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Jacob Heringman, lutenist - Diary
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Jacob Heringman's DGM Diary Archive

December 1999

 

London

23.33

A short entry after a long day. About five and a half hours today were spent on trains and in railway stations, and about two and a half were spent teaching! I teach regularly at an Arts and Crafts college in West Dean, West Sussex (http://www.westdean.org.uk/welcome.html), where students learn the arts and crafts of making historical musical instruments like lutes (my instrument) and viols (Susannaís), restoring antique clocks, restoring furniture, etc. My job is to teach the lute-making students, who are there on a three-year apprenticeship course, to play the lute. Some of the viol-makers study with me too. They live in the college, in idyllic surroundings in rural Sussex, on an estate which formerly belonged to (and which was given by) Edward James, the colourful eccentric English surrealist.

Usually itís a two-hour journey each way, with close to five hours of teaching, but on this occasion, our distinguished rail network let me down, and connections were missed.

Amazing how tiring it is, sitting on a train doing not very much for long periods!

Still trying to find out why black cow doesnít turn up on Amazon.com when I do a search for it. Iím concerned, because the CD has been getting some good reviews, and Iíd like to think that a reader of the review could get online, their curiosity whetted by the review, and find it readily in a search. In actual fact, itís very hard to find in a search. This canít be good for sales. I canít say that the distribution is as good as Iíd like it to be. In a way, Iím a guinea pig, because my release was, I think, DGMís first "classical" release, and perhaps their distributor isnít really used to getting classical discs distributed. But these are teething problems (to mix metaphors), and Iím confident that this situation will improve. The wonderful thing about working with DGM is that itís a true partnership between company and artist, and each wants the best for the other. No exploitation going on there, which is refreshing. Iím a huge fan of DGM and all its endeavours, and theyíve given me good support too. When I next visit DGM World Central, in a couple of weeksí time, weíll discuss distribution.

Working now on making an edit plan of Andrew Keelingís "One Flesh", for treble viol and lute, as recorded the other day by Dill Katz. Once the edit plan is ready, Iíll submit it to Dill, and heíll do a first edit! I know Andrew is dying to hear it!

My thoughts are with Paul Richards.

 

London

12.01

Another busy week has slipped by since the last Diary entry. Over the weekend, we escaped to the country. Then, the day before yesterday, an exhausting drive up to Ilkley in Yorkshire--six hours to get there in heavy rain and traffic, a two-hour and very demanding but rewarding concert, and a four-and-a-half-hour drive back, getting home at 3 AM. (Traveling gigsterís life!)

Iím now in the midst of rehearsals with Fretwork for tomorrow eveningís concert at the Warehouse (7.30 pm, The Warehouse, Theed Street, London). It should be an interesting concert, which Iím looking forward to very much. Fretwork is a wonderful consort of viols (family of six-string bowed fretted instruments, related more closely to the lute family than to the violin family, whose heyday was the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), which includes my wife Susanna. Theyíve been pioneers in reviving the viol consort repertoire, and also instrumental in commissioning many new works by leading composers of our time. Tomorrowís programme includes two such new commissions: the world premiere of Andrew Keelingís "Afterwords", for five viols, and the London premiere of Robert Keelyís piece for four viols entitled "Crabbed characters and flourishing tropes". In between these modern pieces are sandwiched some Bach arrangements done by members of the group and by me. Thatís the first half.

The second half is the fabulous and moving "Lachrimae" cycle for five viols and lute, by John Dowland. How can I describe "Lachrimae"? Itís breathtaking music which defies description. In the late sixteenth-century, Dowland wrote a lute solo entitled the "Lachrimae Pavan". This became his most famous piece, and one of the most famous pieces of the time. He put words to it and called the song "Flow my tears". Then, later, because of the popularity of the "Lachrimae" theme, he did something no one before him had done. He wrote an instrumental "Lachrimae" cycle: seven pavans for lute and five viols, all of which start with the famous "Lachrimae"/"Flow my tears" theme of four notes descending, but which then go off in different directions. They share a lot of thematic material, so a truly cohesive musical cycle is created which takes the listener on a half-hour meditative journey through seven pieces which describe different kinds of tears: "Lachrimae Antiquae" (old tears, so called because this is the original pavan which had by now been around for a decade), "Lachrimae Antiquae Novae" (new old tears), "Lachrimae Gementes" (groaning tears), "Lachrimae Tristes" (sad tears), "Lachrimae Coactae" (forced tears), "Lachrimae Amantis" (loverís tears), and finally "Lachrimae Verae" (true tears). This is deep and powerful music; unlike any other piece Iíve played, a strange sensation of time standing still is created when one plays it or hears it, and after playing it, partly because itís one of the most technically demanding lute pieces in the whole repertoire, I always feel as if Iíve been dragged through an entire gamut of emotions. The number of pavans is no accident: seven has huge religious significance. And the cycle is coherent in other ways--it moves from earthly tears (sad tears, loverís tears, forced tears, etc.) gradually to a sublime and detached ethereal (heavenly?) plane, where player and listener feel transformed and floating. Trying to describe it makes me realise just how powerful and indescribable the piece is. I recommend it to anyone who is into powerful musical experiences. Itís a good example of the transformative power of music, and it speaks to a modern audience very powerfully despite its age.

