Report of a Zoom Meeting 9th May 2020

Well, this was a change from our usual meetings! Thanks to Covid-19, we thought it might be interesting to hold a Zoom conference-style meeting. Did it work? Well, not quite as hoped, but probably as expected.

Thirteen people tuned in, with five people offering to play. Before I get into who played what, there are a few comments I’d like to make to potentially improve matters should we do another Zoom meeting in the future.

Sound: It’s a complex issue. Having a USB microphone helps considerably, as long as you make some audio choices in the Zoom platform. Even if you don’t use an external microphone, you can still improve the quality of sound for music, as outlined in this video:

 

Visuals: The next thing to consider is how you present yourself when performing, and The Lute Society has a very helpful video from someone who really knows what he is talking about, though he is really talking about making a video presentation, but the points he makes are pertinent to Zoom:

 

As for observers, by far the best thing you can do to improve the sound you are hearing is to use headphones. Even a cheap pair will dramatically improve the sound you are hearing, but generally speaking the more you pay the better the sound.

So, to the meeting itself!

Rob Mackillop was MC, and started with an apology for not actually playing an historically-relevant instrument. He has lately become obsessed with 5ths tuning, such as found on violins and cellos, and is doing research into what historical instrument might best suit him. A brief foray into cello playing was discouraging: the bow had a mind of its own, and the left hand required far more pressure than his hand was used to or could cope with! So his mind started wandering towards the 18th-century mandolin, the type made by Antonio Vinaccia, with a gut first string, and thin harpsichord wire for the remaining courses, with the 4th course being in octaves. Such a setup would be quite different from the more modern high-tension instruments. However, there are very few luthiers making historically accurate instruments, and those who do tend to copy the most ornate instruments, for which they naturally charge premium prices.

And then Rob “discovered” the Brescian or Cremonese mandolin, which had four single gut strings. This is definitely something Rob was interested in, but to make sure he really wanted to play the repertoire for it he tuned his ukulele in 5ths, CGDA, which is how he came to be performing a ukulele at a SLEGS meeting!

Rob’s ego told him he was the inventor of the Ukelin or Mandolele (!) but soon discovered that it is a known thing, and of course – we should have known – the string company Aquila-Corde already sell 5ths-tuning sets for ukuleles. Just think of the extent of the repertoire that uses 5ths tuning: all the Bach cello suites and violin Partitas and Sonatas, not to mention pretty much everything ever written for these instruments! And then there is the mandolin: a good-sized mountain of music is there to be plundered.

Rob chose to play “De la Reine de la Golconde“, a theme with two variations, from Pietro Denis‘ Method for mandolin, Paris, 1768. The beautiful theme is often over-romanticised by using higher positions on lower strings (Segovia’s editions of Bach come to mind), yet the original notation seems to imply otherwise. The theme is no less beautiful for playing in first position, and the mellowness of the ukulele made a good argument for doing so. The two variations explored mandolin plectrum techniques before a return of the opening theme.

We shall wait and see where Rob ends up in his exploration of 5ths tuning.

Next up was Bill Samson, playing his own-made classical guitar, but not before showing us a three-quarters-finished copy of a Lacote guitar, which he will hopefully play for us at the next meeting. Bill played a beautiful study by Carcassi, number 1 from volume 3 of his Opus 59 guitar method, and his interpretation caught the spirit of it perfectly. It would be good to hear it again on his Lacote, and hopefully with the audio recording quality settled.

Philip Lord played his Michael Lowe 13c lute the following three items: Prelude from Stockholm Kungliga Biblioteek S176, a Sarabande from the same source, and Preliminaire from Kalmar 21068 (Another Swedish manuscript). Despite sound issues, this was the most assured performance we have heard from Philip on the 13c, so keep it up, sir!

