lthough “The English Dancing Master” was published in London by John Playford in 1651, most of the dances it contains are much older; some of them appear in Broadside ballads and in the works of William Shakespeare, while others can be found in songs or instrumental pieces in Elizabethan manuscripts.
Playford’s melodies are notated for a single, unaccompanied instrument, though some of these same melodies can be found in polyphonic compositions for up to six instruments in other sources. The compactness of the material leaves ample room for improvisation! Véronique Daniels and The Basel Merry-go-round, a dance ensemble from the region of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, present the choreographies fround in the dance book, while Tobie Miller and Sam Chapman lead the musicians together to form a colourful, lively musical band.
Reserve your place here.
Door opening/Box office open from 17:45 (No intro talk)
Tobie Miller – hurdy-gurdy, vocals, recorder; co-lead music
Sam Chapman – lute, cittern; co-lead music
Elizabeth Sommers – Renaissance violin
Elizabeth Rumsey – bass viol
Dance Direction – Véronique Daniels
Dance Ensemble “The Basel Merry-go-round”: Marie Delorme, Annelise Ellars, Akira Fukushima, Matthew Gajda, Kaho Inoue, Barbara Leitherer, Noam Lelior, Alice Letort, Martin Meier, Paul Poupinet, Breno Quinderé, Tessa Roos, Valentin Schima, Caroline Sordia, Silvia Witzig
On the following day, Whit Monday, ReRenaissance invites you to enjoy dance and music with Véronique Daniels, Basel’s “Queen of Renaissance Dance,” in the Reithalle of the Wenkenhof in Riehen (see All in a Garden Green 2). There you can spontaneously dance along, if desired. There, participants in the special one-day workshop on May 13 will also present their dances (see Dance Workshop Country Dances).
ReRenaissance interview with Sam Chapman, lecturer in lute and theorbo at the Berlin University of the Arts, May 2023.
It is of course an honor and a pleasure for ReRenaissance to welcome Julian Bream award winner Sam Chapman for today’s interview.
Thomas Christ (TC): Perhaps you could tell us how you found your way to historical plucked instruments. As far as I know, in your youth you accompanied some instruments, first of all the concertina, with which you also performed in public.
Sam Chapman (SC): Well, I grew up in a musical household in a small village in Somerset, southwest England. My first musical memories are associated with playing music at home and accompanying my mother to the local folk dance club where she played for the dance every week. My mother played the violin, together with an accordion player who also lived in the village. When one of my older brothers wanted to learn the concertina, our friend the accordion player lent him a couple of instruments to try out. He chose the better one, of course, and I taught myself to play on the other instrument that was lying around the house. All the melodies I played on the concertina I learned by ear. That was a really good musical education. And playing for dancing and folk music sessions gave me a very good sense of rhythm.
A few years later I started playing classical guitar, and I was lucky enough to have a teacher who was passionate about Renaissance music! I remember many lessons in which we happily played through his own arrangements of lute duets. I also played electric guitar for a few years as a teenager, and it was during this time that I became interested in improvisation. I would meet up with my friends at school during lunch break and we would improvise together in many different styles of music.
As I focused more and more on classical guitar, my other musical interests fell by the wayside. Although I had a wonderful teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, the focus was more on developing technique and playing solo music. We all tried to play faster and louder than the others! That didn’t seem like the kind of environment where I could express myself musically, and when I started playing historical plucked instruments in my early twenties, I felt like I was coming home. The focus was back on playing together and I was able to pick up my old skills like improvisation and playing by ear.
TC: You have experienced many teachers of different stripes on different instruments and have now become a lute instructor yourself. This always raises the question of professional and social competence – how important are factors such as enthusiasm, humor and the ability to engage in dialog?
SC: For me, the most important factor is enthusiasm. All children are naturally musical and the best thing we can do as teachers is not to interfere with the basic enthusiasm with which they learn to play or sing. It’s really crucial with kids, but even as adults we can’t afford to lose our enthusiasm. This is one area where the classes at the Berlin University of the Arts have been so valuable to me personally: as professional musicians, we are often so busy with mundane things like organizing travel, writing bills, or putting up with annoying conductors that we sometimes forget what inspired us to become musicians in the first place. I am continually amazed at the enthusiasm and energy with which my student:s engage with musical material, and much of my own personal development as a musician in recent years has been inspired by interaction with my students. So the ability to dialogue actually grows out of enthusiasm and flows back into it at the same time.
TC: Did you discover your passion for Renaissance music at the Schola Cantorum in Basel? You came to Basel in 2004 as a teacher of the Alexander Technique – we would like to know more about how you made the leap to the lute.
