top of page

Tamesis Issue 192

June 2007

Enclosed is the form for the John Milsom workshop on 22nd September. I’ve been asked to stress that plenty of men’s voices are needed, and if they apply well in advance it won't be necessary to turn sopranos away needlessly. The Headington venue is a new one, and is conveniently on the London to Oxford coach route with a choice of two coach companies and six boarding points, about which Diana Porteus can supply more information. Her contact details are on the form. She’s willing to send out coach timetables and maps of coach/bus stops, together with transport companies’ contact details, if you send a stamped addressed envelope. She says that the coach is a real doddle from London and comes complete with loos, laptop sockets, coach stop announcements, etc. If you’re coming by car and you’re familiar with the Headington (or Green Road) Roundabout, you might like to know that it has been completely redesigned in the last nine months or so. I’m sorry Tamesis is later than expected this month. Alan (husband) and I suddenly decided that the end of May was the best time for us to take a holiday, so at a moment’s notice we went cycling in the Veneto. We really enjoyed it, though the weather varied from extremely hot to extremely wet. It wasn’t a very musical experience, as you might expect, except that we spent four days in Venice at the end where we had the pleasure of hearing Michael Procter’s Venice course concert. We also attended the high mass at St Mark’s where they sang up in the organ lofts. Apparently they are the only visiting choir who are allowed to do this. The concert was in a church on the Zattere whose name I’ve forgotten, with a glorious acoustic, and the music by Croce, Willaert, Donato, Merulo and Ingegneri, sounded wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the Donato, and wonder whether he would be a suitable composer for a TVEMF event.

The same music performed in St Mark’s was much more difficult to hear, and I was reminded that the singers would originally have been reinforced by instruments. According to Bryant in his New Grove article on Gabrieli, up to six instrumentalists, playing cornetti and trombones, held salaried positions at St. Mark’s during the latter part of the sixteenth century, and these could be supplemented by as many as fourteen extra players for major festivals of the church such as Christmas, Easter and Ascension. This would certainly have made the music, though not the words, more audible. Michael Procter’s choir sounded extremely beautiful, however, if rather more ethereal than they had at their concert, and coped magnificently with the extremely complicated service. It was just a shame that the choir arriving to sing for the next service got the applause from the congregation!

We also went to a concert of motets for soprano and continuo, by Gabrieli, Cavalli, Monteverdi and others, at the Palazzo Querini Stampalia. These short concerts held on Fridays and Saturdays at 5pm and 8.30, in conjunction with the Scuola Musica Antica Venezia, are well worth going to if you happen to be in Venice, and are included in the price of your admission to the palazzo (which also happens to be one of my favourite Venetian buildings). They make a very pleasant change from the endless Vivaldi offered at almost all the other concerts in Venice.
Victoria Helby

Chairman’s Chat
This year I decided to have a change from Beauchamp House at which I have been a regular, and have just returned from the VVR (Viols, Voices and Recorders) course, held for the first time at Halsway Manor. It's always tricky to balance the pros and cons of the numerous early music courses - Beauchamp has Philip Thorby, Alan Lumsden and Clifford Bartlett as tutors, and a fine assembly of cornett, sackbut and curtal players with some excellent singers and strings (though not many of the latter). However, the cost has been rising steadily over the years and there is no accommodation on the site unless you camp. I decided that my camping days are over, but there are B & B's so I shall review the situation after I return from the NWEMF course in July.

The VVR course is untutored and therefore substantially cheaper than most. Halsway Manor, dating in part back to the 15th century, is an excellent venue, being on the edge of the Quantock hills with good accommodation and friendly staff. Michael Sharman and his team had done a good job of organisation and things ran pretty smoothly. There was a good variety of large-scale music in the evening, conducted by Delyth Holland, Helen France and Martin Grayson. In the other sessions I ended up doing rather more recorder playing than I had hoped, simply because of a shortage of tenor voices and sackbuts, but it was a chance to meet up with some old friends and I had a good time. Several of us continued playing until the 11pm deadline each evening and in the afternoons there was walking, more playing, or a game of croquet. In spite of the course title there were sufficient other instruments for some enjoyable "loud wind" sessions as well as the advertised ones.

I know many of you go to one or more summer schools, so let us have some reviews so that members can compare the courses.

