It has been a busy year for us so far, what with some excellent gigs and also a lot of work going in to preparing our new (and revised) school resources. Here’s how 2013 has shaped up to date….
Apart from some successful school visits January was the quietest month so far, and it was dominated by our amazing trek to Sicily! This was nothing to do with work, other than soaking up the incredible Norman monuments. I’d wanted to see these for ages and they lived up to expectations, with the Capella Palatina and the Duomo at Monreale especial highlights. The loveliest day – English-summer hot and sea and sky bluest blue – was the one we spent in Cefalu. Here too we ran into those busy Normans, as the fortress on top of the Rocca (a typically lofty Frankish perch) was Norman, despite what the guidebooks said – the authors had plainly not bothered to hike up themselves! While in Palermo, we also took in a hefty dose of Wagner at the Teatro Massimo – amazing.
Back to the English winter… and we enjoyed one of our more unusual gigs in mid-February, when we played for a LARP banquet. Our colleague Dan is an active LARP-er and knew most of the folks present. It was a really fun night which culminated – at least for us – in a rip roaring dance session of crazy branles! Our enthusiastic partygoers really threw themselves into the terpsichorean foolery… Dan and I also performed our first Reynard tale of the year; it was an unusual rendition of ‘Chanticleer’ with various lines cunningly adapted by Dan to our audience, their characters and their plot lines. Everyone laughed uproariously in all the right places, but I for one didn’t really know why at times!
March was a fantastically busy month with many schools up and down the country, along with exhibition openings for Wakefield Museums and Barley Hall in York. For this last, we escorted Terry Deary of ’Horrible Histories’, dressed as the Grim Reaper (no less!) through the streets of York on a circuitous route from Barley Hall to the Guildhall. It’s been a long time since we processed through York and we rather enjoyed making a complete racket with the greatpipes and the big daouli drum.
From February through March and into April we have also been hard at work on school resources. We are turning our ‘Medieval and Tudor Dance – A Guide for Schools’ – which is unbelievably now TEN YEARS OLD!!! – from a booklet-plus-CD pack into an interactive CD resource pack, renaming it simply ‘Tudor Dance’, and adding more of everything – that’s more music, more dances and more background information. I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, and we’re nearly there now. I’m looking forward immensely to working with my best friend’s daughter to prepare video footage of the dance steps; she’s a talented dancer and this should add a great deal to the pack. Alongside this project, we are also turning our ‘How to Be a Tudor’ into a digital pack as well, and I am busily working on a new matching resource for schools called ‘How to Live in a Castle’. Whewww! It’s keeping us busy….
And then there are the new instruments and the new repertoire to go with them. Paul is loving his thirteenth-century lute, and I have rediscovered a little harp that I acquired a while ago, which I have retuned to complement the lute. The two make a really sweet sound together, and we are bringing on some new and not-so-new twelfth and thirteenth century material. And I am greatly enjoying my hurdy-gurdy – we’re putting this against the bagpipe and also alongside fruity hand drums, great fun for Paul!
Easter and the start of April felt like the season getting underway extra early. We were really pleased to get asked back to Alnwick Castle (three visits in total this year), and we spent Easter in their splendid ‘Knights’ Quest’ activity space doing hands-on medieval music with visiting families. Though a bit cold, it was a lovely three days and it was good to be working alongside the Company of Artisans and Grunal Moneta. Alnwick have a great attitude with their medieval activities – they want lively fun but have an eye for quality in presentation. And they play our music on their soundtrack!
April also saw our first English Heritage event of the year, with the St George’s Festival at Dover Castle. It was the first outing for our lovely and huge new Burgundian tent, and its layout allowed us to welcome a big audience actually into the tent for our show, the ‘Musical History Tour’. It worked really well, as we’d hoped, and so over the last week I’ve been busy making a heap of extra cushions for people to make themselves comfortable on!
This May bank holiday sees us playing at Winchester Great Hall (one of my favourite spaces) on the Saturday, and then stunning Old Sarum on the Sunday and Monday. I am also going to pick up my amazing new dress from its maker, Vicky Binns of Aquerna Fabricae. It’s a beautiful twelfth-century-style bliaut in dark red lined in green and has the most spectacularly huge trailing sleeves. Photos will follow!
