As You Like It
A key job for today is planning a short programme of Elizabethan music. This is going to greet people arriving for the Handlebards performance of “As You Like It”, and perhaps entertain them in the interval as well. If you haven’t been to a Handlebards play before, how do I begin to explain? Spellbinding, funny, creative, utterly professional, zany, motivating you to open your Shakespeare the moment you get home? Bicycle-powered Bard with a cast of four. Take a look at www.handlebards.com for the full story. Our show is at Felton Park, on Friday August 4 and if you haven’t yet got a ticket, Tim Cooper has a few for sale at Felton Fair on Saturday.
August 4 seemed ages away when we thought of putting on some music. What a great opportunity for all the recorder players who are emerging all over the place - some home grown. And for people who enjoy the odd madrigal or two. Now it’s only a month ahead, and the Felton Music machinery creaks into action, emailing all who had volunteered to check their availability for practices. That’s the worst step in the whole process. Everyone is so busy, inevitably at different times - it’s cause for celebration if we find a single time slot that everyone can do.
The recorder players are well away. More and less experienced are going to join forces for a set of eight popular tunes - that’s popular in the early 16th century, but you’d recognise Greensleeves and, if you came to the Regency Ball, Sellenger’s Round. The more skilled will whizz their fingers round a few more pieces as well. We haven’t started the singing stuff yet. It’s just women this time - unusually, few of the men were available this time and the little group who were could have been overwhelmed, so they’ve got the evening off.
The next task is finalising the choice of songs and writing them out on my trusty software. There are loads of wonderful songs from the Elizabethan period - when England (pace Scotland etc) was acknowledged throughout Europe to be having a golden age of music. True, lots are fa-la-la-ish, but when you’re in the mood, a bit of fa-la-la goes down a treat. If you’re not up in this sort of stuff, think “Now is the Month of Maying” and you’ll be in the right zone. Fortunately for us, it was a time when printers and publishers flourished and there was a thriving market for sheet music. That means we’ve still got copies, though they are not that easy for modern music readers to cope with. Nowadays, we’re used to having all the parts in a song written out on the same sheet, one above the other. Handy - you can see what the others are doing. They just had their own part. No bar lines either. We’re told that every educated person was expected to be able to sing and play at least one instrument. Recorders and viols of different sizes inhabited chests and were liberated when people fancied a bit of instrumental music.
This culture of domestic music making will only have involved the wealthy who had the leisure to pursue it. I suppose, in a way, I’m about trying to help recreate that culture, but for everyone, making music-making a normal thing to do.