Gresham Society Soirée, Barnards Inn Hall, 14 December 2017

Robin Wilson Leads Us In A Latin Canticle, Tinniat Tintinnabulum

Back in March, when Janie and I went to see The Tallis Scholars perform works by Heinrich Isaac:

The Tallis Scholars: Isaac and Mouton, Wigmore Hall, 9 March 2017

…I had no idea where it would lead. But I was much taken by their encore song, Innsbruck, Ich Muss Dich Lassen. I found a simple chord version of the song and started strumming it out on my baroq-ulele.

Once I learnt that the piece probably had a strong temporal connection with Sir Richard Gresham’s birth year and the start of the Tudor period, I resolved to prepare that song for the next Gresham Society soirée by learning how to play it “properly”.

Ironically, I found my source of serious early music learning through a comedic spoof shared on the Early Music Facebook Group on the 1st of April:

The song Shakespeare stole from: a discovery from the 16th century

I tracked down Early Music Muse, who is a delightful musician, music teacher and expert on early music named Ian Pittaway, based in Stourbridge in the West Midlands.

I have now had several fascinating Skype-based lessons with Ian, a couple of face-to-face lessons and lots of practice in-between. Ian also transcribed the Innsbruck song for me into Renaissance-style tablature.

Roll the clock forward some months to the day of the soirée. Despite several explanatory exchanges of e-mails, Professor Tim Connell remained convinced that I am dead-panning a joke rather than REALLY preparing to play something serious. Fortunately he was at our offices that afternoon, so, on the way to Gresham College from Z/Yen, I had the opportunity to persevere with him and get him to amend his introduction.

In fact I bundled out of the cab before Gresham, to pop in and see John White, to drop off some gifts from Thailand and from the Chelsea Physic Garden in the summer, all of which I keep forgetting to take with me when I see John. He and his work team were finishing their Christmas lunch in Vivat Bacchus. The team, who are a very jolly and friendly bunch, asked me to play my Renaissance song for them. I attempted to play it, but frankly the place was far too loud for anyone to hear me…

…which was just as well, as I soon realised, once I got to Gresham to warm up, that my baroq-ulele was monstrously out of tune. Something to do with tube train vibrations that doesn’t seem to happen in the car. I spent most of my warming up time desperately trying to tune my instrument. In desperation, I even got the screwdriver out at one stage – really.

Meanwhile Michael Mainelli was also in the green room warming up his bagpipes and trying to “sooth my nerves” by challenging my pronunciation of every German word. As Elisabeth (Michael’s wife, who hails from Germany) put it, rather sharply, when I asked her, after the performance, about this pronunciation point, “what would Michael know about German pronunciation?”

In truth I was already feeling a little sensitive about my pronunciation, as Micky, the night before at the Chelsea Physic Garden, had declared my accent, “more like Yiddish than German”.  Elisabeth thought Micky’s concerns were just funny.

The soirée was scheduled differently this year, with the buffet served before the show, then the first half of the soirée was professional musicians showing us how it should be done.

Sian Millett Sings A Very Flirty Habanera, With David Jones On Keyboard

David I/we knew well from previous soirées – he was my “partner in crime” at the event a few years ago in my rap version of Any Old Iron (to be Ogblogged in the fulness of time).

But don’t be deceived by the limitations of David’s bit-part roles in my slapstick comedy performances; David is actually a fine pianist and has an excellent baritone voice in his own right. His rendition of Tom Lehrer’s The Elements is always a bit of a highlight of soirées, but this year he did also sing some charming songs, such as Copeland’s Long Time Ago and Novello’s My Dearest Dear.

Sian Millett charmed us with arias spanning the centuries, from Ombre Mai Fu  (Handel) to Secret Love (from Calamity Jane) via the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen.

After a short break, the amateurs took over the programme, including my rendition of Innsbruck, which I billed as the Sir Richard Gresham Nativity Song.

I don’t have a recording of the performance but I do have a rather rudimentary vlog of my dress rehearsal at home on the day of the performance:

I probably spent as much time preambling the song as I spent singing it – so if you want to know more about the song you can find my preamble notes (including some additional notes I didn’t use on the night) in full by clicking here.

After my little performance, the highlight for me was Anthony Hodson’s bassoon performance (with David on “harpsichord”), Telemann’s F minor sonata. Those two also performed The Teddy Bears Picnic (which looked equally challenging for bassoon) – I could have joined in and even sung my Coppers Are Dressed As Hippies version of the tune had I known in advance…probably for the best that I didn’t.

There was also a comedic poetic tribute to Dawn who was sitting in front of me, looking amused and embarrassed in equal measure. Finally, of course, the traditional Professors’ Song as the closing number, captured this year on vid by Georgina – shared through this link, with thanks to Georgina.

I got very kind and pleasant feedback on my piece from lots of people over drinks after the show. But the icing on that particular post show cake was feedback from Frieda, one of the Gresham Society regulars, who explained to me that her mother is from Innsbruck and used to sing that song to Frieda when she was a little girl. Frieda seemed almost overcome with emotion telling me about it.

I asked Frieda if the song had sounded alright to her in my attempted German voice and in the early music style; she said it had. I told her that she had really made my evening with her feedback, but she insisted that hearing the song at Gresham had made her evening.

As always with Gresham Society, there were lots of interesting people to chat with before and after the show. I suggested to several people that I would revert to silly stuff next time, but detected a groundswell of enthusiasm for a more serious piece. We’ll see.

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