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From the orchard to the church…

A big thank you to everyone who came to hear us in Strud church on Sunday. If you’d like to listen again to the six polyphonic works that I wrote specially for the female vocal ensemble La Noeva, and that we performed on Sunday, you will find them grouped together on SoundCloud here.

NB These recordings are my overdub versions. I hope that we will get the chance to record them with La Noeva in the not too distant future.

My thanks to all the artists in the Entre Terres et Ciel collective (the singers of La Noeva, Julie Renson, Anne Mortiaux and Françoise Lesage), and to Janine of Quart de Ton asbl, Greta and Charles of Vagabond’art together with the Gesves Fête de Mai team, and the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, for making this project possible.

Join us for the inauguration of the artists’ walk “A la Croisée des Arts” on Sunday 18th September at 10am. It starts at the Grottes de Goyet.

Entre Terres et Ciel

During the weekend of September 10/11, La Noeva will be taking part in the Fête de Mai (postponed until September because of Covid) in Gesves, close to Namur. We will be showcasing a collective project “Du Verger à l’Eglise” (“From the Orchard to the Church”), created in residence together with the artists Anne Mortiaux and Françoise Lesage, and the narrator Julie Renson.

The project is inspired by Hildegard von Bingen and features her music as well as seven pieces from my own Hildegard Revisited project. We will be giving workshops (on Saturday 10th at 4pm), where you will be able to make prints from plants and enter into Hildegard’s many worlds through our playful, creative introduction to her music and “lingua ignota” (a language that she invented herself).

On Sunday 11th at 4pm, we give our main performance in the beautiful 11th century church in Strud, and to end the two weeks of the Fête de Mai we will present the project as part of the inaugural artists’ walk. The flyer below contains all the details. If you would like to take part in the workshops or come to the performance on Sunday, please reserve by sending an email to greta.debois@unamur.be with info@lefetedemai.org in cc. Attendance is free, but places are limited.

Project Hildegard Revisited – what’s a non-believer doing singing liturgical chants?

I am now halfway through my Hildegard Revisited project, which began at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown back in March 2020, and I think it’s the right moment for me to answer an important question: why am I, a twenty-first century non-believer, who has a love of facts and is bound by rational thinking, spending my time on a project that focuses on a set of 77 liturgical chants that were written by a highly religious woman who died 843 years ago?

The short answer is that I love singing these pieces. I love their ecstatic power. I love the originality of their musical lines and their expressive, poetic texts. I love the look of the manuscripts with their beautiful, exotic notation, and the graphic effect that these “neumes” (precursors of our modern musical notation) have on the singer.

And, even though I don’t consider myself to be religious according to any particular doctrine and I don’t believe her words in a literal way, I value their symbolic strength, and I admire this music enormously for its purity, passion and healing resonance. Therefore, although those more religious than I may have an additional reason to appreciate her texts, this music (whether you are listening to it or singing it) has the power to touch believer and non-believer alike. I have recorded 40 of Hildegard’s original chants to date, and you can find them here.

But that’s not all – I am also fascinated by Hildegard herself. She was an unstoppable, passionate woman, who did not pull her punches and dared all to do what she believed was right. She was also a healer – both of the body and the soul. Her knowledge of plants and medicine was phenomenal for her time (and gender), and she strongly believed in the power of music to bring humans closer to the divine – or in other words, to make them better versions of themselves. She is a deeply inspiring figure. And this project is not only about interpreting her chants in their pure form: she has also inspired me to write my own works that “revisit” her chants. My aim is to close the 843 year musical gap and create something new that does justice to the original. It is my first serious attempt at composition, and without Hildegard (and the Covid-19 lockdown) I may never have taken the leap.

Project Hildegard #40

With my hand out of action (damaged nerve from too much cycling!) and therefore unable to play my cello and finish #39(2) for the time being 🙁 here is #40 getting me back in the saddle (so to speak).

This one gave me plenty to think about, as the manuscript seems to contain errors that need resolving – and the question is what’s the best solution possible? I have taken this chant to be in the E mode, transposed to A, which seems to be helpful in deciding on where there should be B flats. Then, for the tricky passage around “et civis sanctorum”, I have opted for a transposition down a third, with a slight correction so that the figure reflects other similar figures in the piece. I think it works pretty well, although I’ve just noticed a little mistake in my text placement (spot it and you get a prize!). Anyway, if you’re interested, compare the audio with the manuscript and see what you think.

o choruscans lux stellarum

o glittering starlight o most splendid and special form of regal marriage o shining gem you are adorned like a noble lady with no spotted wrinkle and you are a companion of angels and a citizen among saints flee, flee the cave of the old betrayer and come, come into the king’s palace.

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This project is on SoundCloud

Project Hildegard #39(2) TEASER!

I have started revisiting my 39th chant. It’s a long one – 8:30 mins, or there abouts – so to give you an idea of what it will become (and to motivate myself to stick at it…) here’s the beginning as a taster. The rest will follow soon 🙂

o ignee spiritus – giving taste to the soul

Fiery spirit praise be to you who works through drums and psalteries. Human minds blaze through you and the tabernacle of their souls contains their powers.

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This project is on SoundCloud