So thatís tomorrow. Dowland printed the book in what was then a standard way: as a table book, that is, with the music facing in four different directions, so that the ensemble has to sit around a table in an intimate circle to perform the music. Weíre going to perform it around a table tomorrow, having never tried doing it in the original layout before. I think itíll be magical, and that it will draw the audience in. Iíll describe the show in my next diary entry, and no doubt Andrew Keeling will do the same in his. . . .

 

London

22.46

a town mouse reports on a visit from three country mice

Andrew, Sue and Christopher Keeling, from "up North", stayed with us last night in exciting south London. Christopher has just finished his first term at university. We met up at the Warehouse, where they came all the way from their distant arctic and deserted homeland to hear Fretwork and myself give last nightís concert. And an amazing concert it was!

It began with a five-part Bach fugue in C-sharp minor which I arranged for Fretworkís five viols. It was a thrill for this town mouse to hear his own arrangement played so beautifully. Andrew said he liked it very much too.

Then, the next piece in the programme was the first ever public performance of Andrew Keelingís marvellous viol quintet entitled "Afterwords". The piece has enormous emotional power, and the audience liked it very much. A number of people I spoke to were very moved by it. The piece is a reworking of a choral setting of a very powerful Sylvia Plath poem entitled "The moon and the yew tree". The piece didnít float as a choral piece for copyright reasons--the late poetís estate required a subtantial payment for every performance since it made use of her words. So Andrew, at my suggestion, recomposed the piece as an instrumental for five viols. I thought it would work well that way, and it did, because the wonderfully clear texture of a consort of viols is the perfect way to render clearly Andrewís exquisitely delicate but at the same time emotionally powerful harmony. And the great thing is that the words are not needed (although they were read out before the performance). The music perfectly renders the dark mood of the words. I hope that this piece will be recorded soon. The members of Fretwork (the Fretties) are very keen to perform it again, and to record it.

Then there was more Bach, and then another new piece, by Robert Keeley, also very effective. Then the first half ended with an arrangement (by the two Richards of Fretwork) of the great c-minor Passacaille by Bach (as heard on the lovely RFSQ CD), played on five viols.

Then, in the second half, I joined the Fretties for a performance of "Lachrimae", as mentioned in my last diary entry, and as also mentioned in a recent Guestbook posting by Andrew Bass. We performed it in the round, which, as predicted, was magical. The atmosphere was stunning, and the audienceís attention seemed to be total for the full half hour that the piece takes. And for the musicians to sit facing inwards in a circle is a wonderful treat; it means we can hear each other perfectly, play off each other intimately, and create a subtle unity that communicates itself in concentric ripples to the audience seated in circles all around us.

Then, the adventure began for the country mice. Susanna and I had a lot of gear (instruments mainly), but being poor town mice, we had to get ourselves home to deepest South London by public transport. Andrew kindly carried a lute for me. Sue spotted the word "Streatham" on the front of a red double decker bus as we headed for the train, so we all leapt onto the bus, and the poor stunned country mice experienced the joys of traversing South London on a bus late on a Saturday night with lots of luggage. We finally got to our neighbourhood, and on the walk up to our house, Andrew was delighted when we pointed out to him the house (around the corner from us) where Sir Arnold Bax was born. Not surprisingly, Andrew has a very soft spot for English composers.

Andrew and Sue passed a comfortable night in the "vertigo bed" in our office, and the next morning we listened to some of the takes of "One Flesh". Andrew seemed pleased. Then, with more exciting red bus and Railtrack adventures, the country mice made their way with great relief back to their cold but much more peaceful and quiet arctic home near the Lakes.

Stand by for a future episode, in which the town mice venture timidly to the northern wastes to pay a visit to the country mice in their arctic home.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, I finished the edit plan for "One Flesh", and it will go off to Dill Katz tomorrow for editing.

Finished the day by listening yet again to Andrewís powerful "Meditatio", from the Opus 20 DGM "Hidden Streams" CD. Andrewís music evokes deep dark dreams and powerfully vivid but subtle emotions. It says what words cannot say. It communicates on the basic primitive level on which we all understand each other without being conscious that we understand each other.

