Jacob Heringman, lutenist - Diary
Today, I travel to York, to make my fourth solo CD at the National Centre for Early Music. Last night, I did one of my traditional pre-recording house concerts, for nine friends who were kind enough to come along and support me by giving some of the pieces a hearing. Most of them have been toured already (in the States and Canada last October and November), but the new pieces (the pieces for ten- and twelve-course lute in transitional tunings which I wrote about a couple of months ago in this Diary) hadnít been played to anyone yet. I believe that music really doesnít begin to take shape fully until it has been aired in some kind of public forum, even a semi-private one like our front room. Certainly the airing last night helped me to see these pieces in a different light, and gave me some ideas about how to perform them. Itís not there isnít immense joy to be had from communing with the music alone--just me, my lute and the music--I could do that forever! But the next stage is very important: giving or sharing the music.
Andrew Keeling's 'Black Sun' is now fully intabulated for lute, thanks to a five-hour delay at Stansted Airport the other day on my way to France. I've read through it once. I think it's going to be marvellous. It's challenging to play, but, as usual, Andrew has grasped very well what the lute can and can't do.
Iím now back at home, after four days in York recording Jane Pickeringe. It was tough! Iím still recovering. The National Centre for Early Music isnít as soundproof as it claims to be, and Adrian Hunter and I had big problems with noise.
On Monday, I travelled up. On Tuesday, first thing, Ade and I went to the venue. Itís a wonderful medieval church, small enough to have the intimate acoustic that I was seeking for this project. In fact, itís just about perfect in that respect. To make it even better, itís got under-floor heating, triple glazing (to keep out some of the noise), and an excellent control room and other facilities built on in a modern wing attached to the church by a walkway. On the face of it, it has everything required for a successful lute recording--the best qualities of a recording studio and the best qualities of a church acoustic. What I didnít bargain for, however, was just how powerfully the passing trucks (and there are many) penetrate the building (probably mostly through the floor). I hadnít noticed quite so much when we were there in December, because we recorded on a Saturday and Sunday, when there were of course fewer passing trucks. Itís true we also worked on the Monday, but I donít recall being bothered hugely by the trucks. But that was an ensemble recording. Recording solo lute is a different kettle of fish. You either need a soundproof place or a church in the middle of nowhere, where there are few external noises. Unfortunately, this was neither. (I believe it is wrong of the NCEM to claim in its blurb, as it does, that the place is "completely soundproofed". It is not.) So on Tuesday we had a gruelling day of recording not very much music in between the rumble of trucks. This is extremely stressful, and not conducive to music-making. We kept on going into the evening, and discovered that the place starts to become pretty quiet by about 7 pm, so we worked on until 11 pm. That was a thirteen-and-a-half-hour workday, during which, on several occasions, I thought about scrapping the whole thing. After all, even if it all came out ok after editing and noise filtering, would it be any good, coming as it did from a stressed-out lutenist?
The next day, with a somewhat heavy heart, we returned in the morning, and spent hours recording just one piece, in between passing trucks. In the end, we gave up and went back to rest at Adrianís parentsí place in Nether Poppleton (near York), returning to the church at 6 pm, where we continued. That was a productive evening, and things started to look up. We recorded until 2 am, by which time it was beautifully quiet. I started to think that maybe there is hope after all.
By the third day (Thursday), weíd learned our lesson. We didnít even bother to go there until the early evening, where we worked until 1.30 am, finally completing the disc. I think that about two thirds of the record was made in good silence, and one third in difficult and noisy circumstances. Iím sure that Ade will edit together the noisy bits very successfully, and that heíll successfully filter the rumble--he is, after all, a wizard, and the best producer/engineer/tape editor Iíve ever encountered (and Iíve worked with many). I just hope the performances were ok. Weíll see. I tried to keep the focus despite the frustrations and distractions, and I may have succeeded.
One thing is certain: I really came to appreciate the silence when we had it, and itís confirmed my view that if you can make an acoustic recording of this sort in perfect silence, you can achieve a much deeper and more satisfactory level of music-making. Iím even considering maybe next time recording in a sound-proof studio, even if it is completely dry acoustically. This would enable me to make a musically better record, I think. And there are ways to create an acoustic later. And Iím not necessarily talking about artificial reverb, either. One way is to record the disc in a completely silent and soundproof and dead acoustic, and then, once itís edited, to play it back in the dead of night in a good acoustic, in real time, through excellent monitors, recording it onto another tape machine using finest microphones. This has been done before and itís definitely an option. The one drawback: when youíre playing in a dry space without the room feeding back to you, you play differently from the way youíd play in a reverberant acoustic. Thereís a way around this too, however: give the player the illusion of playing in a reverberant acoustic using headphones and an artificial acoustic for monitoring purposes only. But why not just put artificial reverb on the thing and avoid all this hassle? Because I havenít yet heard an entirely convincing artificial reverb on a lute. It never sounds as complex and rich as the halo of sound created by the nooks and crannies of a real room that the sound is being recorded in.
So Iím now at home for a few days, recovering and preparing for the next chapter--a concert with Catherine at the end of this coming week, and a US tour starting the 22nd of February. After that, my calendar is very empty for several weeks, so Iíll use the time to clear the alarming pile of papers on my desk, and to do the many things that urgently need doing.
The CD I recorded with Barbara Bonney is finally out, and getting lots of good press: Decca 466 132-2. Itís called Fairest Isle.
The sun is shining! Hooray! Iíd nearly forgotten what it was like. Our back garden is nearly a swamp! I hope this dry and bright weather lasts a little while.
