Where better to play, sing and enjoy early music than in the beautiful cathedral city of Durham UK? The hillside overlooking the river Wear and the stunning cathedral resounds with glorious Early Music for a week at the end of July/beginning of August every year.
Participants come from all over the UK but also from the USA, Canada, France, Germany and many other countries. There are bursaries for those needing help with the cost.
The College of St Hild and St Bede annually hosts the Northumbrian Recorder and Viol School, known as NORVIS for short. The course has been running for several decades now, which is a testament to its on-going success and popularity.
It is such an enjoyable course but it’s difficult to convey just HOW wonderful it is. You really need to experience it for yourself! There are classes for recorders, viols, baroque strings, lutes, harpsichord, and singers, all taught by experts in their field.
Each day starts with technique classes for the different instruments. For recorder players there are three classes – advanced solo playing, intermediate, and improvers. After coffee there are recorder ensembles, or the opportunity to play trio sonatas, or join a mixed group of recorders and viols and/or voices. Whichever you choose there is exceptional help and encouragement from the tutors.
After lunch there is ‘free time’ until 4.30 p.m. that is unless you want to sing in the choir, play in the baroque orchestra, or join one of the ad hoc groups posted on the notice board! Some people use this time for private practice, exploring the beautiful city, or to enjoy a well-deserved snooze. Wednesday afternoon is ‘free’ for everyone – a good chance to gather strength ready for the lively ceilidh held in the evening! This is great fun made memorable by the vibrant playing of the Northumbrian Band and a great way to work off some of the weight put on by eating too much of the delicious food!
Come 4.30p.m, it’s ‘full on again’ with a programme called ‘Choice of Delights’ – what a good name! The only problem is choosing from so many interesting sessions!! Many of the recorder players also play another instrument or sing, so choose a ‘delight’ that will allow them to do this. If you only want to play the recorder this is not a problem – there will always be something for you.
A few of the ‘delights’ this year were ‘Try a Lute/Viol’, Renaissance Band, (you can borrow crumhorns, cornemuses etc.), ‘Broadside Ballads’, ‘16th century church music from Latvia for voices, viols etc.’ ‘ Baroque Dancing’ and many other sessions for recorder players. In the past, we have had ‘Try a Baroque Oboe’ and we are VERY hopeful that there will be ‘Try a Baroque Flute’ next year! This will only be suitable for players of the modern flute because the flute embouchure is unlikely to be mastered in one session (personally, I can’t wait!).
Many of the ‘delights’ offer mixed ensembles of viols, baroque strings, voice and recorders. As a recorder player I really enjoy the chance to play with the other instruments.
Another aspect of NORVIS which should not be overlooked is the programme of evening concerts and epilogues held in one or other of the two chapels on site. You will have the opportunity to hear the tutors, who are foremost players in their field, as well as extremely proficient course participants. These are concerts you would pay a lot for elsewhere but are included in your fee here (sorry to be so mercenary!). People not enrolled on the course are welcome to come to the concerts (in return for a small donation) so if you are interested and in the area, this might be a good way to get a taste of the whole course.
The epilogues only last 10/15 minutes and are held in the chapel after the concert. Meditative, tranquil and often very moving, sometimes music, sometimes poetry and music – they round the day off beautifully.
On the last evening there is a wonderfully joyous celebration of the whole week. This is a concert by the choir, orchestra, some classes and tutors, followed by informal ‘folk’ and jazz in the bar as people say their farewells.
Glorious music, a wonderful ambience, amazing scenery, and friends made for life – what more could you want?
For more information see: www.norvis.org.uk
Review by Fiona Tucker
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