 

London

20.36

Winding down now for the holidays. This week, Iíve had at home to catch up on mountains of desk work. Itís slowly diminishing. Iíd like to enter the new year with a feeling of being more or less in control of all that correspondence and administrative work, so Iím making quite an effort. Also this week, a library recording session. Bad imitation renaissance music played on old instruments, recorded for a library music company whence it might or might not be taken up for commercial use (films, TV commercials, etc.). If any of it is, the library music company gets a cut, and the composer gets a cut. We players donít because we were bought out, i.e., we were paid a not-very-princely sum which denies us the right to claim any royalties later. There was no other option offered. It was a case of: accept a buyout or weíll find a lute player who will. This is how most of my free-lance recordings work, with the very noteable exception of my DGM recordings, of course (and a few others), where I pay the recording costs up front, which puts me into debt often (since I have virtually no savings--few of my colleagues do either); but, in return, I receive a very handsome royalty percentage and retain ownership of my work. Iíve calculated that I need to sell somewhere in the region of 2500 of each of my DGM lute discs to recover my investment. Any sales beyond that represent profit. Unfortunately, lute records rarely sell 2500, so I may find that there is no profit from this enterprise. No financial profit, that is. Except that one or two things need to be borne in mind: one is that I can (and do) buy copies of my disc from DGM at a very reasonable cost and sell them myself for more than twice the amount I pay for them. Although I donít sell huge numbers that way, the income from these sales does help. Another thing that must be borne in mind is that the non-financial gain is immense. Ultimately I make records to satisfy myself--Iím certainly my own harshest critic. When I make a record Iím proud of, Iíve profited greatly by having learned a lot and I hope progressed as a musician in the process. And Iíve been allowed not only the privilege of making music, but also the privilege of releasing it into the world to be heard. And, furthermore, the discs engender critical acclaim (one hopes), which leads (one hopes) to more concerts and recordings, which (one hopes) lead to more income, and so on. And, with DGM, the artist retains the dignity of owning his or her work, and not feeling in any way exploited, which is also of great value.

Today, I journeyed to DGM World Central to see David and Diane and Hugh, and to discuss the next release. Weíre all basically in agreement: 1) the Josquin record deserves better distribution than black cow has got so far. 2) the rock distribution channels through which DGMís music is distributed are not, it seems, suited for the distribution of my disc, and itís therefore time to approach the classical distributors (itís a shame, all this compartmentalization!). 3) The Josquin disc is a world premiere recording--never before have the Josquin lute settings had a record devoted to them--and it deserves to reach a wide audience. DGM and I will jointly do our best to see that a wide audience is reached. 4) The music is stunningly beautiful and has a wide appeal--itís superb ambient music as well as being music that rewards careful listening. And it is peaceful, with the power to heal.

Good news this week: Gramophone, the leading classical CD review magazine in this country, chose three of my CDs as being among the best classical releases of 1999. One is my first solo CD (music by Antony Holborne on the ASV label), made before DGM and I found each other; another is my group Virelaiís Dowland CD on Virgin; the third is a record of French songs with Catherine King and Charles Daniels singing, and myself playing the lute (on Linn). Apparently only three other artists appear in the Gramophone best CD list as many as three times, and theyíre all mainstream classical superstars, so I must be doing something right.

 

London

10.36

Happy Soltice, Lunar Perigee, Christmas, New Year, Hannukkah, and whatever other event you care to mention! I wish my friends at DGM and all readers of this site a peaceful and refreshing holiday.

Iím off to a place where there are no computers.

Until next year!!!

 

London

11.24

Back for a couple of days in between Christmas and New Year trips. South London is very very peaceful and quiet. Our neighbourhood is always pretty quiet, but this time of hear hardly a car goes by our house, and it really is very still. We spent a couple of days in Leicester with Susannaís parents and brothers, followed by a couple of days outside Norwich with friends. In addition, of course, to being about togetherness, reunion and conviviality, family holidays seem to be very much about food. People rally around the meals and each plays his or her part in bringing it about. The meals become a central point around which everything revolves. And itís true that feasting together is a fantastic way to connect with everyone. Itís not unlike singing together, which we also did a bit of. Susanna and I took our instruments on the trip, and our little party piece was to play Andrew Keelingís "One Flesh" (along with a few other pieces) wherever we went. People liked Andrewís piece very much.

Tomorrow, off to Devon for New Year, back at the place where we were married: the farmhouse of Jane and Ross. Jane is one of the best makers of viols around, and she makes Susannaís instruments. Ross is a potter, and many things in our kitchen are Ross creations. Their daughter, Laurie, has just started school.

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