West Gallery Quire Workshop

This is about the workshop I
attended on Tuesday, August 11, 2009, directed by Francis Roads. Here’s the music we played.
I had intended to write this yesterday, but got lazy, and let
A.A. Milne do the post for me. Now I’m
glad I did because it gave me a chance to talk to one of the other
attendees yesterday afternoon.

First the good things.

  • There were about 40 people, including a
    number who had never played West Gallery music before.
  • There was
    a really good section of bass singers, which is what the serpent
    really likes.
  • The ratio of singers to instruments was higher than
    it usually is at our regular meetings, which is probably both
    better musically and more authentic to the tradition.
  • The tempos Francis Roads picked were much brisker than the
    ones we usually play, and this did give us some better idea of the
    relationship of the music to dance music than we usually get.
  • I brought flyers for both the Cantabile Renaissance
    and the Serpent Publications
    , and lots of them disappeared. In fact, the Serpent
    Publications ones were all gone, and I should have made more than
    I did.

Some things that future workshop organizers might want to think

  • This was the hardest serpent playing I’ve ever done. Some
    of that was because a couple of songs were in really difficult
    keys for a D serpent. Since most serpents in this century are
    in C, that probably wasn’t something Francis Roads would have
    known. Another thing that made it harder was that he spent the
    first 15 minutes we were playing trying to improve the balance,
    by making both the instruments and the basses not stand out as
    much. This meant that I was playing in difficult keys, softer
    and more staccato than I was used to. There was even one piece
    with difficult fingerings that I should have practiced harder.
    This is unusual in vocal music, since most people who play a
    brass instrument at all can play arpeggios faster than most
    singers can sing them.
  • The friend I discussed the workshop with yesterday had been
    in England for the Ironbridge workshop last spring. The pace of
    Tuesday’s workshop seemed quite fast compared with what we’re
    used to, but she said the people in England go even faster.
    They’d have been through all the verses by the time we got
    through with the first verse. I think the level of music
    education in the general population there isn’t much if any
    better than it is here, but the people who’ve been to those
    choir schools are really good choral sightreaders.
  • Logistically, putting the music on the chairs didn’t really
    improve anything, since enough people had printed their own to
    practice from that it kept having to be moved to the floor.
  • It wasn’t possible to organize an optimal seating plan.
    There were three incompatible influences on the seating plan
    that actually happened:

    1. The singers will sometimes stand up, since they sing
      better that way, but some of the instruments can’t be played
      standing up, so in general you want to put the instruments
      in front of the singers.
    2. The people who aren’t good sightreaders should be in
      front of the people who are, so that they can hear them
    3. People who are doing something new to them that they
      aren’t sure they’re going to be able to handle sometimes
      prefer to hide in the back rows.

I’m glad we had the workshop. West Gallery Music
is a form that should be better known and more widely used and
this workshop contributed to that happening.

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