SC: Actually, I had started playing Renaissance music while I was studying guitar in London. A lutenist friend asked me to play cittern in his mixed consort, and soon I began playing theorbo and baroque guitar as well. In 2004, I moved to Switzerland to train as an Alexander Technique teacher and spent three very happy years outside of formal music training. I started playing concertina again, played in several bands and formed a number of musical collaborations, some of which still exist today. During those years, Tobie Miller and I met at an informal folk music session at a mutual friend’s house. I had no intention of studying at the Schola Cantorum! I was afraid of feeling confined in an institution again. However, some friends persuaded me to apply, and I thought I might as well take a year of advanced study. I loved Schola from day one and ended up staying for five years! Although I had played Renaissance music before, I had never really learned the Renaissance lute, and that was the focus of my studies with Hopkinson Smith.
TC: Am I right in thinking that the art of improvising was cultivated far more in earlier centuries than it is today? Has learning to play the lute or theorbo become more reproductive, or what do you think about the art or the need to cultivate improvising more?
SC: You have raised an Intro that is very close to my heart! Yes, in what we call “art music” improvisation played a much more important role in the past than it does today. It is, of course, a skill that is still central to the music of many other styles and traditions; indeed, today’s Western classical music is quite unique in that it contains almost no elements of improvisation at all! I think that a serious study of early music must include an examination of the question of improvisation. Even if we choose not to improvise ourselves, we must acknowledge that much of the music we play was improvised, based on improvisation, or composed through improvisation. Many of the so-called “composers” of instrumental music in the Renaissance probably could not read or write music themselves. The material we are left with is often a listener, student, or publisher’s attempt to notate an improvised practice. In these cases, we can forget the idea of an “original text” or playing the music “as written.” But even in the pieces that seem to be carefully composed and precisely notated, the music should always have the freshness and spontaneity that we associate with improvised music, and this way of playing is best learned by learning to improvise yourself.
TC: I like to dedicate my last question to the importance of Renaissance music, which is still largely undiscovered. Do you think it is possible that, similar to the ‘young’ popularity of baroque music, it will have a new future ahead of it, in particular, it will attract a new audience?
SC: I’m very happy that Renaissance music seems to be reaching a wider and wider audience, and I’m grateful that there are platforms like ReRenaissance that make this possible. In a world where we are constantly stimulated and bombarded by social media, the contemplative nature of Renaissance music offers respite to the sensitive listener. On the other hand, the increasing popularity of Renaissance music can also come at a price. As baroque music entered the mainstream, it became increasingly commercialized, often leading to musical compromises. Elements of instrument construction, stringing and performance practice are increasingly adapted to suit large concert spaces and modern tastes. While Baroque music was able to retain much of its basic character because of its dramatic nature, this is not the case with Renaissance music. Much of this music was performed in private, for a small, exclusive and highly educated audience. I therefore welcome Renaissance music reaching a wider audience, but hope that it remains true to its roots and maintains its status as classical music’s “best kept secret”!
by David Fallows
Perhaps it is due to Shakespeare and his historical dramas, but the England of the 17th century seems to have had a truly exceptional sense of history. This is one of the reasons why various anthems by Tallis and Byrd have enjoyed an unbroken tradition of performance since Elizabethan times. And so it came to pass that John Playford’s The English Dancing Master of 1651 contained a considerable portion of dances dating back to the 16th century; and these earlier dances will be the focus of the May concert.
His Dancing Master was probably the first musical print Playford published (until then he had specialized in political pamphlets in support of the Stuart dynasty, after which a warrant was issued for his arrest in 1649 following the execution of Charles I). It was, however, by far the most successful book in his usually successful publishing career: it went through at least eighteen editions during the career of his son Henry (d. 1709) and until 1728, well into the reign of George II. But it is this overall view of a national history that will make the concert particularly interesting.
And if you want to “swing your great dancing leg easily and to your liking,” as Milton put it in his L’allegro expressed (“trip it as ye go/ On the light fantastick toe”), Véronique Daniels and her team will be on hand to offer advice and support – first on Saturday, May 13, at Falknerstrasse 36 in Basel, and then in the second concert on Whit Monday at the Wenkenhof riding hall in Riehen.
Translation: Marc Lewon
Reithalle Wenkenhof, Riehen
Historical Museum Basel
Historical Museum Basel
Historical Museum Basel
Schmiedenhof; Rümelinsplatz, Basel
St. Martin's Church
Historical Museum Basel
Barfüsserkirche Historical Museum Basel