Two latecomers appeared after having been waiting in a Google room. Not their fault. When Zoom sent out the invitation it included a link to go there, why I don’t know. They missed the entirety of the preceding performances. But, better late than never…

Chris Jupp gave a wonderful rendition of Francesco da Milano’s Fantasia, Ness 38. This is not an easy piece to physically execute, but even harder to make a musical statement with. Chris managed both with aplomb, and it is wonderful to see his performances improving with every meeting. Find a singer, Chris, and let’s hear some lute-song repertoire.

Stuart McLuckie played two pieces from the Lute Society’s 70 Easy to Intermediate pieces for Renaissance lute: number 29 Balletto and number 32, the Balletto de Florenza. Stuart also played well, tasteful and with a good rhythm. It was a good way to end proceedings.

I only had the presence of mind to take one screen shot, this of Chris Jupp, the one handed lute player (let’s see both hands next time, Chris!)

 

To sum up, a partial success, partial failure. Once we all get our sound and posing sorted, it might be worthwhile doing another such meeting.

 

 

 

Next Meeting: 19th September, 2020

The 34th meeting of SLEGS will take place on Saturday 19th September, 2020.

Visitors are most welcome.

The venue is Chris Elmes’s place – 1F1, 25 Haddington Place, EH7 4AF (the left side of Leith Walk between Annandale St and MacDonald Rd). Parking is unrestricted off Leith Walk on weekends; MacDonald Road or Hopetoun Crescent is the best area.

Time: 1pm for a 1.30pm start. Two or three hours, depending on contributions from members.

There will be a charge of £1 a head for the use of the venue.

If anyone wishes to make a presentation, please contact Rob MacKillop with some details: robmackillop@gmail.com. Otherwise, just turn up at the address stated above. Any questions, ask Rob.

Report of the 33rd Meeting: 7 March, 2020

In the absence of Rob MacKillop, Bill Samson was ‘master of ceremonies’.
We had a turnout of eight, four of them new faces to SLEGS. After introducing ourselves we got down to some music making.
First up was Stuart McLuckie, playing his Paulo Busato 11c baroque lute.  He played an anonymous French piece “Le Gris de Lin”, a charming Minuet by S.L. Weiss and an anonymous ‘Lesson’ arranged by Linda Sayce.  Stuart’s playing was assured and fluent and the pieces were well interpreted.
Bill Samson took the floor next with his most recent self-made guitar, strung with gut trebles and Aquila Ambra 900 basses.  This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great Italian/French composer Ferdinando Carulli.  Bill played three pieces by Carulli; starting off with a Waltz, then  an Andantino.  Bill spoke about the use ‘notes inegales’ in the baroque era and evidence for their survival into the 20th century.  Miguel Llobet recorded Sor’s B-minor study in 1925 and played in an inegale style.  On the basis of this evidence Bill played an etude by Carulli using inegales for the ubiquitous arpeggios.  It brought a smile to some faces! (particularly when Bill’s phone rang during the performance!)
The last player was Chris Jupp, playing his 6c lute by Luke Emmet.  Chris spoke about the difference between the 6c lute and later renaissance lutes, particularly the musical effect of octave stringing on the 6th, 5th and 4th courses. Chris tries always to play unfamiliar repertoire and I suspect none of us were familiar with the three pieces he played.  First he played a beautifully melancholy intabulation of Josquin’s “Adieu mes Amours”, by Hans Neusidler.  Next came a fantasia by Rafaele Viola from the Phalese book (1571).  This is one of only two surviving pieces by the composer.  It   was very well performed despite some tricky passages in the upper register.  Finally he played Hans Neusidler’s intabulation of Heinrich Isaac’s Benedictus – a stunningly contrapuntal piece in which Chris did a fine job of bringing out the separate voices.
After this shorter-than-usual playing session, there was a good deal of chat and swapping of instruments and information.

Next Meeting: 7 March, 2020

The 33rd meeting of SLEGS will take place on Saturday 7th March, 2020.

Visitors are most welcome.

The venue is Chris Elmes’s place – 1F1, 25 Haddington Place, EH7 4AF (the left side of Leith Walk between Annandale St and MacDonald Rd). Parking is unrestricted off Leith Walk on weekends; MacDonald Road or Hopetoun Crescent is the best area.

