This week, we’ll take a detour from Campion, for an quick update on the process of learning Dowland’s “Clear or cloudy”, introduced a while back. As I’d mentioned, it was a relatively new piece, and one of my main goals for the fall and winter is to learn the piece, and if possible, have it ready at performance level in time for King’s & Queen’s Bardic Champions in February. While it’s still early going with the piece, and I’m not quite ready to share a recording of my stumbling, I have been making some progress, and today, discovered some issues with the version of the music that I’ve been working from. This seems like a good opportunity to share about how I’m breaking down a long-term A&S goal, and the pitfalls that can happening when working outside one’s area of deep expertise.
While I have been practicing the lute part for “Clear or cloudy”, after Known World Cook’s and Bards, I looked at the calendar, and realized I needed to get into more of a deliberate practice cadence with the piece, if I want to be able to perform this with confidence and without nerves by February. So I have begun setting weekly or bi-weekly goals for myself, and sharing them with my teachers (particularly Peregrine, who I know has the music background to be able to assess whether I achieve a given objective, and can give me specific coaching as I get closer to the goal). The goals are voluntary, but sharing them with my teachers makes me accountable for whether I’m completing them, or allowing other things to get in the way. I know they’re not going to penalize me for missing a target, but knowing I’ve committed something to someone else and written down the objective gives it weight, and makes sure I remember what I agreed to.
For example, the first couple of goals I had set around “Clear and cloudy” were:
- Memorize the notes and fingering for the lute part by a target date. Not the rhythm, just be able to play the notes and chords in the correct sequence without looking at the sheet music. For an amateur like myself who does not have real note-mastery of the instrument, and who is planning to play and sing together, my practice becomes much more efficient if I start by learning all the fingerwork, so I can then work on repetition, precision of phrasing, and getting the song into muscle memory.
- The second goal, which I’m finishing today, was to actually memorize the vocal part of the piece. Unlike most of the other Elizabethan pieces, I did not learn this first. As I mentioned in the first post, this piece is a bit more challenging for a singer than some of the others, because of complexities such as syncopation, some odd interval jumps, and the fact that the number of syllables in each line changes across the three verses. (As explained below, it turned out there was another hidden complexity that I had been missing.)
As mentioned previously, I’ve been working from the arrangement I found on the MuseScore website, to which I had added full lyrics, and set up in tablature for the lute part. As I worked with the vocals today, I went back and played through the piece, to start getting a sense of how the vocals and the lute part work in counterpoint (a key Dowland feature).
And that was when I realized I had skipped a crucial step in my research on the piece. When working from a secondary source, it is crucial to check it against a primary source, if available, to see if there are changes made. So I went back and did that, going back to the facsimile copy of the The Second Booke of Songes or Ayres I had downloaded from the International Music Score Library Project, and printing out just the part of the page I needed, containing the lead vocal (aka the Canto or Cantus) and the lute tablature, so I could compare it with the version I’m working from:
The facsimile is readable, but sometimes it’s easier to do a point-by-point comparison with a slightly more readable secondary source, which I happened to have as well:
What really happened is, I had started with the secondary source, and noticed key differences between it and the version I’ve been using, so I printed out the original facsimile as the source of truth against the other two. The secondary above is almost entirely accurate, though there is like one note missing, but that appears to be a scanning error. When I changed the presentation in MuseScore back to French (a-b-c) notation for my version, I was able to trace through the song and identify a few key differences:
- Note that the Dowland version and the secondary source are both using half notes where modern notation would be using quarter notes for common (4/4) time. It’s a standard challenge when working with Elizabethan music–it’s very, very close to modern notation, but there are crucial differences that you need to be aware of. It’s not an actual issue, but it slows down the comparison process.
- My version has one transcription error at the end of measure 6, where the last note should be a 2 (or b) one course higher than the 3 that was written. There is also a stray note on the bottom string at the start of the following measure that shouldn’t be there. No idea how that happened, but they were probably errors in the MuseScore original. Pretty easily fixed.
- There are a few places in my version where a 0 (or a) appears one course above a d (or 4) in the Dowland original. That is just a fingering choice, technically. They are two fingerings for the same note. I assume Dowland thought the d was easier in the context of the passages, but I actually substitute the open string on the course above all the time because it’s usually a little easier to learn and play. So that’s not an issue, but worth being aware of.
- The Dowland original, and the secondary source, both have a time signature change (which isn’t formally noted in either) from 4/4 to 6/4 at the start of the refrain in measure 9. The sheet music can be read and played accurately either way (another secondary source arranged the entire piece in 2/4, so that you don’t have to pay attention to the time changes)…but incorporating the time signature change into the sheet music makes it easier for me to read, because it is a place where the rhythm of the song changes noticeably, and putting in the change alerts me to the fact that Dowland is changing things up at this point in the piece. In changing it, the three measures from 9 to 11 in my original version now become two measures, 9 and 10, before the music changes back to 4/4 time. (Yes, there’s still a last change to 2/4 in the final measure…and all the secondary sources make a change there, a first and second ending, to allow the refrain to repeat in a way that Dowland didn’t specify, but which makes sense given the refrain begins with the second note of a sentence, “(Her) speeches notes…”. The Elizabethan publishers wanted economy of page space rather than rigidly readable music, and them’s the breaks.)
- Finally, there is a substantial difference between the lute arrangement I got from MuseScore and the Dowland original in this same refrain, for the stretch under the words “that night bird that singeth”. It took a little review, and playing the passage through in MuseScore (a big benefit to using transcription software), but the issue became clear. Dowland, in one of the showier bits in the piece, is putting together two chromatic scales at an interval, but the lower run of notes starts on the 7th or bottom course. Since I’m playing a 6 string instrument, those notes aren’t available, so the transcriber of my version sensibly transposed that entire scale up an octave, which means it runs above the other scale instead of below it. There are one or two notes omitted in the new version, but I believe it sounds the way Dowland intended, and probably is what he would have done if he had only been working with 6 courses.
Having reviewed the changes now for authenticity and intention, the resulting new version of my arrangement can be seen here. (I have put it back in Italian/guitar number-based format, because it’s still easier for me to read. [UPDATE 10/9: I found a mistake in my lyrics, which I have corrected and replaced the file. In the second verse, it’s not “Gently thund’ring, the lightning to mine eyes”, it’s “Gently thund’ring, she lightning to mine eyes”. I or whoever I got the lyrics from must have misread the s because it’s in that thin-f format that was used for Elizabethan printing for words that started with s.])
So while I have not memorized all the lyrics to the song (which was one of my objectives for today), I have got the melody line down, corrected a small mistake in my lute arrangement, adjusted the time signature so the rhythm is easier to follow, and verified to my satisfaction that the music I’m working with is appropriately authentic considering the instrument I’m playing. And I have a better understanding of how the voice and lute parts are going to come together in the finished piece, which brings me a key step closer to my long-term goals.
We should be back looking at Campion for the next A&S post.