I’ve decided to write a blog for Trouvère. It’s another way to keep people informed about what we have been up to and also what we are planning – and a useful discipline for me to keep me writing regularly…
As a first post – to get me underway! – I’m going to take a look back at 2012. It was a busy year for us and we were especially pleased to be able to release our new CD ‘Music for a Medieval Prince’. I’m going to blog in more detail about the CD later, but a few words here are a must as it was a highlight of our year.
Paul and I had been working on ‘Prince’ for a while. It’s a project particularly close to our hearts as it combined an unusual set of enthusiasms. Paul had been wanting for some time to work on more music from the Chansonnier du Roi, as it is a major source of trouvère music and he had got hold of the facsimile edition. Then, I was commissioned to write and article on the literature of medieval Greece and in the course of my research I found out that the Chansonnier has close links to the medieval Morea – that’s the French principality in southern Greece that had played an important part in my doctorate. It was amazing to have Trouvère and medieval Greece come together so neatly! More on the background to the CD to follow in due course…
We completed the recording of the CD at the start of the year and had a great few days with Martin Lamb recording vocals. We’d met Martin working with Past Pleasures for their ‘Medieval Christmas’ event at the Tower of London and knew his voice would be perfect for the thirteenth century songs on the CD. It was also great to get our new symphony onto the CD. We’d picked it up from the maker Henri Renard in November of 2011 and I had brought it on enough for it to feature on a couple of pieces on the CD.
It was also great to be able to feature the new ‘Prince’ repertoire in concert during the year. Our good friend Howard Quinn organised a concert in Harrogate in March, and this was followed by an evening performance at the ‘Wars of Christ’ conference at Christ Church in Oxford in the same month. This evening was enlivened by a power cut! Just before we were due to go on, the lights went out and the magnificent Hall was lit only by emergency lights and many many candles – it looked quite magnificent and was a fitting setting for the thirteenth-century sounds. We also really enjoyed playing at the ‘Minstrels Court’ in Chester in June. This splendid event is organised by Tom Hughes (of the Bagpipe Society and much else), and featured a great assemblage of historical music types. We played a set during the day and another in the evening concert, which went very well. We’re looking forward to returning to the Minstrels Court again this year – on June 15th.
We were able to get over to France again this year to play at the Fêtes Médiévale at Josselin in Brittany. The highlight was the evening parade through the town and along the canal under the walls of the Chateau. Paul did magnificently, keeping up a round of tunes on his wonderful new great pipes, while I bashed the big daouli drum. But we could not stay in France very long – we had to get back to England where English Heritage had booked us for what felt like the whole summer!
We had a great time playing at a round of tournaments and jousts from Battle Abbey to Pendennis Castle to Belsay House… And Richmond Castle – now this is our local castle, no more than thirty minutes drive away… but the event here was sandwiched between two at Pendennis in Cornwall! Ho hum… But the events were great fun. We’ve really developed our fanfare sound, and with Paul tootling at the top on the shawm and Dan (on the rauschpfeife) and me (on the trumpet) honking and blasting underneath it’s pretty striking. We played many knights onto the field, heralded their strikes at quintain, cabbages, melons, rings and each other… and in between the clanking and bashing played some nice sets at the tent with appreciative visitors.
Over the course of the year, we visited many schools and a few highlights stick in the mind. One of our Tudor sessions is ‘An Audience with Queen Mary’, where the children basically have to behave themselves impeccably for about an hour. Bliss. The queen’s presence has a remarkable effect and it’s a memorable session for the children. As a bit of wind-down at the end of the session the queen (that’s me) often auditions for a new jester and we have had break-dancing, armpit-farting and frog impressions amongst much else. But in November, a very splendid young 8-year old confessed that she had no jests but could sing a song, and proceeded to sing ‘Deck the Halls’ for the queen, very beautifully, bringing a genuine tear to the royal eye.
In December we were delighted to be playing again at Barley Hall, for a ‘Medieval Christmas’ evening. We have such a history of playing at the Hall, but had not done a concert-style presentation there for some years; it will always remain one of our favourite venues. There was a good crowd who responded very warmly to the show, making a great end to our year.