The Sixteen – Croydon Minster
We never dumb down what we are doing. — Harry Christophers
It was one of those days, cloudy, sunny, then the sun came out and it turned into a lovely spring day, or so I thought, or at least I hoped.
I set off from my house, a few odd spots of rain, it turned darker, the wind started blowing, it got colder. Not good I thought.
By the time I got to the station to catch the Reading-Gatwick train to Guildford, it was dark, thunder and lightning and hailstones. I got drenched simply crossing the line, but at least it did not hit until I got to the station, otherwise I would have been soaked to the skin.
I was on my way to Guildford for lunch, then Croydon for the evening.
At Guildford, another downpour. I waited and luckily it slowed. I walked along the River Wey and was surprised how high it was.
We have little or no rain for weeks. Then a month’s supply in a couple of days with the net result it runs straight off the land and into the rivers.
Lunch at the Guildford Institute. For those who do not know, Friday lunch at the Guildford Institute is one of the best kept secrets in Guildford.
I looked in on on Ben in Ben’s Records. It was packed. He has only been there for twenty years and it seems people have only now woken up to an excellent record shop.
I was after a venue for a recital featuring Steve Lawson and Lobelia. I need a grand piano. Guildford Institute has, but not a good venue, St Mary’s Church excellent, but sure about the piano. Ben suggested I tried the Guildhall, which I had not thought of.
Yes, Guildhall excellent venue, and yes, a grand piano, but it is hired at £500 a night
I was now cutting it fine to catch a train to Croydon if I was to not catch an overcrowded rush hour train.
Alighting at Croydon, I had no idea where to go. I was after Croydon Minster. Street signs would help!
I popped into the Croydon Visitor Centre adjacent to Croydon East Station.
Two very pleasant and helpful people. They pointed me in the right direction, basically follow the tram lines, then turn left.
Yes, trams! First time I have seen trams in England. First time in my life I saw a tram was last year in Istanbul. The ones in Istanbul are nicer.
More heavy rain, so I chatted with the staff in the Croydon Visitor Centre.
Following the tram lines was easy enough, though no street signs. I spotted what I correctly assumed to be Croydon Minster. I headed off in that direction.
For what was a parish church, until it was elevated to a Minster, Croydon Minster is quite large.
I was there for a concert by The Sixteen.
I picked up at the door a ticket for the aisle. I thought I was going to have a bad seat. Yes, there were seats in the aisle, but either side of the nave was also classed as aisle. I could have sat anywhere, but that would not have been fair on those had paid for a nave seat.
I was early, sufficiently early to explore Croydon Minster.
I lit a single candle for Canon Andrew White (who has not been well and for the good work he does in Iraq), for Paulo Coelho (for his writing and the wonderful party at a Venetian mediaeval castle on St Joseph’s Day) and for Mio Baba (with who I spent a wonderful three days in Bassano del Grappa and whose dream came true).
I had a chat with the vicar and gave him a copy of a DVD of a talk Canon Andrew White gave at Guildford Baptist Church last year. The vicar told me Croydon Minster prays for Canon Andrew White and his ministry in Iraq and they would be very happy to invite him to Croydon Minster.
The concert was prefaced by an excellent talk by Harry Christophers (founder and director of The Sixteen). He talked of the composers and their music, but also set it in the cultural context of the Renaissance. And oh what a difference to the pre-concert talk at Winchester Cathedral the week before where the poor sound system rendered the talk unintelligible.
The Renaissance was a period when the arts flourished, Titan, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Raphael; a period of exploration, when Antwerp as a port flourished, when bankers got rich through financing expeditions.
Our three composers all Flemish or from the low countries, who also travelled across Europe, to what is now Germany and Italy. They were also highly paid. They were the rock stars of their era.
The music of the composers, Josquin, Brumel, Lassus, covers a period of about a hundred years. They travelled all over Europe. Quite amazing when you consider no Eurostar, no airlines, we take travel within Europe for granted. I was recently in Bassano del Grappa in Italy, and hour by train to the airport, an hour and a half flight to Venice, followed by bus to train station, followed by a train journey of a little over an hour.
Josquin des Prez (c. 1450/1455 – 1521), usually known as Josquin, French composer, regarded as a master of the high Renaissance style of polyphonic vocal music.
Antoine Brumel (c. 1460 – 1512 or 1513), French Renaissance, and like Josquin des Prez, seen as one of the most influential composers of his generation.
Orlande de Lassus (c 1530-1532 – 1594), Franco-Flemish composer of the late Renaissance.
The talk was excellent. Please film and upload to youtube.
Oh what a difference a seat makes.
At Winchester Cathedral last week the performers were too far away, the music somewhere way off in the distance. At Croydon Minster they were before me, it was possible to actually enjoy the music.
