These workshops, put on by the Seattle Recorder Society, are held every two years, but this was the first one for me. In my opinion it was a great success. Just what is it that makes for a successful workshop? Read on....
- Obviously, first and foremost is the opportunity to develop one’s skills in the instrument you specialize in. This week provided many such opportunities in recorders, viols, voice and percussion instruments, in both solo and group play, and for all levels of experience. The 14-member faculty were among the best in the world for these instruments. Not only do they have virtuosic abilities to make music, but the ones I sampled were all excellent teachers, showing well-placed constructive remarks and encouragement to all students. Indeed I heard no negative or critical comments all week.
- Second, it is great to have an opportunity to sample other instruments and styles in the early music stable. Two of my choices, beginning viols and madrigal singing, were things I had never done before, and in both cases the teachers had me well and truly hooked by the end of the week, with the intent of pursuing these skills beyond the workshop. Several classes involved mixed consorts of recorders and viols, something many of us rarely experience. The range of options was remarkable including such unusual choices as Brazilian music, Balkan music, music written in 5 beats to the bar, and of course percussion.
- The third essential is the option for meeting other musicians in a relaxed setting to share music and tips relevant to music (and other aspects of life too). In addition to meeting at meals, we had the option of playing in impromptu groups in the evenings. One memorable experience for me was being able to play pieces with large numbers of parts (the record for me, 16 parts!, was attained at this meeting). Most attendees were from western states or Canadian provinces, but some had traveled a considerable distance to be there.
A few of the other memorable experiences for me follow in no particular order.
- The talented faculty performed twice. The formal concert, which went on for over two hours, contained many memorable items, but I will mention just three. Frances Blaker and Tish Berlin on recorders accompanied by viols performed a wonderfully sensitive rendition of J. S. Bach’s Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God's Time is the very best Time). Written by a very young Bach for a funeral, it provides an amazingly uplifting feeling which one suspects we would all appreciate at a funeral (perhaps even our own!). Another item memorable for me (because I had never heard anything like it) was a performance by Clea Galhano, who specializes in playing Brazilian music on recorders. Luckily her CD was available so I bought one. Third, I had heard much of Seattle’s Peter Siebert, but to hear him conduct his own arrangements of Handel’s Water Music, and several other pieces, was inspiring. The other occasion was one in which the faculty showed off their skills in an unrehearsed “jam session”, which showed tremendous spontaneous energy.
- One evening there was an organized drum circle. Almost all attended, playing real drums, wastebaskets, spoons and so on. I have to admit that my expectations for this were low, but it turned out to be a remarkable experience. The leader (well-known percussionist Peter Maund) divided the circle into two or three groups each playing rhythmic patterns that he had taught us previously. The effect was unexpected as ripples of new interactive rhythmic patterns fanned out around the circle in ghostly fashion. Drumming seems to reach something very deep within us.
- As part of the final student concert, Frances Blaker conducted a 43-member recorder and viol orchestra (The “Granda Banda”) in a performance of her own composition “Upwelling”, representing the deep life-generating swells of the ocean. Although simple in construction, it was deeply moving when transformed by her conducting to the huge sound of the Banda.