Jacob Heringman, lutenist - Diary
Back in Britain, and recovering from a gruellingly busy time.
Since the last Diary entry, I’ve done four more concerts, two in the USA, and two here in Britain.
The first of these was a programme for kids with Gail also playing the lute. We played them some of the repertoire, and talked to them about the instruments. Lots of questions! It was in a church. Why is it that (particularly in the States) most recently-built buildings are virtually unusable for lute because of hum and white noise from heating, lighting, air-conditioning, etc.? What are we doing to ourselves by surrounding ourselves with low-level noise constantly? You don’t notice it after awhile. But I can tell you: you sure notice it when it stops! The sense of peace and quiet is very tangible and a huge relief. The result of this low-grade noise pollution (which is to be found in offices, churches and concert halls—even in people’s homes) is to cover up the depth of the lute’s sound—you lose all the low end, in other words, and you only get a quiet, shallow, tinny sound.
The following day was difficult: we drove from Howell, Michigan to Greencastle, Indiana (six hours), had a short time to prepare, and then I gave a pre-concert talk, followed by the Jane Pickeringe recital programme (joined, as before, by Gail for the lute duets). It’s a joy to do the Pickeringe, but these were far from ideal conditions. I was tired from the travelling of the previous days (and of the day itself), and the room was not helpful—again, low grade noise pollution. The result was a performance that I was not particularly proud of, though it had its moments, particularly in the second half, where things came together. These tours are a great opportunity to learn one’s limits, to learn what works and what doesn’t, but also to learn about the seeming randomness of performance reality—sometimes, when the odds are not in favour of a great performance (as at Bishop’s University earlier in the tour), a great performance happens. And sometimes, when one feels well prepared, it doesn’t really take off. But as a general rule, it seems to me that the following things help: feeling settled (i.e., having some time in the room beforehand); feeling rested (i.e., not having travelled for hours on the concert day if possible); feeling inspired by the space (yes, a beautiful room with a good acoustic makes me play better), and by the audience; remembering why I do this—to communicate and share with other people.
Anyway, it’s nice to have done Pickeringe twice now, and I’m looking forward hugely to recording the programme first week in February, and, I hope, releasing it in the autumn in time for my October/November tour. Ade Hunter and I have been communicating about where to record it.
Then there was a day of relaxing back at Gail’s place, followed by the flight back to England. Ah, the flight back…..
It was an epic journey, which started in Chicago and ended in South London where I live, but ended up taking twice as long as it should have. We flew the usual 8 hours from Chicago to London, circled over London for awhile, were told that it was too foggy to land, circled some more, and finally went to Manchester! We landed in Manchester, along with various other diverted London-bound flights (it turned out all Heathrow-bound flights were being diverted to Manchester, Paris, Brussels, and other places), sat on the runway for about 4 ½ hours (and weren’t allowed off the plane!), and finally flew to London once the fog lifted and we could get a slot (slots were, understandably, hard to come by).
This trip finished me off—I got home and quickly came down with a nasty cold. But there was no time to stop. The day after my arrival in London, I went into rehearsals for the Secrets of the Heavens concert which took place on Tuesday.
But before the SOTH concert, there was the small matter of a concert way out in Totnes (Devon) with Jennie Cassidy and Philip Thorby. We rehearsed for that on Friday (just a week ago), and travelled out together the next day. It’s such a beautiful part of the world! Ancient hills shrouded in mist. Nice to be back! And, talking about inspiring venues, the concert was in the very old Guildhall in Totnes, a small and intimate space with lots of atmosphere. The audience was knowledgeable and appreciative, and Jennie’s programme of lute songs, which we’ve done in various incarnations for ten years now, is imaginative and interesting.
That night, I stayed with a friend near Totnes, went for a lovely country walk the next morning, and returned to London in the afternoon. And evening, as it turned out, since this turned out to be another journey from hell. Here in Britain, the trains are in a complete state. The whole system is literally falling apart due to mismanagement, rail crashes, and bad weather. The train journey, which should have taken three hours, took five, and the train was absolutely packed (standing room only). Probably the numbers on that train were dangerous and illegal. It has got to the point here where you can’t reliably travel by train. What’s the alternative? The roads are jam-packed and I think I heard that the average traffic flow speed in London is 9 mph (in the late nineteenth century, it was 11 mph!).
After this, straight into more rehearsing for SOTH, and then the concert. After the concert, finally, I was allowed to collapse and take a couple of days off, which I desperately needed. I’m just coming to the end of that couple of days now.
