an un-named insect, maybe a red ant, bit my foot (ouch.)

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Et tu Brute?

One of the occupational hazards of being a Music Teacher, any teacher, anyone really, is people letting you down. A week before a concert I put together in February and have been rehearsing since then a boy (or is it his Mother?) wants him to go on a school trip. After a wishy washy conversation with me on the phone, I set my HoD on the case, who has put his foot down on my behalf, which is great. Btw both this boy's parents are pro musicians, so there is no possibility that they don't understand what they are doing and which all makes it even more gob smacking. Basically, I would have had to fix a pro dep. Brill. Other colleague was having a similar rant at the end of lunch time too about a similar situation and a different concert next week. What happened to loyalty?

By the end of the Summer Term, I am so worn out accommodating other people's whims that I start getting cynical about people. By no means all people, but lots of folks really only consider themselves it seems. Other people, of course, spend all their time considering others and are a real tonic.

Music teaching presents two career options, the nervous breakdown route or the coming out fighting path. I opted for the second, but I have to say it never seems to get any easier. 16 years down, 24 to go.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Gregorian Semiology

by Dom Eugene Cardine is, as my Music Teacher would have said, a slim volume, but as I would say a dense text. So a lot to learn. I blame Hoppin Medieval Music, the set text for my early early Music History Course, for giving the impression that pre Guido d'Arezzo the squiggles were just an aide memoire. Au contraire, there was a method. The Solesmes folks do give the impression that the stave is not the best thing since sliced bread, which is interesting because the usual history of Western Music goes

lots of squiggles from the Ancient Greeks and a few Roman Trumpets and Egyptian ones too, not sure what they played, can't read the music.

Guido d'Arezzo that Antiphon that goes Ut...Re...Mi... etc and bingo, now we know the notes and btw the Medieval guys got all the Greek modes that Plato went on about a bit wrong. Pitch is where it's at folks.

Solesmes is all very different and much more respectful of the past. Like the people (people rather like them, Benedictines for example,) did know what they were up to and it did work. But that's a Catholic interpretation. People in the past told the truth, were not stupid etc.

I've met a few early music bods recently and they have a funny attitude to the music. On the one hand they assume that no-one else has a clue about the people producing it whilst showing that they aren't really in sympathy with them themselves. It's rather like an article I read in The Catholic Herald recently about how people curating exhibitions do not understand the significance of the religious objects they are displaying. They don't know what they are for or even what they are called. I feel more connection with these people in the past. After all they went to the same Mass I'm going to. They were singing the same texts etc.

Enough ramblings. My shoulder is hurting after the kindly (?!) physio wrenched it around a bit this morning. But I have been promoted to Shoulder Class! Still can't reach the C string on the viola quite right, but we are getting there.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Still Alive

Just finished a hectic period of rehearsals, concerts and school stuff.

Time to draw breath before the next onslaught.

Half the horn section is leaving the orchestra. One to Brussels and one to Australia. Sniff. That's sad as they be nice people. We have one replacement lined up and no doubt will find another. Or we will have to do the Eroica!

Anyway, Mozart 25 passed off OK. My usual tactics worked and though both I and horn 1 had a moment of transposition failure, where you recalculate the note into a different key, usually the previous movement. We quickly righted ourselves. Horn parts often have the key written against entries following lots of rests, so you don't do that. Often pencilled in with lots of !!!!!

Bara brith, being the home of music, home-baking and Catholicism, it's time to bake a Victoria Sponge for my Dad before going to Mass. Bon Dimanche and Happy Year of Priests.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Music in my case

Strange but true. Though sometimes I don't actually practise somthing between one rehearsal and the next, having the music in my possession always makes me feel more secure.

Thus, the fact that I now have a copy of Dom Eugene Cardine's 'Gregorian Semiology' makes me feel a whole lot better. All I have to do is read it, understand it and internalise it all and I'll be able to cope in Solesmes. In the meantime, I shall put it in my rucksack and take it to work and back everyday.

I must say the copy of Mozart 25 has been out every day. We had a horn section humorous 'domestic' at the back on the rehearsal on whether it's horn in Bb alto or basso at the w/e. Alto, alas which means that me mere low horn player has to go all clarino suddenly and play top Bbs. My basic approach to not splitting notes is practice, breath, punch from the diaphram and apply a large quantity of bloody mindedness. (I don't go for the betablocker approach to performing.)What I like to think of as a trumpet player mentality, which is apt because Bb alto is the same transposition as a Bb trumpet. Tim, section principal, will no doubt bring his Bb/f-alto horn ( a dual bore double descant horn, no less,) but I have two of the bog standard full doubles and will use my old one because it feels safer. The Alex, see below, will have the night off.

