Monday, December 03, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 74 (Monday dawn edition)

Monday morning, Monday morning,
Closin' in on me;
I'm packin' up and I'm a-runnin' away
To where nobody thinks of me.

[from Richard Thompson's great early song When I Get to the Border]

Not much time to comment today; still slogging away on book proposal. One nice thing: I found out last night that my old friend Rich Remsberg, author of the masterpiece photo-essay book Riders for God, is placing his new manuscripts, on music in the FSA photo archive from the '30s, with the same editor I'm working with. So we might get to be label-mates.

Tonight's is the last of the Madrigal Dinners, for which my guys are playing great. Celtic Christmas looming, old friends coming in to town to guest, lots of logistical planning and some costume making.

Over the years the Celtic Xmas has evolved a lot. It began as a pilot project designed to provide a focus for the growing community of players, dancers, and fans, but also as a focus for the Vernacular Music Center and the scholarship we eventually hoped to offer. It took five years to build the audience, the players' community, and the financial base sufficient to endow the scholarship as is required by this university, but that's now done: Mac Tire is the first recipient of the VMC Scholarship in Traditional Music.

This is also the first year the show can use the Celtic Ensemble (founded in 2006) extensively as featured ensemble, and the first in which my own band has a CD (and a new name). Celtic Ensemble has an explicit mission to explore the musics of all seven Celtic Nations (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, Galicia, and the Isle of Man) and the one "satellite" we allow ourselves: for purposes of this band, we regard England as a colony of Ireland and Scotland, rather than vice-versa. After last year's shakedown cruise, and with the very wise advice of senior students now serving as assistants during my Fall 2007 sabbatical, we evolved a calendar that was conceived by academic year, rather than by semester: Celtic Ensemble accepts auditionees only in the Fall semester, with the expectation that players are making a commitment for the full year, and that they will spend that first Fall semester in the "Skills" as opposed to the "Stage" section. "Skills" includes: learning and playing by ear, improvising, developing one's own parts and group arrangements, and so forth. They're not hard skills, but they are specific, and they take some learning. So the "Skills" section people have a semester in which to get up to speed, without the time pressure of having to prepare a concert program at the same time. After that initial semester, Skills-section people can move into the "Stage" section, who are involved in various concert and service performances.

Linked to this is the annual performance calendar. Because the Fall semester is the intake semester, when we typically have a bunch of new recruits in the Skills section, we limit the amount of music to be learned and the environments in which it is to be played. Typically, those environments are mostly a bunch of service obligations, principle among them the Madrigal Dinners and the Celtic Xmas. In the Spring semester, with everyone more up to speed and everyone carried in the "Stage" section, we plan for a much heavier schedule of full performances.

Finally, also linked to this is the balancing act of the repertoire. Because the Spring semester brings performances, we need to have a full program of music that is reasonably effective, utilizes the full ensembles, and reasonably accessible to an audience; whereas in the Fall, without the pressure of performances, we can take the time to learn new repertoires or ones that are unfamiliar (even to me). So the Fall semester, in addition to providing intake for new players, is also the semester in which we grapple with unfamiliar repertoire, particularly that from less-commonly-played Celtic traditions; whereas the Spring repertoire is typically bigger, longer, and more familiar.

Last year's repertoire schedule including Breton music and dance in the Fall, and English/Irish music and dance in the Spring. This year, it's Galician repertoire in the Fall and English/Scottish in the Spring. We also maintain some "warhorses" in the band's mental book: free-standing pieces which can be played as part of short features, or for service performances, or as finales and encores. To date, those include a Breton an-dro (line dance song) which is a great set-closer and can involve audience participation, and the standing repertoire of the Morris side (Cotswold Morris dances, including a very common Bampton stick dance and a processional--used for dancing from house to house on May Day--put together by the side and their dance captain).

But we don't want to "waste" the Fall semester material--that is, having beaten our brains out learning how to play a relatively unfamiliar repertoire and getting it up to speed, it would be a shame not to play any of it for an audience, even if we don't have a full evening's concert program. So we play it at the Madrigal Dinners, and use it in the Celtic Christmas, and then in January, with an additional month during which to build in additional repertoire, we play it in a full concert program. By mid-January, with 4 1/2 months to learn it (instead of the 8 weeks that a November concert would mandate), we have a good handle on the repertoire and can knock it out of the park. Then, as soon as the January concert (this year, Galician) is done, we'll get to work on the Spring semester material (this year, Scottish ballads and English country band dance music) for an April show--also very nice to have some "outdoor" music for that program, as April is late Spring here in Lubbock and we like to have at least one or two things we can play outdoors.

I am incredibly proud of my guys: they work hard, many of them with Celtic Ensemble as their fourth or fifth ensemble requirement, and with a great spirit of respect and commitment to the music and its (very different) musical processes.

I am proud of their music and I am humbled by their dedication, and I'll put 'em up against anybody.

12 days to proposal deadline.

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