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

March 2001

14/03/01 1232

Home at last, and great to be here! And with Zan! Unusual, and wonderful.

And no concerts until the middle of April. This is good, because it finally gives me a few weeks to catch up with the backlog of stuff that needs doing, get some rest, see more of Zan, etc. But of course if there are no performances thereís no income; thatís the less positive side of it.

The US trip was a success on the whole, despite the dissatisfactions expressed in a previous Diary entry. I think Iíve learned something on this trip, though Iím not yet sure what it is! Various results and repercussions have come directly from my having had these thoughts and writing them down. One is the decision to do more house concerts for friends and acquaintances--this is all part of the process of becoming more comfortable with playing in front of a group, and exploring blockages which arise (see 28 February Diary entry) in this context. Another result is Robertís suggestion to me that these issues are addressed directly and practically by Guitar Craft, and that I should consider attending a Guitar Craft course. Yes, a Crafty Lutenist! Iím giving this kind invitation very serious consideration, and have every intention of taking it up. A third result is the strengthened conviction that my recent decision to go through part time training as an Alexander Technique teacher was the right one.

I believe this is the first time Iíve mentioned this decision in the Diary. Yes, Iím going to train part time from September as a teacher of the Alexander Technique. The training will take three years, but will be flexible enough to allow me to continue my performing career. This decision is a result of my interest in exploring and deepening my musical and personal life, and will, I believe, be a great help in dealing with the issues mentioned above. I am by no means giving up music in taking up this training. On the contrary, this decision is partly about my commitment to music and my need to make it more rewarding personally. I think the course will make me a better musician. Of course, to make time for the course, Iíll have to give up some things, so the plan is to ditch some of the less rewarding free-lance work, and focus in more on the solo stuff as well as on the course. So this decision reflects my continued project of focussing myself on those things which have meaning to me. I hope to use the Alexander Technique teaching skills in a number of ways. One is, as already mentioned, to improve my life generally. Another is to improve my performing. A third is to help other people, particularly musicians, deal with the physical and mental obstacles which they encounter in their lives as performers. (The number of instrumentalists with physical/muscular/tendon/back problems is staggering.) A fourth is to improve my lute teaching. Increasingly, Iím called on to teach at intensive early music summer schools. Iíd like to be able to incorporate Alexander principles of efficient use into my lute teaching more effectively. These are some of the benefits which I think Iíll be able to derive from the training.

The third solo concert took place after the Diary entry on the 28th of February, and felt much better, perhaps as a result of having thought about and aired these ideas. Iím sure it also had to do with the fact that this was the third airing of the programme in a short period, and the material was simply starting to feel more and more comfortable. I taught a "master class" in the afternoon, the high point of which was coaching an ensemble of nine guitarists playing a renaissance dance. I tried to convey to them the idea that renaissance music exists in a much less crystallized, and much more fluid form, than (say) nineteenth- or twentieth-century music. There are no instructions about what speed to take the music at, or what emotion to try to convey, or what level of loudness or softness, or with which tone colour, etc. All of these things are very often specified in nineteenth- and twentieth-century classical music. In renaissance music, much more is left up to the performer, which means the performer needs to be immersed in the style in order to achieve a performance which is in the right stylistic ballpark. But it also means that the performer has greater creative input, and is encouraged (as part of the style) to improvise on the material--to embellish, or elaborate it. In that respect, playing renaissance music is like playing rock or jazz. You need to be immersed in the style, and you need to be able to improvise. Your job is NOT simply to play as accurately as possible whatís on the pages, including the composerís specific instructions about tempo, dynamics, emotional affect, etc. What is on the page is merely a skeleton--a schema. (I would argue that this is true even in more specifically and meticulously notated modern classical music, but obviously to a lesser degree.)

Then, in the evening, the recital. I felt happy with most of it. Instead of what Iíd term a 15-20% hit rate, I felt I was achieving more like 60-65% (i.e., I was playing that proportion of the music in a way that I could feel was a fair representation of what Iím capable of at my best). This is much more encouraging.