If that all makes no sense to you, worry not, we horn players spend our time essentially playing a different note to the one in front of us, putting things up and down fixed amounts. This concert includes horn in D, E, Eb, Bb alto. The important thing is to remember which key you are transposing into otherwise accidents occur. The rest of the world, particularly string players, think it's crazy. Ah well.

You'll be happy to know that we have lunch in the pub as a section and talk about oo, horns, music, but only the horn parts, horns, mouthpieces, cases, mutes, valve oil, bikes (everyone else is into cycling,) and horns.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Allotment

Having planted my first early potatoes on the Feast of the Annunciation, they have now reached new potato size and whatever the weather are being lifted today. All of the seven remaining plants. Since I have been unable to do much for the last 8 weeks, on account of my poorly shoulder, I have very little ground in cultivation. The couch grass grows high..... Carrots need to go somewhere. The broad beans are a little small, but edible and the parsnips have actually germinated. Tip plant when the ground is warmed up a bit, or give them a hot water bottle. I have many packets of seeds still to plant and really no time til the end of term to do much. Sigh.

On a very positive note, I have been given five blackcurrant bushes by the father of a friend. How lucky is that? Very. Looking at other plot holder, many have a great deal of space given over to fruit, this being Kent, so I'm very pleased. Friends wheeled 2 over on Thursday on the way to vote and gave me 5 eggs from their hens. We have the makings of a cooperative. They returned with a few cuttings. I'll have to give them some potatoes.

Meantime in the back garden next door's plum tree is heaving with fruit and most of it is over hanging into my garden. I can't wait for it to be ripe. Yum. Will make Ruby (neighbour) some jam and things.

The secular media

Found an interesting blog via someone else here.

Would be great if the Religious Affairs correspondent of The Times would read it.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Colloquium II

Tomorrow alias the day after....
Another mish mash of stuff, mostly me not the great Prof. One paragraph doesn't follow on to the next? No, probably not. This isn't an exam after all.

Prof Dobszay, then as a musical scholar with great knowledge of Gregorian Chant, the Western Canon and Hungarian Folk Music has taken the view that as anything may be substituted for the Propers it is legitimate to look into these repositories of music and come up with a suitable body of music that does the job of sacred music and additionally, that allows participation by the congregation, which provides continuity with the traditions of the Faith and of the music used to express it.

This rang some alarm bells along the lines of 'isn't this how we ended up with all 'that' music?' Experimentation? Yikes. Where's my 1962 Missal? He played copious examples to show the reverent quality of the music being used. He said that if other people were allowed to draw on Asian and African cultures in their Liturgy why should a country with a thousand years of Christian culture not draw on it? I suppose the only problem is if you end up looking at music that has been rejected in the past by the Church. Otherwise, you are looking into a treasure trove. He showed a facsimile of a vernacular Te Deum c1500. Would that have been allowed then? If, no, and the person who wrote it was disobeying the authority of the time, does that make it a good setting to use now that we are allowed to use the vernacular? Dunno. People's motivations when they compose are very important.

On the subject of the musical participation of the congregation, the way Prof Dobszay spoke suggested that the Hungarians were very much into it. My experience is, well, is it the repertoire that puts people off (banal?) or is it that there is a folk memory of going to Low Masses and that people were silent in Church? Leaving aside a mere 12 years teaching in Catholic Secondary Education, I think that there are lots and lots of people who really don't want to sing. It doesn't matter how much other people think they should, they just don't want to. (NB Anyone quoting St Augustine, ' He who sings, prays twice,' etc in the combox will be cast out into bara brith's outer darkness, candles not included.) Personally, I think that lots of silence is infinitely preferable to any music at Mass. Music has the capacity to really annoy people so, why not let them have some quiet. As to then bossing them around, I say leave the poor laity alone. There is often a real feeling that it's less of a Mass if there isn't some awful music going on all the time. It's as if you have to keep plugging the silences with stuff. Maybe there's more praying going on when it's quiet. Hard to measure that one, though.

Certainly when I have been to Mass in Ireland or Poland (only once mind in the Franciscan Church in Krakow,) there was not great singing from the congregation, but at the Mass in Krakow (great organist and soprano in the organ loft), you could have reached out and touched the devotion it was so tangible. (PS I'm not suggesting that these nations don't have great musical cultures or that people can't sing. It's just a time and a place thing.) I chose those countries because they have a far more Catholic culture than England and are more culturally homogeneous.

