Musica Matrix

A 501.c.3 organization devoted to Bringing History to Life through Music

Report: Pat O’Scannell’s November Workshop

Full Of Sound And Fury: Music Of Shakespeare’s Plays

by Janet Loy

Fifteen participants gathered in the choir room of Trinity Cathedral on Saturday, November 12th, to greet Pat O’Scannell and learn about music that possibly flowed from the stages where plays by Shakespeare were presented during his lifetime. Pointing out the challenges of projecting music from the stage to the audience, Pat took us through ways of executing strong bows. Some of the techniques Pat had us practice included using lots of bow for slow notes and using much less bow for quicker ones; playing closer to the bridge for some sound effects; and creating wispy sounds farther from the bridge, while using lots of bow. Pat talked about using the fingers on the hair of the bow to help create a good core sound. Having control of the speed of the bow and being able to make gestures going both directions were also discussed as helpful tools for dealing with surprises one might have while supplying music for a play.

We then had the fun of applying some of this insight while playing “A la bataglia” by Heinrich Isaac. This piece also gave us good practice in playing proportions, where we moved smoothly (mostly) from a whole note to a dotted whole note and back again.

Shakespeare Timeline
Shakespeare Timeline

On the front of a packet Pat handed out was a timeline of composers whose music could have been used on a Shakesperian stage. She highlighted those composers most likely to be represented: Edwards, Holborne, Morley, Johnson, and Ravenscroft. Her packet included not only a list of theaters where Shakespeare’s plays were performed, but also colorful pictures of postage stamps illustrating Shakespearean theaters of the time. Among the theaters were The Rose, Swan, Globe, and Hope. Companies such as The King’s Men were also mentioned as playing in the Globe. A picture of a cross section of the Globe served well to see where the underlings stood (not a good angle to see the many levels of action), where the Royal Box was, where the Musicians’ Gallery was (toward the top of the theater), where other levels were, the casement windows, and the trap. Pat also shared some interesting anecdotes based on her own experiences in Shakespearian theater, both as a musician and as a cast member.

To experience being a little theatrical ourselves, some participants took on the role of actors by reading lines from a play, while the rest of us responded to the spoken cues, playing excerpts from Matthew Locke’s The Tempest. This gave us a chance to imagine the space, the time, and what it might have been like on stage.

Following lunch and a chance to examine music brought by Boulder Early Music shop, we broke into small groups to apply further what we had learned about using our bows, and how to use the bow to express what we to say. Pat helped our group examine music by Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Weelkes, and Thomas Morley, working to create some lyrical lines and also some speech-like contrasts. We ended with Andrea Gabrielli’s “Alla battaglia, o forti cavalieri” which gave us a chance to be energetic and brassy.

viola de gamba seminae

With the help of Tim Scott, my second session found us working on a Henry Purcell Fantasia. We encountered many very high and very low sounds, which gave us a chance to experiment with color. The piece also provided a chance to play slow, sustained passages contrasted with faster active, rhythmic sections which had lots of leaps and chromatic flavor. Practicing getting out of the way of the more important lines and speaking up when we had the more important lines was also a valuable exercise.

Gathering at the end as a large group to play once more the Isaac piece from earlier in the day brought closure to a delightful workshop.