At the beginning of August I attended my first Norvis* Summer School, held in Barnard Castle School, County Durham. This was a celebration of music making – Early Music to be precise – music from Elizabethan to Baroque era, up to mid 1700s. I met met exotic instruments such as the chalumeau, crumhorn and cornamuse. One lady brought her Northumbrian small pipes. Then there were the expected Baroque instruments, violins, cellos, viols of all sizes, lutes, a Scandinavian theorbo, which looked quite different to the standard theorbo, also present, recorders, harpsichords and Baroque guitars. The pitch was A415. I was there to learn more about harpsichord playing.
The busy days were divided into the following sessions, daily tuition on your own instrument, ensemble playing, Baroque orchestra (my preferred option) or choir, then a wide choice of various activities to end the day. Evenings were concert times, sometimes presented by the tutors, but often presented by participants. The playing standard was high, many people were grade 8+, so although advertised as being for all standards, it was not for beginner/ elementary standard.
The harpsichord sessions covered Elizabethan fingering, figured bass, music by William Byrd and Louis Couperin, techniques for loud and quiet playing, tuning systems, ornamentation, interpretation and recommended books. In the ensemble sessions we had a different tutor every day to listen to our efforts, which I thought would be confusing, but it wasn’t. It was very interesting to hear different views on our music-making, and I learnt a lot in those sessions. Our group had a very interesting line-up; voice, violin, recorder, bass viol, theorbo (I was delighted at being in such close proximity to one!) and myself on harpsichord. The Baroque orchestra sessions were equally enlightening, listening to the conductor easing the sounds he wanted from the orchestra. Since the part handed to the harpsichord had just a bass line and no figuring, I was “guessing” the harmonies most of the time!
The end of the week saw everybody really tired, but very happy. The amount of organisation which goes into such an event is phenomenal, and the fact it ran so smoothly is down to so much hard work. Participants came from all over the globe, over 80 of us. Oh – and I even managed a session on the organ in the school’s chapel!
*Northumbrian Recorder and Viol School, but now embracing all early instruments. www.norvis.org.uk