The British music invasion – Part II

While language, rhythm and instruments have dramatically evolved through the ages, many of the themes songwriters explore in their lyrics are timeless.  

On Aug. 1, lutenist John Edwards, a student in York’s Graduate Program in Interdisciplinary Studies, and soprano Hallie Fishel – also known as The Musicians in Ordinary, an ensemble specializing in early English music – will perform Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline songs on the subject of one such timeless theme: male desire.

Left: Musicians in the Ordinary members Hallie Fishel (left) and York graduate student John Edwards

Their concert, to be held at the Heliconian Hall in Toronto’s Yorkville area, is one of the highlights of the Third Biennial Conference of the North American British Music Studies Association (NABMSA) taking place July 31 to Aug. 3 in the Accolade East Building, the home of York’s Department of Music.

Appearing with The Musicians in Ordinary will be soloists from the Pax Christi Chamber Choir (recent finalists in CBC’s national choral competition), directed by York music Professor Stephanie Martin. They will sing Victorian part songs by Elgar, Stanford and Sullivan, as well as motets by Canadian composer Healey Willan. Martin will also present a paper at the conference on Elgarian influences on Willan. 

York music Professor Dorothy de Val organized the NABMSA conference, which brings together scholars and music lovers from Britain, Canada and the US for presentations on British music and musical life over the centuries.

Right: Dorothy de Val

De Val was elected to NABMSA’s Board of Directors after giving a performance and paper at the inaugural conference in 2004. A pianist and musicologist whose research interests include late 19th-century concert life in London and the folk music revival in early 20th century England, she was already well-known to the board through her involvement with the Conference on British Nineteenth-Century Music, a well-established biennial conference which takes place in Britain.  

“Since previous NABMSA conferences have been held in small-town America, the idea of a big-city campus held great appeal for the Board,” de Val said. “Canada was also a draw. As I enthused about York’s remarkable new facilities, especially for music, their eyes lit up and the next thing I knew, the idea of York as the venue for our next conference was a fait accompli. I think it’s an excellent opportunity to showcase York to this group of scholars.”

In addition to lectures and discussions on a wide – and wild – range of topics (see the July 25 issue of YFile), the conference includes two lecture-recitals: one devoted to the piano music of Arnold Bax and the other on English harpsichord music, in which York’s beautiful new harpsichord will be featured. 

Also on the program is music meant for dancing – and audience participation. Conference attendees are invited to take to the floor in an English Country Dance session on Aug. 3 at 10am in Dance Studio D, room 251 in Accolade East. The dancing will be accompanied by de Val’s band, Playford’s Pleasure, featuring de Val on keyboard, Steve Fuller on fiddle, and York music instructor Barbara Ackerman on flute.

“English Country dancing will be familiar to anyone who has seen Elizabeth Bennet flirt with Mr. Darcy in the dance scenes of the film Pride and Prejudice", said de Val. “The dances are very social, easy to learn and won’t put your back out. Moreover the music is extraordinarily beautiful, giving us a taste of popular music dating back to the17th century."

Right: The basic steps fo English Country dancing will be taught as part of the NABMSA conference

The basic steps will be taught at the beginning of the session, with dancers following the directions of Toronto-based caller Karen Millyard, who will be starting graduate studies in dance at York this fall. Those disinclined to take a spin are welcome to simply watch and listen as Playford’s Pleasure perform a selection of their favourite tunes.

“The dancing will be a fun wrap-up to four days of sharing ideas and information with colleagues”, said de Val. “With our fabulous new facilities and Toronto location, York is becoming known as an ideal place to host a conference. We are very grateful to Ashgate Publishers, the York Conference Ad Hoc fund, the Office of the VP Research and the Faculty of Fine Arts, whose support allows us to hold a truly international conference and to attract top scholars in the field.”

The conference is open to the public. For registration information and the full list of papers to be presented, visit the NABMSA Web site. To attend only a part of the conference, a nominal daily fee will apply.  

The Musicians in Ordinary concert takes place Friday, Aug. 1 at 8pm at the Heliconian Hall, located at 35 Hazelton Avenue. Tickets ($20, $15 students/seniors) are available at the door.