NR - Court & Herald Idea

Scott Powers spowers at
Thu Mar 5 09:10:29 PST 1998

>>      Another thing that would help the atmosphere of court would be to
>> have musicians play more during court; ie, the herald calls someone up &
>> while waiting for her/him to approach, the musicians do some music. The
>> musicians should be able to stop & start playing with a minimum of fuss
>> (which means they need to practice this style of playing before court
>> starts). While listening to music would tend to keep some people
>> quieter, I also think it might cause a few people to speak louder to be
>> heard above the music. So it may not be a perfect, but I'd like to hear
>> more music.
>I love this idea!!!  I'm sure the musicians would love it too.  Especially
>since it seems their main forum for getting to play is during balls  (and
>I've seen all too often that most of the populous does not attend these)
>and I 'm sure they'd enjoy playing some other songs.  More period too.
>Could we get some good trumpeters?
>Lady Capricia d'Aulnay

This has been tried with various degrees of success both around here and
all over the known world.  The issues involved in making this work are more
complex than simply "practice this style before court."  There are
basically two way to do this:

1)  Move FAR away from the thrones and play quietly all the time.  This is
easier to do, since there is no abrupt starting and stopping.  But has some
disadvantages, most notably that quiet voices at the front of the hall are
even harder to hear than before.  This method does provide nice atmosphere,
and in my opinion, "sounds" better.  Unfortunately, it is not really
period.  Elevator music is a modern invention.

2)  Move right next to the thrones and fill the gaps with music.  This is
what was suggested above, and is actually very period.  In most European
courts, *nothing* was done without music announcing it.  But here is where
it gets tricky.  If you have only 2 or 3 musicians, it is not too hard to
start together, but the sound is pretty weak.  Most consort music is scored
for more people in any case.  But the more people you add, the more
difficult it becomes to get everyone started together.  I am sure you have
seen a band or orchestra director tapping on his stand to get everyone's
attention.  Then he makes this huge downbeat to make everyone is together.
The whole process takes several seconds, which kind of defeats the purpose.
The problem is not quite so bad when you have 6 or 7 people.  But it can be
difficult nonetheless.

The real problem though is timing, and this has to be worked out with the
heralds.  Ideally you would want the music to start the instant that the
herald finished calling up the next person.  But in order to do that, the
consort leader has to know precisely when the herald is going to stop
speaking.  That can't happen unless there is good communication with the
herald.  And everyone knows that heralds have quite enough to do in court
without having to deal with hand signals or something to communicate with
the musicians.   So there is no simple solution.

Perhaps one solution would be for the heralds to attend some music
rehearsals.  They could then work with the musicians in establishing the
timing of various things.  Then in court, the herald could quietly indicate
what sort of announcement would be next, and the musicians would be ready.
Alternate methods of communication between heralds and musicians are most
certainly welcome and would be listed too most attentively.

The other big issue is easier to solve, but probably won't be.  And that is
the issue of when to stop.  For some reason, people feel that the moment
the next person arrives in front of the thrones, the music should instantly
cease.  I have actually been performing when a lady turned to us and made a
cutting motion across her throat, as if to tell us to stop playing at once.
Aside from the fact that the musicians are looking at the music and not at
the people, it simply does not sound good if you stop in mid phrase.  It
was furthermore very rude.  That would be like stopping a bard in
performance in the middle of a sentence to make an announcement.  Nobody
would dream of doing that.  Yet some people think its OK to interrupt
musicians that way.  No, the best solution is for the person coming up to
receive an award to take their place and then stop.  The musicians would
then stop at the next available cadence.  It would sound much better, allow
the musicians to stop together instead of haphazardly, would be more
period, and would only delay things by a few seconds.

We have also discussed performing in another forum.  We are considering
having real live concerts in mid afternoon when things are often at a lull.
We are still trying to figure out the best way to do this, but enthuseasm
seems high for the project.  Many of the musicians cannot keep the late
hours required to play for a ball, and often end up playing little or none
at all because the ball started so late.  This would allow more musicians
to participate, as well as allow us to play consort music instead of dance


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