I had heard many excellent reports of the Irish Recorder & Viol Course over the years, and at last decided to sample the delights myself and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a very warm welcome from the organising committee led by Pat and Pamela Flanagan, the wonderful group of tutors directed by Philip Thorby, other members of the course and the staff of An Grianán. The venue itself is close to the coast and surrounded by many well-established trees providing a wonderful backdrop to the week’s music making. After arrival and settling in, the first of many excellent meals (no chance of losing any weight during the week unless you have exceptional powers of self-control) was followed by a guided tour of the site for the newcomers, then a meeting where Philip explained the organisation of the course and then our first massed playing session. The main events of each day are the sessions of permanent and non-permanent groups. In the first you play with the same people each day, and in the second you are allocated to a group which changes each day based on the preferences you indicate on the application form. I was impressed by the amount of care taken by the tutors in constituting these groups, and the willingness to change groups if they were not entirely satisfactory. Music for these sessions is available in the enormous library held by the course which Marion Scott oversees. My permanent group was a recorder quintet and my non-permanent sessions a mixture of broken consort (recorder & viols), baroque trio sonatas and recorder consorts all of which worked extremely well and were most enjoyable. There are also opportunities to make music away from the formal sessions: I was invited to play in a memorable arrangement of the Gloria from Robert Carver’s 10-part mass organised by a fellow participant, David Allen. Each day there was a choice of Ensemble Sessions, which this year included one in memory of both Theo Wyatt and Eileen Silcocks, in which we played Theo’s arrangement of Bach Prelude and Fugue No 16 from the Well-Tempered KlavierBook 2 and Eileen’s West Country Suite. There was also a ‘Try a Viol session’ led by Ibi Aziz and a conducting workshop led by Marion Doherty. Each evening at 7.00pm Philip conducted the choir and each day finished with a massed playing session at 8.00pm taken by one of the tutors, finishing about 9.30pm; however, if you still had the energy you could continue playing in groups of your own making until 11.00pm. On Tuesday evening we were treated to a wonderful informal concert given by the tutors, which included a Telemann Quartet in G minor, a trio of renaissance recorders and Emma Murphy singing Yitgadal veyitkadesh by Salamone Rossi. I particularly appreciated Emma’s ornamentation in the Telemann, which I must try and emulate next time I play it! Two other long-standing events on the course are the Sand Castle Competition and the Arrangers’ Competition (now in its 46th year).Tradition has it that the Sand Castle Competition is judged by two new participants and the lot fell to Maria Cox (all the way from Australia) and me on this occasion. We had nine very high-class entries – none really castles but works of art in sand (including dragons, mermaids, 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death etc.); the overall winners were Eliza and Fergus (Emma’s children) with their depiction of ‘A Minion to Help with the Reading of Minims’. However, all competitors were winners of their individual classes cunningly devised by the judges!! This year the scope of the Arrangers’ Competition was expanded; in the past arrangers set pieces for either recorder or viol consort but this year’s entries included an original composition for recorder orchestra, and one for a broken consort of recorders and viols. I was very pleased to be playing in both works: Anne Martin’s Elizabethan Scenes in three movements each inspired by a well-known theme (“The Leaves be Green”, “Lachrimae” and “Fine Knacks for Ladies”) and Christine Saunders’ arrangement of the “Flower Song” from Lakmé by Delibes for two recorders and four viols. The other two entries were arrangements by Chris May for recorders of Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and Leonard Bernstein’s Wrong NoteRag, the latter being the overall winner. On Wednesday afternoon, many participants took a most enjoyable and interesting coach trip (organised by Marion Doherty) to Knowth to see the megalithic burial chambers in the Boyne Valley, constructions built before the pyramids at Giza. These mounds, including those at the nearby Newgrange are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the Thursday evening, there was the Ceilidh. Unfortunately, a cold I had been harbouring most of the week, finally took its toll and I took myself off to bed after giving my apologies, so I missed the traditional Am-Dram performance with Philip as a Pantomime Dame. Another item was Eliza and Fergus’s performance of Roald Dahl’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood”. I am told all contributions were well up to standard!
Friday came round far too quickly and ended with the course concert which included items by the Recorder Orchestra, the Viol Orchestra, the Choir, the winning entry of the Arrangers’ Competition and a final massed playing of Lechner’s Laudate Dominum for 15 voices conducted by Philip – a most fitting ending to a wonderful week.
If you have not been before, do go. You will have a wonderful week of music making in very congenial surroundings, with excellent tutors and a very friendly welcome from other members of the course and the staff of An Grianán. Highly recommended.