Iím at home preparing for the concert in Droitwich on Saturday, which will consist of Catherineís and my "trip around Europe" lute song recital (lute songs from the various Ďgolden agesí in Spain, France, Italy and England). This programme, though fun, is only practicable for venues in the south of England, really, because it requires four instruments (vihuela, renaissance guitar, and two sizes of lute), which means renting a car and driving to the gig. Any venues which one must travel to by air are offered slightly more specialised programmes for practical reasons. This concert will end with a sort of Ďcodaí--the world premiere of a new lute song by Andrew Ager of Toronto, whom I met through the DGM Guestbook (indirectly). Itís a beautiful setting of a Shakespeare sonnet.
Iím also preparing for the two programmes which Iíll be doing in the USA shortly, the Jane Pickeringe (which is of course still pretty freshly under the fingers from having just recorded it) and the Spanish song recital with Catherine which weíll be doing in Chicago and in Portland. Chicago and Portland readers of this Diary: please come up and say hello afterwards!
Zan is in Ireland with Fretwork and has been for some time. Weíll get a couple of days at home together before we both go off on tour on the 22nd. Then we wonít see each other (sigh) for nearly three weeks again. Oh well; itís life. And when we are together, itís great. I feel sure that we wonít always be apart this much. One day I think weíll choose to do less touring and more teaching to give ourselves a more stable life.
Thursday 22nd. February, 2001 0900
I'm about to dash off to the airport, to start the US tour. Five concerts, three (with Gail) of Pickeringe, 2 (with Catherine)of Milan and Mudarra. Zan left a couple of hours ago for her Fretwork US tour. We are to be reunited in about 18 days. Zan accidentally set the alarm clock for 5 AM when she meant to set it for 6 AM, so we decided to get up and have a dawn breakfast together. In fact, it was a blessing to have that quiet time, as we've had so little time together, and most of what we have had has been far from quiet. And so, to the airport.
23/02/02 Friday 23rd. February, 2001 1225
I'm in Chicago, jetlagged but here. Yesterday was a strange day. After the odd start mentioned in yesterday's Diary, I found myself being paged as I got off the plane at O'Hare Airport yesterday afternoon. I was then whisked to a little room at Immigration, where I found Zan and the rest of Fretwork, awaiting the rectification of some Immigration irregularity which had caused them to miss their connection to Phonix. (By the way, readers interested in catching Fretwork on their American tour should visit Fretwork's website for tour details.) So, only sixteen hours after saying good-bye to Zan for what I thought was to be two and a half weeks, we were happily reunited again for a few brief minutes in the romantic surroundings of an airport immigration waiting room. An odd end to a strange day. I hope that by now they're safely in Phoenix. Meanwhile, Gail, who'd been waiting and wondering why I didn't appear with the other passengers, took me home and prepared a wonderful meal, after which I unceremoniously collapsed into an exhausted stupor at the unsociably early hour of 9.30 pm. Today, I'm recovering and practising for the first concert of my tour, which takes place the day after tomorrow.
Wednesday 28th. February, 2001 1127
Still (again) in Chicago. So far, two recitals completed, a lecture to a music appreciation class, and a "master class", in which I worked with five very fine young guitarists, all of whom were playing transcriptions of early music of various types on their guitars. That was an enjoyable and memorable session. All were, I felt, receptive and open to my suggestions, and I was only sorry that I was able to spend a mere 12-15 minutes with each one. Not enough time to do anything substantial, but perhaps enough time to make a few suggestions--to scatter a few seeds, some of which, if taken up, might bear fruit for these players in the future. This is only possible with open and receptive students, and I felt that these were open and receptive students. On the concert front, I've been experiencing succes on this tour, if success is defined in terms of an appreciative audience. In personal terms, the success has been much more limited, however. I've felt that my playing has only shown brief glimpses of what I'm capable of. These are things that probably only I would notice (and maybe a few people who know my playing well). The problem can be summarised as follows: when it "doesn't matter", ie, when I'm playing only for myself and "not caring" about what comes out, my playing is often much freer and more virtuosic and light and full of humour and character and expression. But often, when I'm in front of an audience, I tighten up physically and mentally, because I suddenly feel that It Matters, and I Want this to be Good. As a student of the Alexander Technique, I'm pretty well aware of tension in my body, and I can feel the tension come in when I'm in front of an audience (or in front of microphones). I can feel it impeding my fine motor co-ordination, making my playing less fluent and virtuosic, and I can feel this tightness impeding my ability to "throw away the music lightly" and expressively. This is not to say that there are not frequent bursts of expressivity and virtuosity in my concerts, and that I am not well pleased when they occur. I'm simply saying that, a great deal of the time, this flow is impeded at present, and I need to learn to let go when I'm playing, to have faith in my techical ability and in my genuine musical feeling, and to abandon fear. Another way of saying it is that I need to learn to play as if it were to a few friends rather than to an audience of strangers. Another way to put it is to say that I must learn to be myself when on stage, without self-consciousness. All these things require great courage. Maybe I'm asking too much. After all, some of the time I succeed in these things. Maybe it's wrong to ask for more. Perfection is not something one can hope to attain. Maybe just a slightly higher batting average? I find it depressing when I perform a piece and afterwards know that I'm capable of playing it much better, and that I have played it much better in the past. But this sort of self-accusation is counterproductive, and goes into a negative feedback loop which reinforces the tension and the barriers, mentioned above, which I put between myself and freely flowing performance. But it's hard to abandon a deeply ingrained tendency to be hard on oneself. It's something we introject as small children, and something that drives a great many performers like myself. Paradoxically, the same drive that makes us want a high degree of success also causes us to impede that success by making it difficult for ourselves in various ways. These are some of the things I'm working on at the moment, as I continue my quest for a more satisfying mode of performing.