David Fletcher

Letter to the editor
As the originator of the word Tamesis as the title of this newsletter so many years ago I suppose I should say something. I expect that you all know (that's the way to irritate one's audience) that Tamesis (rhymes with stammer, sis) is the Latin name for the Thames as illustrated in the cover design which came from my teenage daughter at the time. I contradict our chairman with trepidation, but I think I was made aware of tmesis by our good friend Tim Samuelson from SEMF, another member of the Early Music Pedants' Association. This was some time after we had got going, and my reaction may well have been "so what?" More pertinently, I once found to my horror that (if I recall correctly) Reading University had a magazine called Tamesis in the 1920s. Perhaps it's no longer going: they've never complained, anyway. If I had known that I might have called this organ Musica Tam - what is the genitive of Tamesis?
Chris Thorn
It's still Tamesis! But according to my dictionary the Romans also used Tamesa (genitive Tamesae). Victoria (Ed)

Benslow Music Trust, 11-13 May 2007
The Voices and Viols weekend was more successful than ever this year. Some twenty people, including various TVEMF members, converged on Hitchin to explore the large repertoire in which individual voices and viols can be combined in various ways. Alison Crum was joined as tutor by Peter Syrus for the first time. Their choice of music (Palestrina, Marenzio, Byrd and Schütz, among others) went down very well and included motets, verse anthems, consort songs and a 24-part polychoral mass by Annibale Padovano for which we didn’t have quite enough people, although the gaps didn't seem to matter much!

Most of the participants were viol players with different combinations of treble, tenor and bass instruments, and different preferences for clefs, which must have made the programming of the sessions a complex task. More bass players would have been welcome. As usual there was a shortage of singers, especially men, although some people could both sing and play. Normally we were divided into three groups, with plenary sessions at the start and the end of the course. We were offered mostly vocal music, often in transposition, in any number of parts from four to 24, and each part fits one size of instrument. The available voices took whatever part suited each singer's range, sometimes doubled by a viol. When the balance was well adjusted the overall effect was remarkably beautiful.

Alison and Peter are a very well matched partnership as they are both particularly patient and helpful tutors with immense knowledge of the repertoire and the problems of ensemble playing/singing. Alison is the more technically minded of the two. She pays great attention to the need to get the viols to play with appropriate attack and bowing style to match the vocal quality of the music. Peter uses his academic experience to great effect and his own editions, which are available to buy, are immaculately prepared. One of the Byrd pieces was a verse anthem he had reconstructed himself from an organ part.

Many people commented on the extra enjoyment they had had from the weekend. There was a noticeable sense of bonding in both the tutti and smaller groups which was most satisfying. Benslow food is also of a high standard nowadays, and a kind of family atmosphere was generated, which was good. At table one day Alison managed to utter a meaningful sentence that included the phrase I'd never heard before: "crumhorn phrasing". I later found that if you Google that phrase you will be told that it doesn't match any documents on the Internet!

Inevitably most of the participants were the 'usual suspects', but we did have one visitor from Belgium and one from France. Perhaps a slightly fuller attendance next year will lead to even better results.
Robert Johnson

Wild Ruby Crossword competition results
Wild Ruby ( is happy to announce that the winner of the Early Music Prize Crossword competition is Ruth Harris, who will receive a copy of our CD of Sephardic Songs. Chris North and Mark Leonard deserve honourable mention for also providing correct solutions, though they were defeated by the random selection process.

I hope that more people took part in this than sent in answers. Perhaps it should have been a little easier (though of course the aim of the selection process is to generate exactly one winner, so I was within two replies of the perfect puzzle...) I enjoyed creating it immensely and I plan to compose some more to put on the Wild Ruby website in the future.