Time: 1pm for a 1.30pm start. Two or three hours, depending on contributions from members.

There will be a charge of £1 a head for the use of the venue.

If anyone wishes to make a presentation, please contact Rob MacKillop with some details: robmackillop@gmail.com. Otherwise, just turn up at the address stated above. Any questions, ask Rob.

Report of 32nd Meeting: December 14th, 2019

Due to the inclement weather, only a few diehards emerged from their hovels today, but as ever the bonhomie and that rare thing theses days – the opportunity to hear lutes and historical guitars – made the effort worthwhile.

Philip Lord got us off to an interesting start with two Renaissance lute pieces played on his Paul Thomson vihuela. The first was given a fine performance, the second proved a bit more demanding on player and listener, but both were well received.

Bill Samson introduced his new self-made guitar, which has some unusual sources for the main timbers. The soundboard is of “sinker” cedar – trees that were swept down a Canadian river by loggers, only to get stuck in undergrowth, and discovered decades later. One farmer used it for fence posts, with shavings from that eventually finding their way into Bill’s hands. Four panels from the fence posts were needed to form the soundboard of this relatively small Bouchet-influenced guitar. The back and sides were made of walnut from his grannie’s old kitchen table!

Bill played three “lessons” from the second book by by Julio Sagreras, an Argentinian professor of the guitar in the early years of the 20th century. Bill’s playing was fine, really stylish in appropriate ways for the repertoire, and he pulled some beautiful tones out of his instrument. Bravo!

Rob Mackillop for once had nothing prepared, but borrowed Bill’s guitar, and read more Sagreras lessons, including a tremolo piece. Emilio Pujol – an authority on the technique of his teacher, Francisco Tárrega – described the no-nails tremolo as sounding “ethereal”, unlike it’s more articulated nail equivalent. The sound Rob produced was indeed a murmur, very gentle.

Chris Jupp treated his 6c Luke Emmet lute to three fantasias by Francesco da Milano, all found in British manuscripts: N62, N40, and the wonderful N33 which must have been heard – and surely approved of – by John Dowland. We look forward to further 6c adventures by Chris at future meetings.

Stuart McLuckie brought proceedings to a close with a Branle, Corrente and a curiously-timed Galliard in 4/4, all by Emanuel Adriaenssen, which were pleasant enough, at times sounding like 16th-century Belgian pop songs, very tuneful and danceable.

Members seemed reluctant to wander back out into the cold and sodden streets, so a wheen of blethers could be heard for some time. Well done, all.

B&W photies by Rob Mackillop, colour by Bill Samson. Click for larger versions.

Date of Next Meeting: 14th December 2019

The 32nd meeting of SLEGS will take place on Saturday 14th December, 2019.

Visitors are most welcome.

The venue is Chris Elmes’s place – 1F1, 25 Haddington Place, EH7 4AF (the left side of Leith Walk between Annandale St and MacDonald Rd). Parking is unrestricted off Leith Walk on weekends; MacDonald Road or Hopetoun Crescent is the best area.

Time: 1pm for a 1.30pm start. Two or three hours, depending on contributions from members.

There will be a charge of £1 a head for the use of the venue.

If anyone wishes to make a presentation, please contact Rob MacKillop with some details: robmackillop@gmail.com. Otherwise, just turn up at the address stated above. Any questions, ask Rob.

Report of 31st Meeting: September 14th, 2019

Well, this was a very interesting meeting! Sorry you missed it 😉 Though maybe you didn’t 🙂

Bill Samson got the ball rolling with music in Renaissance tuning on his self-made 12c lute, the first to be made since the 17th century. It’s getting quite old itself now, though not yet a museum piece! And that goes for the performer too!