After this, Catherine came over to join me, and we gave two recitals of Spanish songs by Milan and Mudarra, one in Chicago and one in Portland. These went well, particularly Portland, which was in an excellent hall. Chicago was unfortunate in some ways. The audience was with us (though it was tiny), but there were noisy blowers in the auditorium which effectively masked quite a lot of our sound. This music simply has to be heard in silence, and silence is very very hard to find. So we were fighting against that awful white noise the whole time, and not always enjoying it. (Though in the second half, despite this problem, musical sparks began to fly.) The Portland concert was at a guitar festival, and the guitarists and guitar makers present were intrigued by my instrument and my playing, and asked a lot of interesting questions.

The next morning, I gave a workshop in which I talked about the history of the lute and the vihuela, and played a few pieces with and without Catherine.

Then, the long flight home via LA, where we got to see my brother for a short time.

Now Iím at home, the jetlag is slowly waning, and Iím getting down to clearing the backlog and taking a little break from playing. Sometime soon Iíll probably be getting the first edit of Jane Pickeringe back from Ade!


20/03/01 1003

South London. Very cold for the time of year. Zan and I are preparing to travel to Leicester to visit her parents for her Dad's 75th. This is a time of catching up with people, and with ourselves. Over the weekend, we were in Devon visiting Jane (maker of Zan's instruments, and host to our wedding two years ago). It was a wonderfully relaxing opportunity to stop completely for a couple of days, something that's more difficult at home, where there is a chaotic and cluttered office and an enormous email in-basket.

Speaking of email, I've just been notified that the performance I gave last year in Lennoxville, near Montreal, of music from Jane Pickeringe's Lute Book, will be broadcast very soon by Canadian radio, who recorded it at the time. This will also go out on the internet (details below). This was the very first public performance I gave of JP (which, of course, I recorded last month for future CD release), and it also includes some lute duets from the book, with Gail Gillispie. The broadcast goes out on Thursday 22 March on Concert et compagnie (13:30 to 16:00 EST) on the "ChaÓne culturelle". The broadcast can be heard 'live' online at (look for real- audio link to the ChaÓne culturelle). Thank you, Andrew Bass, for alerting me to this.

And thanks, Sean, for your kind email. I will write soon!

I had my first every really bad review the other day. I'm quite proud of it really, because it's so beautifully quotable. So far the consensus about my Josquin Des Prez has been remarkable. I've had a wonderful array of excellent reviews and kind words from people who have heard and felt moved by it. This reviewer, who is, as it happens, a Josquin expert, describes the first piece on the disc (my personal favourite, in fact!) as "Östupefyingly boringÖ" And his advice to readers generally was not to listen to the whole disc in one sitting. I'm sure they'll be very grateful to him for this. He's saved them no end of time. He might as well have advised them not to buy it. Then he could have saved them money too. His response is interesting--I think he loves his Josquin so much that he is almost personally affronted by someone playing arrangements of it, sixteenth-century or otherwise. Never mind. I totally agree with him that there's no comparison with the sublime vocal originals. That's why I prefer to call these intabulations "exquisite transformations" rather than "arrangements". But why do I get the feeling he's somehow missing the point?

To change the subject slightly, Robert's words in yesterday's Diary resonated very much with me when he wrote that he doesn't trust his thinking and prefers to trust his intuition, which is much more reliable. I have had the same experience. Ultimately, it's my intuition that makes significant artistic decisions for me. I've learned to trust it. We all know much more than we think we know. If only we'd stop thinking and trust ourselves to know.


23/03/01 2213

A quick note before going to bed early, with a splitting headache. I actually think it's partly due to my spending too much time at the computer. This definitely seems to make it worse (although both Zan and I have been a little bit under the weather the last couple of days). Zan left for Spain today, for a week. I'm at home, learning music for some upcoming events--the Easter Sunday Aldeburgh concert with Fretwork, the 6 June Spitalfields Festival Keeling premieres, etc., reducing the mountain on my desk (I've nearly succeded!), answering emails (only 300 left in my in-basket, and probably only 100 of those really need answering), doing various administrative tasks, and reading Frank Pierce Jones's Freedom to Change. I recommend it highly. I'm supposed to be resting, too, to shake off this bug, which I think is a direct result of working too hard, but I haven't done much resting today. Hence the early bedtime. Thinking already about the next record, because the choice of material determines what I offer as my recital programme next spring for the USA tour after next. Projected recording date: next summer. Meanwhile, I should be hearing from Ade anytime now about the first edit of the Jane Pickeringe. Exciting!