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Or six nights, five days, anyway. I had done the ‘Beauchamp’ early music course in 2001, when it was based at a place called Beauchamp House, in Churcham in Gloucestershire. Most people camped, and a few of us, including me, living in France at the time, stayed in B’n’Bs.

The scale of things being too large for me on the whole, I had not done that course again, but this year I just felt I wanted to get together with lots of fellow amateur singers and players to make music for a few days under the aegis of some known and trusted tutors. The course had not been held at Beauchamp House for many years and had known several different homes since. It is run by the Gloucestershire Academy of Music, and this year was being held at the independent school, Rendcomb College, near Cirencester, for the first time. It was amazing that the course took place at all this year, and all precautions were taken to ensure a Covid-safe environment, including all participants having to take a negative-outcome lateral flow test within 48 hours before arrival. In the event two people were ‘pinged’ during the course of the week and went straight home.

I arrived on the Sunday with an hour or so to spare before dinner, and walked round (just) part of the grounds.

The Music and Art block, not that we used it, remaining in the Main Building for all our sessions
The Main Building

The timetable was that all 70 participants, plus the four tutors, were all together working on one piece in the evenings, the first session of the day was in instrumental specialities (I was with 30-odd singers), and pre-lunch and post-tea sessions were in changing mixed groups, with the post-lunch period being free.

The view from the terrace as we finished our first evening session, on the Sunday

During Monday’s free time, I took up the suggestion of the very able organisers and visited Cerney House Gardens, just two miles down the road. I took lots of photos of course, and these will be the subject of my next-but-one post.

On Tuesday evening, I was taken to Emergency at Gloucester Royal Hospital, in an ambulance for the first time in my life. I have written that up, and that will be the subject of my next post. (Teaser: it was a mental, not a physical problem.) Here is a photo I took in the ambulance, which will show you that by that time I was sufficiently well to be sitting up, not lying on the ambulance’s gurney, and aware enough to think of taking a photo with my phone. This is Shaun. He has just done a lateral flow test on me. Phil was driving.

I missed breakfast on Wednesday morning. It was not to be served until 8.00 at the hospital (very civilised compared with what I have experienced in the past), and I was in a taxi back to the course at that time. Having had very little sleep overnight in Emergency at the hospital, and being very scruffy indeed, I did not feel up to creeping in for a late breakfast at Rendcomb. I skipped the first music session, and was found a banana, a chocolate bar and some cake to fortify me at 11.15, at the end of the coffee break. From then on I took full part in all the sessions, bar that of Wednesday evening which I decided to devote to R and R. In the afternoon’s free session, Jill D invited me to join a really excellent group of three recorder players and continuo instruments to sing the mezzo part in a lovely piece by Bach. The players sounded gorgeous. I think I acquitted myself reasonably well, but there were some complicated harmonic changes, and I was only working from a part, not a score, so would have done better with a little work on it beforehand. I really enjoyed the brief interlude though.

I remembered to get my camera out of my bag a few more times, but mostly forgot.

David Allinson looks pleased enough to see me at the Wednesday afternoon session.
David Hatcher takes a ‘small’ group in the Main Hall on the Thursday.
Coffee break

On Thursday afternoon I got a group of four viols and two voices together to do six-part music. Sadly it did not work quite as well as the previous afternoon’s free music-making, not least because I was not on particularly good singing form.

Not bad for a school dining hall, eh?

My last photo shows us nearly ready for the final session, on Friday evening. Most of the 70 plus participants can be seen in the picture, but sadly the huge variety of modern copies of renaissance instruments cannot. Hats and coats are because (Covid-safe) ventilation through the huge doors in the four corners of the room meant that it was blowing a chilly gale for most of us – August! – except for those in the large bay of the window.

One way and another I was shattered by Saturday. My aim to make good music with lots of other amateur musicians had been fulfilled – but there were elements I could have done without!

[Works I was involved in were by: Aliseda, Anon, Byrd, Croce, A Gabrieli, Guerrero, Hildegard, Isaac, Padovano, Palestrina, Praetorius, and Victoria (lots). The other tutors were Sue Addison and Julia Bishop.]