Bill gave a short history of the 12c, and “for a warmup” played What If A Day. Although not Bill’s best-sounding lute, it sounded clear enough, warm in the treble and transparent in the bass. He played with some stylistic flair, which got proceedings off to a good start. Suitably warmed up, he launched into an Almayne by Robert Johnson – I believe this was Johnson’s premier hearing for SLEGS, and very refreshing it sounded. The imitative passages and deft ornamentation were well received.

Rob MacKillop gave his debut performance playing a 7-string Viola da Gamba. Little did he know that its maker, Anthony Edge, was going to turn up to a SLEGS meeting for the first time. Anthony just happened to pop in, not knowing Rob was going to play his viol…

Rob gave a very short history of the viol, then proceeded to perform three student pieces, one by cellist, Joseph Reinagle (1762-1825), and two short dances by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755). Judging by comments given to the performer later, the instrument was very well received, with many comments about the tone of the instrument, and a few encouraging comments for the performer too. I’m sure Rob will bring the viol again, hopefully in tandem with a lute player.

SLEGS stalwart, Stuart McLuckie gave further evidence of his progress with three pieces from The Lute Society’s publication, 70 easy to Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute: Ballad, Españoleta, and a Balletto.

These were all tastefully played and interpreted. The Españoleta was intriguing, with an opening so like those from Gaspar Sanz, before heading off into unfamiliar territory. I’d like to hear that again sometime. And encore of a French chanson rounded off a fine performance.

Eric Renshaw introduced his new instrument: a mandolin copied from an Embergher original. Embergher is the Stradivari of the mandolin world, and Eric’s instrument was clearly in the top class. Learn more about Eric’s mandolin world HERE and Embergher HERE. It is hope we will one day hear Eric play his beautiful mandolin.


Pav Verity treated us to some melodically and rhythmically fascinating Greek music on his Cretan Laouto. There could hardly have been a starker contrast to the quiet and warm lute music either side of Pav’s performance, but it was a sound clearly enjoyed by the audience!

Chris Jupp was up next, playing an 8c lute by Dallas Sutherland. Chris sensitively performed a beautifully-searching prelude by Laurencini Romanus – a composer worth hearing more of at future meetings. This fine performance was followed by a sublime Pavane by Alfonso Ferrabosco from the Variety of Lute Lessons of 1610. The tone and phrasing were exemplary, and an encore was demanded and granted: Dowland’s sublime Solos Cum Sola. Beautiful stuff, well appreciated.

Proceedings were brought to a close in a fascinating and unexpected way, with the presentation of a keyed classical guitar, carefully and beautifully reconstructed by PhD organology student, Daniel Wheeldon.

The instrument looks like a regular 19th-century guitar, but with a hole cut out of the soundboard, as if for inserting a pickup. Hidden in the side of the body is a keyboard attachment. The player presses a “piano” key, and a hammer rises from inside the guitar, through the hole, and strikes a string. Daniel demonstrated with some arpeggios, before playing a typical guitar study from the early to mid 19th century.

The guitar Daniel presented was a copy of an instrument made in 1810 by Mattias Neüner in Mittenwald. He is also building a copy of a guitar from 1843 by Mattius Sprenger and Franz Fiala. These are the only two keyed guitars known to survive.

How did it sound? Well, a bit percussive. Dynamic variation is possible, but not tonal. It therefore seemed more suited to Giuliani song accompaniments or less emotional solo pieces. I can’t imagine it at all being useful for the Romantic repertoire. The forte-piano came to mind. It wasn’t unattractive, but the right repertoire would have to be found in order to present it in a very positive light.

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So, a fascinating meeting, much appreciated by all in attendance, including a lovely couple from far off Devon, Sue and Graham Hodgson. You are both welcome back for future meetings! Likewise the sprightly Anthony Edge!

Colour photos from Bill Samson, B&W from Rob MacKillop:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date of Next Meeting: 14th September, 2019

The 31st meeting of SLEGS will take place on Saturday 14th September, 2019.

Visitors are most welcome.

The venue is Chris Elmes’s place – 1F1, 25 Haddington Place, EH7 4AF (the left side of Leith Walk between Annandale St and MacDonald Rd). Parking is unrestricted off Leith Walk on weekends; MacDonald Road or Hopetoun Crescent is the best area.

