Dartington magic – part 1


Looking back at my post from earlier in the year I am reflecting on just how many unknowns there have been but also how many opportunities for growth.  Somehow, back in those dark days, I summoned up the strength and self-belief to rehearse and organise recordings in order to put an audition tape forward for a Masterclass with my all time hero – Emma Kirkby.  This was as part of the Early Music week for the Dartington International Summer School. I wasn’t that hopeful, but with the help and support of musicians I trust and admire, the recordings were made, the resume written and the application sent off.  I felt I had nothing to lose, and was only a little disappointed to get put on the reserve list rather than a confirmed place.  At least it wasn’t a complete rejection!

I determined to enjoy the week anyway and get the most out of being with other like minded people, to rediscover my passion for early music after so many years exploring other music with my teacher.  It had been a wonderful musical journey but now I felt ready to go home.  And that is exactly how I felt when I first ventured out into a sunny quadrangle outside the Great Hall.  (I will not dwell on the details of a 7 hour drive on a hot July day, the stress of finding a new place, checking in and getting luggage stowed and car parked).  As soon as I walked out on the grass in that beautiful place, hearing Stile Antico rehearsing madrigals for the evening concert I knew I was in a magical place, a place of healing.

I was a little daunted and in awe of the musicians I met that first evening but everyone was so open and welcoming that I was reassured.  The concert given by Stile Antico was superb.  I would love to take our choir to see them; there is no musical director and they all work collaboratively to deliver the music.  All take equal responsibility for looking, listening and being aware of each other in performance.  Most importantly they obviously enjoyed themselves enormously, and there was total engagement with the audience.

The course started in earnest on the Sunday and I went along to observe the Masterclass, determined to learn as much as I could.  I sat at the back watching and taking notes as Emma guided a dozen singers through their initial performance, a wonderful group of talented and engaging young people from all over Europe and beyond.  And then she checked her notebook and commented that she was missing a couple of people – ‘Carmel Edwards is on my list’. I timidly put up my hand and explained about the reserve place, and she breezily waved that thought aside and asked me what I wanted to sing.  My mouth jumped in before I could engage brain and I found myself, with no preparation, and with a borrowed score, singing Dowland’s ‘Come again, sweet love doth now invite’. There was a hiccup with timing (which was to become my nemesis that week!) but I was too shy to admit I only picked it up to learn a few weeks ago, goodness knows why it was the only song title that came into my head at that moment!

I hurried out of the class at the end in a state of shock not realising there was a group workshop that afternoon, so by Monday I was 24 hours behind the others, but I just had to get on with it and catch up.  There was a mad dash to the library to get scores, to the summer school office to get photocopies of the group pieces Emma had sent to the others in advance, and then about an hour to decipher and learn 2 new pieces on facsimile scores.  A younger self would have been tempted to give up or cry or panic, but I just knew it needed doing, and that I would do it.  The workshop was a success, and I held my own with the sight reading.  I has underestimated the skill, picked up from so many years in choirs, of picking up tunes and harmonies quickly.  It turns out I may be a slow reader but I have a quick ear.

I am the sort of person who likes to have a plan, I like to be well prepared, and I like to craft songs until I think they can be aired in public.  This is partly down to my lack of confidence in my ability to sight read.  But the most important thing I learned last week was that I could just jump in and swim, and, what’s more, get a huge sense of achievement from it.  I ‘felt the fear’ and did it anyway.  It reminded me of the inspiring speech made by Nadiya Hussein when she won the great British Bake Off last year.

“I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say, ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can and I will”.

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