What of the concert? I think I talked a bit about the recording project when we did it several months ago. This is a programme devised by Angela Voss, entitled Secrets of the Heavens: seven invocations for the contemplation of things celestial. The programme is devised around seven Orphic hymns to the seven planets (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn). Each hymn is sung in the musical mode associated with the planet in question. And, in the concert version, there is a special incense to go with each planet too. Each hymn was preceded by a reading by the actor Mark Rylance from the writings of Marsilio Ficino, and followed by some music related in character to the qualities of the planet in question. I quote part of Angela’s programme note: "This age, like a golden age, has brought back to light those liberal disciplines that were practially extinguished: grammar, poetry, oratory, painting, sculpture, architecture, music and the ancient singing of songs to the Orphic lyre." So writes the Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) in praise of the great cultural achievements he has seen in his native city at the height of the Italian Renaissance. In pride of place, singing—in particular the re-creation of an ancient tradition of accompanied verse in the manner of the legendary musician Orpheus. In this recording, we are evoking the spirit of Ficino’s Orphic singing in the Florence of the late quattrocento, where the Platonic Academy, under his leadership, revived this art of improvised invocation as part of a philosophical and religious aim to harmonise the human soul with the cosmos and remind it of its true origins in God.
Ficino had translated the Hymns to the planetary gods, attributed to Orpheus himself, from Greek into Latin, and he frequently tells us that he sang them to his own accompaniment on the ‘Orphic lyre’. Now Ficino was both a musician and an astrologer, and he devised a form of astrological music therapy in which the gods were addressed with the right music, at the right time of day, in accordance with a person’s horoscope, in order to harmonise and heal their soul. The power of music and song, for Ficino, lay in its natural ability to connect heaven and earth, through appealing to man’s imagination as a meeting ground for both. So in taking you on a journey through the seven planetary spheres of the Platonic cosmos, we ask you to enter a symbolic world of resonance, sympathy and correspondence—a world where Mercury inspires, Venus entices and Saturn discloses the secrets of his wisdom—both in the poetry of myth and the immediacy of the human psyche.
Powerful stuff. And it was a powerful concert. I shouldn’t call it a concert, really; it was more like a happening. It took place in the magnificent twelfth-century church of St. Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, London, which has a tangible atmosphere and a splendid acoustic—surprisingly intimate for the size of the space. The performance was accompanied by the relevant incense (frankincense, manna, aromatics, storax), so it became a total experience: sensory and spiritual. Hearing the hymns in their different modes, one can’t help noticing that each musical mode is its own world, with its own musical colour and character. Whether you’re a believer in the literal existence of unseen things or not, I don’t think it would have been possible to experience this remarkable event without being moved.
Thank you, Angela, for the years of hard work that made it happen.
Readers interested in buying the CD should check out rvrcd.co.uk , although I feel I have to say that the total experience is even better. So if you can get to one of the live performances of this programme (assuming that future performances happen—I very much hope so), I recommend it. I’ll keep the Tour Dates page posted.
Since I started writing this long entry, 17 ½ hours have passed, during which I’ve done other things, including sleeping!
Zan is in Italy and Portugal until Monday. We’re trying to figure out ways to see each other more often!
Time is flying along, and there are a lot of plates spinning at the moment. I’m in the midst of preparing for another CD recording with Musica Antiqua of London (and also a concert with them), a lute-song recital with Catherine (a programme of sacred lute songs, including a few Christmassy ones--it’s a nice programme, though I just spent the last five hours or so typing up the texts and translations!), and, of course, the Jane Pickeringe recording for DGM.
Lots of admin too, emails to answer, letters to write, liaising to do with agents and record companies. The hours are full of constant activity.
Zan and I are hardly seeing each other. Yesterday, she returned at 2 AM from a gig in Birmingham and had to be up at 7 this morning to go and do another on the French/Swiss border. Poor Zan is very tired. She needs a break. But she doesn’t have a single day off in the next two weeks. After that, it gets quieter for her, luckily. That’s just around the time when I get busy, though. Between now and 21 November, I’ve got three days of recording, four concerts (three completely different programmes), and Jane Pickeringe preparation. Oh, well. It’s good to have lots of stimulating things to do. But our holiday break together is starting to look extremely attractive.
On the DGM front, things are moving along nicely. The featured review of my two DGM releases at Cdnow.comis a great source of encouragement, and, perhaps, also of sales (?)
On a very sad note, a friend of ours who only learned he had cancer about two weeks ago is deteriorating rapidly. The suddenness is astonishing. He’d not felt right for a few months, but he had absolutely no idea that he had only a very short time to live. Perhaps this is better for him than a long protracted period of agony. I don’t know. It’s very important to us to see him as much as possible at the moment, but it’s very painful to see him at the same time, because of the rapid physical deterioration. We are talking about a gathering next spring or summer with music to celebrate his life.