Time: 1pm for a 1.30pm start. Two or three hours, depending on contributions from members.

There will be a charge of £1 a head for the use of the venue.

If anyone wishes to make a presentation, please contact Rob MacKillop with some details: robmackillop@gmail.com. Otherwise, just turn up at the address stated above. Any questions, ask Rob.

Report of 30th Meeting: 8 June, 2019

Torrential rain doubtless encouraged a few absences, but there was enough of a quorum for some playing and discussion, making this a very enjoyable meeting indeed.

Rob MacKillop got the ball rolling, as he often does – this time on a borrowed lute – with a couple of beautiful Scottish pieces from the Straloch manuscript: A Port and I Long For Thy Virginitie. Rob played with great feeling, making the instrument sing sweetly.

Stewart Mcluckie introduced his new Busato 11c lute, and proceeded to play good renditions of three pieces for beginners from Miguel Serdoura’s Method: two minuets and Les Tricotine. The baroque lute is not an easy instrument to feel instantly at home on, but Stewart seemed unconcerned with that, bringing out a lovely tone. We look forward to the return of the instrument.

Chris showing his new technique…

Chris Jupp presented a mini recital, much to everyone’s pleasure. He started with a rarely-heard arrangement of Dowland’s famous Lachrimae, this one signed CK. A Fantasie and Fuga followed by Maffon, which I had never heard before. Likewise a Ballo Polaco dance. To finish off, Chris gave a beautiful rendering of Dowland’s setting of the folk song, Robin Is To Greenwood Gone. As Rob MacKillop mentioned, one of the pleasures of coming to SLEGS meetings these many years is to see the progression of Chris’s playing. Keep it up Chris, and we’ll be buying CDs from you afore long.

Bill showing his air-guitar technique…

Bill Samson played a self-made cedar-top Torres-style guitar, which sounded beautiful. The repertoire by Calatayud included a Bulerias, a Fandanguillo, and a Soleá. The composer had lessons when a young boy from Francisco Tárrega, and it was easy to discern the 19th-century approach to these flamenco titles. Bill gave a fine performance, with not a little fire and nuance.

Occasional SLEGS attendee, Pav Verity, brought an unusual instrument for our perusal: a Milanese mandolin, complete with six single strings and a scalloped fretboard. Very interesting, though we could have done with a performance – next time, Pav!

Rob MacKillop gave a short demonstration of right-hand technique for baroque lute, and the importance of having the bass fundamentals higher off the soundboard than the octave pairings.

Rob also mentioned his new album of 19th-century Spanish music between Sor and Tárrega, played on a 19th-century Spanish guitar. Details here: https://rmclassicalguitar.com/download-album/

Bill Samson made two announcements: a Lute Society stall promoting the lute should be staffed by SLEGS members for the visit of the BMG (Banjo Mandolin and Guitar) Federation Festival to Edinburgh in 2020. See this website for details: http://www.banjomandolinguitar.org/rally.htm

…and a Glasgow school is looking for lutes for their pupils’ Early Music ensemble.

Cheeky B&W photos by Rob, sensible colour photos by Bill.



 

 

Date of Next Meeting: 8th June, 2019

The 30th meeting of SLEGS will take place on Saturday 8th June, 2019.

Visitors are most welcome.

The venue is Chris Elmes’s place – 1F1, 25 Haddington Place, EH7 4AF (the left side of Leith Walk between Annandale St and MacDonald Rd). Parking is unrestricted off Leith Walk on weekends; MacDonald Road or Hopetoun Crescent is the best area.

Time: 1pm for a 1.30pm start. Two or three hours, depending on contributions from members.

There will be a charge of £1 a head for the use of the venue.

If anyone wishes to make a presentation, please contact Rob MacKillop with some details: robmackillop@gmail.com. Otherwise, just turn up at the address stated above. Any questions, ask Rob.