I’ve had a heavy focus on advancing my ability to play Dowland’s “Clear or cloudy” the last several weeks. The song, I’m happy to say, has come along nicely in a relatively short time. (Video below.) It’s worth discussing the components involved in advancing a challenging piece.
In a previous post, I made a reference to “deliberate practice” (a term I first encountered in Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers), but today let’s focus in on how what that looks like for this situation. Quoting an excellent article on the topic: “Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.”
As promised, we resume our examination of Thomas Campion’s work. “I care not for these ladies” is probably one of Campion’s best known songs, capturing his keen eye social mores and the sexual politics of his day, and his delight in being comically naughty (often at the expense of women, and in ways that are concerning).
Nature of work: Song (or “air”) for one to two voices (Cantus/melody and Bassus/bass) and lute, lyrics in English
Historic source: Thomas Campion, (A Book of Ayres for Lute, Bass Viol and Voice, 1601)
I’ve spent more time than I had expected working heavily on Dowland’s “Clear or cloudy” since the recent post on it, and the piece has as a result progressed further than I had planned. So this week, I think it’s ready for an intermediate demo. There is still quite a ways to go, but…enough expectations management. Here it is.
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.
Our last A&S Journey entry introduced Thomas Campion, so let’s look at one of his songs. “Now winter nights enlarge” is actually a relatively recent addition to the repertoire, but we’re starting with this one because I have a reasonable video playing it, and my relationship to it is less complicated than the songs we’ll be discussing in subsequent weeks. (Speaking of which: in case it isn’t obvious, this is going to be more of a twice-a-month series than the weekly series I originally committed to. It’s a more realistic goal.) Let’s call this a palate cleanse.
We return to our humble exploration of Elizabethan lute songs, and turn our attention to our second composer, Thomas Campion. Campion’s reputation, of course, exists in the shadow of John Dowland’s, as does pretty much every other lute composer of the era. Campion was not a professional musician, as John Dowland was; Campion lived the life of a gentleman amateur. He attended Cambridge but did not take a degree, then law school without being called to the bar, ultimately becoming a physician to earn a living. His reputation was certainly not as a lutenist: that was his close friend and sole heir, Philip Rosseter, eventual King’s Musician to James I (as was Dowland), who provided Campion space and authorial credit for half of the songs on Rosseter’s first (and only) published lute songbook, 1601’s A Book of Ayres.
Returning to Elizabethan music, this will be the third and last piece by John Dowland planned for this series (next, we will turn to Thomas Campion, a particular favorite of mine). Today’s entry, “Clear or cloudy”, is actually the newest period piece in my repertoire, as I have only started the process of learning to sing and play it in the last month or two.
Nature of work: Song (or “air”) for one to four voices and lute, lyrics in English
Historic source: John Dowland, (The Second Booke of Songes or Ayres, first published 1600, song 21)