Music from Paston Times

At several of the events arranged as part of the Paston Footprints project, we've been able to welcome Hexachordia, a very talented trio, who play music that many of the Pastons might have known. In November of 2019 they presented two concerts at Blofield church, a building which has many artefacts relating to the Pastons and was the parish church of Edward Paston himself a musician and an important collector and preserver of compositions by Tallis and Byrd.

They're very kindly allowing us to include some of their songs within the website, and we're very much hoping to be able to arrange further concerts with them in 2020 and 2021. The extracts here are from their programme 'Is that a Crumhorn?' a title which comes from a question they've been asked many times! We'll eventually include something with a crumhorn, but let's start with an example of plainsong, a single vocalist perfomring a song very probably learned by ear. This piece is called 'Columba Aspexit' and it's written by Hildegard von Bingen. It's very unusual for us to know the writers of songs from the 12th century, when Hildegard lived, but if you explore her life a little further you'll see just how important a person she was.

As music developed in medieval times, extra voices would be added to the singing. Next Hexachordia present a organum. It's known as polyphonic music – music with two or more voices. The previous example of plainsong or plainchant was monophonic music – music sung by just one person.

Now before we go too much further, we should say that if you would like to know a great deal more about our musicians, you can go to the Hexachordia website for lots more details about them, their books and how to buy their music - and of course if you'd like them to come to your church, village hall or activity centre to present a concert, that can all be done from the website. You'll also find a full listing of their concerts for the months ahead - if you're intrigued by this medieval music, you'll love their concerts.

Our next extract from the 'Is that a Crumhorn?' presentation introduces instruments to accompany the singing - we begin with a harp, a gittern and a treble viol.

And for the next song, we have a new instrument, the psaltery. As you'll see it's a straightford instrument - you don't have to finger the strings, as they are all tuned separately - but picking them out to play the tune correctly is a bit difficult.

Now we'll turn to a trio of wind instruments – recorders. Many of us will have tried the recorder at school, though we suspect few will have achieved the dexterity that we see here, ranging from a simple instrument on which we can learn to reproduce a melody to a full consort of instruments at different pitches which we instantly recognise as being of medieval times. The tune is attributed to Pierre Phalèse whose family firm published many music collections.

And finally - for the moment - we can hear the crumhorn! Together with the gittern and the treble viol, it leads the sprightly dance, Mondtarde Branle, to be danced by couples either in a line or a circle.