The style Prof Dobszay was down on (very pleasantly,) was yer Western pop, the electronic folk music of our era, crossing national boundaries.... Admittedly, sacred music has borrowed from the secular in the past. Think Parody Masses etc. The trouble is, music switches you in somewhere the instant the first note is sounded and if that place is secular then it's not doing its job. So we need a distinct music for the liturgy because what we are doing is different from our lives in the world. Fr Z would presumably put this under rediscovering our Catholic identity.

Fr Aidan Nichols OP paints the picture of recusant Catholics, plus Anglican converts, plus waves of Irish immigrants (my Grandparents) plus waves of every other nationality of immigrants that make up the Catholic population of England. (Ie English Catholicism? We do cultural and ethnic diversity big time. We just share all the most important things.) As far as I am concerned the only repertoire that takes in the Church Universal and the Church Local must be Chant. Anything else also has the handicap of being obviously written by someone whose name and personality are stamped onto it and a whole pile of other associations. That's fine per se. We all read books written by named people about the Faith, it's just that we don't have their particular take rammed into us at Mass. (hopefully)

Fr Z has had some comments on his blog recently about orchestral Masses. I'm not really sure what I think about them from the perspective of the congregation or the musician. I have no problem listening to others singing. Infact I prefer it. Playing an instrument , mm. I find when playing the organ in Church or singing all I am really doing is that thing as well as I can, given everything that has to be factored in. (Non-musicians beware, you really have no idea, so just don't go there. No believe me, you really don't, just practise for a couple of decades and then come back to us.) That's my experience of conducting really. Total concentration on the orchestra, on what's happening now, what's coming up next, all measured against my idea of how I want it sound. I find I hear much more acutely when charged up on adrenalin. Other people's reactions afterward? Haven't got a clue, I'm onto collecting the music and packing up the music stands. So provided you get to go to Mass again later, to actually go to Mass, bring on the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, especially the Benedictus. Some people seemed to think they should be rejected on the grounds that they were too luxurious aurally. Not sure that's very persuasive. So long as the richness of the sound isn't the end in itself, surely the best possible quality music should be used? Maybe for big Feasts, so that they stand out in the Liturgical Year, but as the greatest Western composers wrote Masses, why not use them?

My final disconnected thought? Dynamics. It seems that there is a modern idea that very important things are said loudly. Thus we should all prove our fervour by singing forte, con brio or con belto as my music teacher would have termed it and we will all feel so much better. (But will we pray so much better?) I have heard this several times in Churchy contexts. That would explain the 'et incarnatus est,' in the Creed being set pianissimo, unaccompanied etc by many composers, whilst everyone genuflects. The opposite is really true. The Poles proved it to me by not singing at all. All this wordiness in Sacred Music. All this racket. Protestantism by the back door, methinks. A great lack of sensitivity and gentleness. Do mothers shout at their babies? Quite.

So, Leutgeb's manifesto of Church Music.
Consonant with the tradition of the Church.
Setting the texts of the Ordinary and Propers of the Mass to be offered.
Opportunities for the congregation to sing if the wish the Ordinaries perhaps, but not in anyway coerced. (Not always necessary, the opportunity, not the coercion, that is, but some people want to sing without actually being in the Choir. Maybe they don't have time.)
Distinct from secular music.
Tonal or Modal.
Unaccompanied or accompanied by organ.
Not attention seeking. (Bring back Choir lofts, then the music floats down from above and behind. Build churches from acoustically reflective materials and get rid of distorting microphones. )
Often absent to allow people some peace and quiet.
In a homogeneous style, so that there is unity in the music.
Fixed, because we are the ones who are supposed to change not the music. (Duffy says one of the big gripes against the Protestants was the way they kept changing things....)

So, it's looking like in goes Chant,
out goes the medley of Protestant, SATB, (though almost always sung in unison,) syllabic, metrical, English hymns. We won't mention the ones that aren't strophic. Hey, count the syllables when you write the words.

Machaut, Dufay, Josquin, Palestrina, Byrd....Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak, Bruckner... they weren't writing hymns. They wrote Masses. Then they set the odd proper text as a motet. All Catholic composers. Dvorak a daily Mass goer. Bruckner the organist at the Alte Kirche in Linz.

Who wrote hymns (chorales)? JS Bach and much as I love his music, he was a Lutheran.
Hark the herald? Mendelssohn, Jewish convert to Lutheranism.
We don't use the Book of Common Prayer here and there because we think the English is pretty, so why treat music as if it has no content and expresses nothing?

