Director's notes, "A Concert of the Seasons" (W&W concert, 2003)

To the good gentles of the Northshield Choir, well met!

We'll be premiering the "Seasons" Program at Warriors and Warlords. It looks like we'll have a fairly robust choir turn-out there, with a lot of new people as well as old reliable members. I'm very excited.

If you haven't checked the WW Schedule yet, we're rehearsing at:
1:00 Friday -- Concentrating on running notes and pronounciations
10:00 Saturday -- More emphasis on blend, tone, color, and musicality

We'll be performing a half-hour before Court on Saturday.

We've had modest to moderate turn-outs for recent practices in Trewint and Windhaven, so a lot of you haven't gotten my "conductor's notes" on the pieces yet. I'm going to post them here, and we'll see if it's helpful.

April is in My Mistress' Face (Morley)

  1. Fairly straightforward performance. Beat = 120.
  2. It's important to enunciate this piece clearly. It sets up the theme of the concert, and we need the audience to understand the words.
  3. Part of that is crisp cut-offs between phrases.
  4. "July" has to be pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, but the second syllable should still rhyme with "fly." It shouldn't sound like "Julie."

Sumer is icumen in (Anon. 14th C.)

  1. Beat = 112. This is faster than on the CD. This is a happy, fun song!
  2. A lot of people are curious about the pronounciation or meaning of the words. The key to pronouncing Middle English to remember that _every_ letter is pronounced, and that there was a major vowel shift (called by scholars "The Big Vowel Shift") Short "i"s are pronounced as our modern short "e," and short "e"s are pronounced as the "a" in "father."
    Sumer is icumen in "Soo-mr es e-com-en en"
    Llude sing cuccu "Loodi seng cuck-oo"
    Groweth sed, and bloweth med "Growath sahd and blowath mahd"
    And springth the wode nu "...woa-deh noo."
    Sing cuccu!
    Awe bleteth after lomb "Aw-eh blai-t'th ahf-tr lomb"
    Llouth after calve cu "Looth (voiced th) ahf-tr cal-veh coo."
    Bulloc sterteth, bucke verteth "Buh-lic ster-t'th, boo-keh ver-t'th"
    Murie sing cuccu "Mu-ree ..."
    Cuccu, cuccu,
    Wel singes thu cuccu "Wel sin-gas thoo cuck-oo"
    Ne swik thu naver nu. "Nah swik thoo nah-vr noo."
  3. Modern translation: Spring is coming. Loudly sing, "cuckoo." Grows the seed, and blows the mead, and springs the wood anew. Sing cuckoo. The ewe bleats after the lamb, just as the cow lows after the calf. The bull farts, the buck leaps, merrily sing "cuckoo." "Cuckoo, cuckoo." Well do you sing "cuckoo;" never speak anything new.
  4. Roadmap: This is a round. We sing the melody all the way through, once, in unison. On the last syllable (that's measure 47, for those looking at the sheet music) the two Peses start. Eight measures later, we come in with the round in four parts. As a round, we sing through the piece twice. (For eample, the Sopranos would imagine that the melody begins again, starting in measure 49.) On the second time through the round, we may double some of the parts on instruments, or add a tambourine. When you finish your part, just look up and wait for everybody else to finish. (Don't for example, repeat the last phrase over and over.) The pes should just keep singing. I'll cut you off after everyone else is finished.
  5. In the 1950's a scholar named Manfred Bukofzer "revised" this piece, believing that the manuscript must have been in error. If you're reading the version in Historical Anthology of Music, or Greenberg's "English Medieval and renaissance Song Book," or other, less authoritative sources, they present the "revised" version. We're singing the original. Watch out around measure 37 in the soprano line.
Martin Said to His Man (Ravenscroft)
  1. Steady at beat = 152.
  2. This is a drinking song, with each verse recounting more fascinating hallucinations Martin's drunk servant saw. It's jovial, and convivial.
  3. Roadmap: Everybody sings the first verse. Then, volunteers from the choir take turns singing the verses, with everybody coming in on the lyrics in italics. At the end, we return to the first verse, all together. So, practice: singing your part on the first verse, singing your part, but only on the "fie, man, fie" (etc.) parts (which is trickier than you might think) and, if you like, singing the words to one of the other verses, to the melody.
  4. Some people, when they try to pretend they're singing inebriated, slur their words. Don't do that. Singing the verses straight is just fine. If you really think the piece will be enhanced if you sing like you're tipsy, the way to do it is to attempt to over-compensate for any slurred speech by comically exagerating your pronounciation.
Audite Nova (Lassus)
  1. Steady at beat = 108. Surprisingly, the big impressive first eight measures work fine at that tempo, too.
  2. This is also a "good times" piece, but it's more content and self-satisfied. The work is over; the harvest is in; let's relax and celebrate.
  3. One of the helpful keys to pronouncing German is that two vowels next to each other usually sound as the second one. "Mein" has a long "i," for example. "W"s are pronounced as English "v"s; "j"s, as "y"s.
  4. Much more fundamentally, it's more important to sing the notes confidently than it is to pronounce the words. A whole choir singing with confidence but with some mangled pronounciation is a lot better than a choir singing timidly and uncertainly and trying to get every "zupf" pronounced exactly right!
  5. Pay careful attention to rests and cut-offs. We're not taking this very fast, and sharp cut-offs are how we convey energy to the audience.
  6. Make sure you're comfortable going into and out of the triplets at measures 17 - 19.
Mas Vale Tricar (Encino)
  1. Eighth note = 160. That puts the major beat at about 54 or so.
  2. Master John asked me last weekend if we're using the historically correct pronounciation (vry soft "s"s, some other changes) or the pronounciations we'd been using last year. Answer: the same as last year.
  3. But I am interpretting the third line as a second alto line, rather than as a tenor line. Our male tenors, Anders being a notable exception, are primarily baritones giving the tenor lines the old college try. This one hurts. If there are guys who want to sing that line, go for it. But I'm expecting most men to be singing the bass line.
  4. This is a melancholy piece, but it still has a lot of energy! This is somebody who's "loved and lost," and who's adamant that this is preferable to an empty life. And we can't convey that with an empty song!
Miri it is (Anon. 13th C.)
  1. Beat = 120.
  2. This is the wrap-up of the concert. We're happy when it's spring, but the seasons always turn and we're miserable in the winter. (Hmmm. I thought we didn't _have_ any Northshield songs in this concert!)
  3. Road-map. This is a round. We begin by having the Sopranos sing the piece all the way through. Then we sing it twice as a round, with parts entering after every two measures. The first time through the round, we split up the men into two (or three, if we have the people there) parts. The second time through, the women join in, so there are men's and women's voices on each part (like Stella Splendens). As soon as the last part finishes, we sing it a fourth time, in unison.


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