The solution is as follows:


Andrew Kay

Please do another one for Tamesis next year, Andrew. And yes, at least one more person is enjoying doing it. I forgot to take it on holiday with me so am about to have another go at it, and have so far managed not to look at the answers! Victoria (Ed)

Can you help SEMF (if only by joining)?
I’ve recently received the Forum reports given at the recent Interfora meeting Most of them were optimistic, but I’m printing here a slightly shortened version of the report which Tim Samuelson wrote on behalf of the Southern Early Music Forum. From it you will see that SEMF is struggling to survive. This may be partly our fault, because, as you will see, Tim thinks that members are being seduced away by the “bright lights of TVEMF”. Please think what you could do to help if you live in the southern part of our region. It doesn’t cost much to join SEMF. Then perhaps you could also join the committee, or organise an informal playing day or plan a tutored event. I’m thinking about suggesting a joint event next year, perhaps a visit to Finchcocks, but that doesn’t solve the immediate problem and it would be a shame if SEMF became the second forum to disappear. I’m pleased to read that our member Pat Stewart, who has just moved into the SEMF area, has already offered her help. SEMF obviously still has a role to play in organising informal playing sessions, and in fact I would like to see TVEMF do more of this. They are also about to hold a workshop on reedcap instruments, which I would love to attend if only my stamina didn’t come into their lowest category (need break after 10 minutes)! It’s worth bearing in mind though, Tim, when you’re worrying about finding active committee members, that TVEMF never has committee meetings at all. These were always hard to arrange and now our only formal meeting is the annual AGM. Otherwise we simply email each other and discuss things informally when we meet at events. We are also lucky to have several non-committee members who organise occasional events.
Victoria Helby

Southern Early Music Forum
Report 2006/7
Reading through last year's SEMF report … I see that very little has changed. We have had six 'consort playing days', which follow a similar format. There are 3 sessions during the day where groups of varying sizes are made up, and generally tutored by a member of the group, followed by a final session where everyone comes together to work at a larger work (12-24 parts) and conducted by one of our more experienced musicians. The consort days have been at Haywards Heath, East Grinstead, Horsmonden, Canterbury, Lewes and Bradbourne House, near Maidstone. These have been generally successful, and are enjoyed by those who come. The only tutored day was for singers only, given by David Allinson (Ad Fugam!) at Challock, in Kent, and this has become an annual event.

In addition, there is the day at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton (near Chichester), where groups are invited to entertain the public by playing music in the historic houses on the site. This was originally set up as a joint venture between SEMF and the Museum, but these days is not really a playing day as such, and is co-ordinated by the museum.

Allied to the playing days, but not under the auspices of SEMF, is the series of 6 'Cori Spezzati' days, organized by John and Stephanie Chambers at Paddock Wood, in Kent at monthly intervals from September to March. These generally have a loyal following, and attract between 15 and 20 early musicians (including a few singers), most of whom are SEMF members.

On the other hand, the monthly get-togethers at St Mildred's Church in Canterbury, run by David Shaw, are done through SEMF. Numbers have dropped over the years (the St Mildred evenings have been going for well over 10 years) but we generally get between 4 and 8 players, and it is a worthwhile venture. We had hoped that people might organize similar gatherings elsewhere in the SEMF territory, but it never happened.

Two points become apparent from the above: 1. Apart from Singleton, which is a different type of event, there is no SEMF activity West of the M23 (the London to Brighton road) 2. We only have only one day, which specializes in singing, and is taken by a professional tutor.

The David Allinson event attracts about 50 singers, but a minority are SEMF members, and there is not much incentive for the rest (mainly TVEMF members) to join SEMF, as we do not have anyone willing to organize similar events.

SEMF numbers have dropped steadily over the last 10 years, and a number have been seduced away by the bright lights of TVEMF. Indeed, as members of other fora such as TVEMF can come to SEMF at a reduced rate, there is no great incentive to join SEMF, apart from my scintillating newsletter! (Well worth reading. Ed.) There is a serious point here, and i wonder if the partitions between the different Early Music Fora have much meaning these days, as many of us cross the borders and go to each others' events.

The main problem that SEMF has had over the last few years is finding people enthusiastic enough to organize anything. Out of the 10 Committee members, only 6 have organized any playing days… It looks as if it will be make or break time at the AGM in May (the Secretary is resigning, having had enough).

On the positive side, SEMF has been useful in putting people of similar interests together. In Kent, there is a group of recorder and viol players who meet regularly at the house of one of our members near to Canterbury. Similarly, there is a thriving group of up to 6 players of renaissance and baroc flutes who meet in Maidstone (and some of whom are entertaining the public at an informal open day near here next week!)
Tim Samuelson
p.s. This is a somewhat personal view of SEMF. It might have been preferable to have got someone different from last year to write the report. But my inability to find anyone else on the committee to do it somewhat proves my point!

bottom of page