Ella, the musical tourist, takes a trip to the elysian fields of a suburban early music society. The persons and events depicted in this article may or may not be fictitious.
For some years I have been in the habit of spending the autumn in Melbourne for the lead up to the Mornington Classical Music Festival. On one such occasion, I happened to have brought with me a recently purchased sackbut, and I was making some insipid noises with it at the back of the hall when a rear-desk cellist spotted me. His hair flopped around in a distracting and bewildering way and I missed most of what he had to say, but found at the end of it that he had succeeded in convincing me to attend a rehearsal of his local early music society.
I was glad of the chance to try out a few things in what would perhaps be a less-than-threatening environment, so I pressed the cellist for some details, and after some flopping and waving, obtained the time and place of the meeting.
My new instrument was an Egger tenor with a beautifully etched garland on the bell and a nicely yielding back-pressure. However, the supplied mouthpiece was predictably disappointing, and so I had borrowed several different models (of unidentifiable heritage) to see if any suited the horn. The mouthpieces would turn out to be objects of considerable interest, albeit much more to other people than to myself.
The society’s rehearsal venue was a long walk from Burkenwells station, and I would have got lost except for the painful sound of a distant shawm, audible over the crunching of leaves underfoot. A woman with a recorder and a lisp met me at the door.
“You mutht be Ella, come on inside.”
The temperature and humidity rose sharply as I entered, and I must have given a visible start.
“Phillip keepth the air regulated for one particular bagpipe that won’t thpeak otherwize. Feel free to wander about the houthe. We are a bit thpread out, practithing for the Thaint-Thaethilia Conthert in Thpot-thwood”
It was a large and comfortable house, aside from the humidity, and there appeared to be several groups rehearsing in different rooms, with a handful of continuo players floating between them.
The first room I tried was an ensemble of krumhorns playing an arrangement of a Beethoven piano sonata. They were happy to let me watch, but I began to notice that the other people in the house were giving them a wide berth, so I made my exit and went upstairs.
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