Now go and have a cup of tea and a slice of bara brith. You deserve it.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Chant Colloquium 1

Warning, ramblings follow. Go here for a cogent account of the afternoon.

Having met Fr Ray's Maestra di Capella at a Tube station, it was off down a leafy road to The London Oratory School. Signs helpfully pointed us around the building to our destination and an afternoon listening to Prof Laszlo Dobszay.

His formidable biography includes the fact that Zoltan Kodaly invited him to be part of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Folkmusic Research Group and this has obviously provided another stream of music from which to draw, as well as another approach to music making and one, of course, of great importance in Hungary. Kodaly is one of the towering figures in music education as well as being one of Hungary's most famous composers. ( Bartok, wax cylinders, music that keeps changing time sig and is in a crazy mode came to mind...)

I did make a few notes and before my brain turns to mush after five hours invigilation with only a set of first form exam papers to relieve the boredom, here are some thoughts.

Firstly, he spoke about Kodaly's guiding principles of music education and particularly about the importance of presenting the very best quality of music to children. This implies of course that it is possible to make comparisons between music, that there are in fact absolute standards in composition and that children can appreciate what is chosen as best. None of these things pertain to the English National Curriculum. One of the effects of relativism in music education is that it opposes the intensity of study and practice necessary to attain excellence on one instrument in one style. I once had an argument (heated discussion...) with the Local Music Inspector saying that as stringed instruments were not taught in the primary schools, no-one who did not have private lessons would ever be admitted to a music conservatoire as a first study violinist from the borough because unless you are about grade V distinction at 11, you will never be good enough. He said we were not just concerned with those people and I said that we were definitely not concerned with them. As an illustration, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain is overwhelmingly comprised of teenagers who are educated in the independent sector. One leads my String Orchestra at work. It wasn't always like this.

None of this matters if music doesn't matter and is merely a quaint leisure activity. Prof Dodszay went on to speak of music's power as a moral and spiritual force, hence the need to distinguish good and bad music.

When considering the practicalities of liturgical music there are, I suppose, two main things to ponder, who is going to do it and and what are they going to do.

They started with 7/8 year old children who over the past 40 years of his work have themselves become parents and thus an entire musical tradition has been nurtured with people across the country who, because of their shared repertoire, can easily sing together. Another interesting point about these children is that the scholas arose from Religious Instruction Classes and so there is always a synthesis with the teaching and practice of the Faith.

The what took the greater part of the afternoon. Prof Dobszay recognised the problem of the invisible Propers in the OF of the Mass. His solutions included prefacing a vernacular hymn in a folk style (but NB Hungarian Folk Music in a homogeneous culture, where the melodies are often modal etc and the style deeply part of the people's identity, ie nothing to do with what we mean...) with the Introit in the vernacular. Thinking about this in the English context people pointed out that the repertoire we have would not allow that. ( Can you imagine a quasi gregorian melody segueing into I, the Lord of sea and sky?) Mention of folk music usually elicits a response of mirth in England. One thinks of Sean O'Riada in Ireland and the work from the end of his life, so may be broadening out the discussion to other areas of Europe is useful when considering non-chant-based sacred music. The Reformation was arguably not great for music in England. If the best that excellent recent BBC Series on Purcell, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn could do is to put forward the case that the latter three in some way owe their place in music history to the fact of spending time in England, then we have a problem.

Later on in the afternoon, the problem of the translation that we should be using came up. Rather than waiting for one to be provided, Prof Dobszay has gone ahead and produced some musical proposals. He is a scholar and has used pre-existing translations. Other people wondered about approved texts. He pointed out how some people have used 'interesting' words in modern hymns and thought that this was not therefore such a problem. However, from the perspective of people publishing editions that then become obsolete... Also people want to do the right thing. They want to get the correct texts and set them to music and then use them for a very long time. Prof Dobszay kept saying that he was showing liturgies that had been left untouched for 20 or more years. The only innovation was perfecting the quality. I'm happy to stick with Latin. English is not a great language to sing in. It is so wordy and just has Protestant connotations as far as I am concerned. Too many consonants.

More on what tomorrow. Can't possibly reproduce even a fraction of what he said. He spoke for 3 hours or so.

PS Many thanks to the organisers, it was a very interesting afternoon indeed.
And many thanks to Prof Dobszay who brought an enormous amount of material to set before us illustrated with audio, video and scores, all of which he had instantly to hand. Most impressive and without any affectation whatever, just an intense need to get all of his talks delivered.