This raises serious questions on the choice of venues, the seating in venues. The rear of Winchester Cathedral was lower price, but questionably should have not been available or free. But even if free, one would go away with a poor impression of the music, the performers or both. Or at least one would if this was the first encounter.
Personally I prefer the music of Victoria, Palestrina. The previous week I had picked up two CDs of The Earth Resounds (which I have yet to remove from the shrink wrapping), the music of the tour. It is also available as digital download in high quality lossless FLAC. This evening I picked up two CDs of Allegri and Palestrina, Allegri Miserere (also available as digital download), and was able to catch Harry Christophers during the interval to have them signed.
Clearly a man of taste, Harry Christophers commented on the high quality of the pen I gave him to sign with. He asked was it a Mont Blanc? I said no, a Montegrappa, a far better pen. He turned slightly pale when I told him how much the pen cost.
The Sixteen are looking to crowd sourcing and community supported music to provide funding, an excellent idea, but they have to make this far more explicit, even to mentioning it in the pre-concert talk.
What is a community? For The Sixteen it is those who attend their concerts, those who listen to their music. The community can join the Patron’s Circle. A huge banner poster, if you joined that night you got a free CD, but where was the information? There was information available, but it was by no means obvious.
For the next recording The Sixteen are using crowd sourcing. If there was information, I saw none.
Artists are now using crowd funding to finance projects, for recording sessions, for films. It is a great idea, but for many it is finding the numbers, spreading the word. It should be like falling off a log raising it from the Choral Pilgrimage, something that should be part and parcel of the Pilgrimage but it will not happen if no one knows about it.
With crowd sourcing you also have to have incentives. Donate x, where x is less than y the cost of the CD when launched and you get an advance copy or free digital download. Pay more than x and you get two free tickets for a venue of your choice.
The music of the tour has to be made available for people to listen to on-line. Yes, there are problems with the owners of the copyright who demand to be paid for something that is free. That is what I call greed, not just greed, but crass stupidity.
A thought that occurred to me whilst listening to the concert was what a pity not recorded live with a simple cross microphone pair: The Earth Resounds Live!. Put it on bandcamp where people can listen, charge a nominal fiver or pay-as-much-as-you-like for digital download, with links to buy the album The Earth Resounds.
This has many many pluses.
It promotes the Pilgrimage. It makes the music available outside the privileged few who will be able to go to a cathedral on the Pilgrimage. It makes music available to those who cannot afford music.
Call it education. Unless music is made freely available, that people can share, good music will be lost.
People who grew up with Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, can migrate to early music, those who grew up with a moronic monotonous beat stripped bare, cannot.
Slow music v fast music cf the difference between fast food, junk food and slow food.
Look around, as I did at Winchester and Croydon. You would be hard pushed to find anyone under 50, probably hard pushed to find anyone under 60. At Winchester I could have counted on one or two hands the number of young people. This is not unique to The Sixteen. Is it that one has to be over fifty to appreciate, or is at as I fear, an ageing audience?
Musical Illuminations at the British library was the exception. I was pleased to look round and see a wide spread of ages.
In his introduction and when I talked to him in the interval, the Vicar said the Pilgrimage was an annual event at Croydon Minster. Certainly something worth noting for next year.
The Choral Pilgrimage 2012 started in Winchester last week. It will wend its way around the country during the summer and autumn.
The Telegraph has a somewhat pretentious review of St Albans. Whet is is with reviewers that they lack a basic grasp of the English language and end up spewing out gibberish? There are several mistakes. I thought the Pilgrimage was in its 25th year, The Telegraph says 11th. A glaring typo ‘Flanco-Flemish composers of the 15th and 16th centuries’, I think is meant to be Franco-Flemish.
The Guardian says of The Earth Resounds: ‘ a little too polished and controlled; there’s surely more guts to this music, more earthiness to its rhythms, than these performances admit.’ Begs the question compared with what? Does not say. In other words a completely meaningless statement.
What reviewers think, write or say is an irrelevance. What matters is the experience of the performers, those who attend the concerts, those who listen to the music.
In his pre-concert talk, Harry Christophers briefly touched upon pilgrimage, that the best he could manage was 20 miles in a day. Please expand the talk to say a little about pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage is not alternative tourism. Pilgrimage is a sacred, spiritual, mystical journey. To encounter the divine, to reconnect with your soul, to come back renewed.
Paulo Coelho recounts walking el Camion de Santiago in The Pilgrimage.
The Sixteen are a small early music choral group founded by Harry Christopher with associated orchestra.
The next date on the Choral Pilgrimage will be Exeter Cathedral (2 May 2012).