At a Science group meeting Jill Taylor showed a lecture from a DVD entitled “How Music and Mathematics Relate”; some members found it so interesting they wanted to continue with this subject and so the Understanding Music Group was formed. The group celebrated its first anniversary in February and has been a popular group that almost from the day of its inception has been full (a waiting list is in place). The aims of the group are to study the history of the development of classical music from plainsong through to the 21st century.
Over the year the group has followed a series of lectures from the above-mentioned DVD bought from the “Great Courses”; the lectures are given by a professor of mathematics who is also a violinist and who illustrates his lectures by playing the violin. At first the group found it difficult to follow, and even now half the group are overwhelmed by the mathematics, but they have gradually managed to gain an understanding of why different musical instruments sound different from each other; how musical scales are constructed; how pianos are tuned and how composers use rhythms. This normally takes up half of the session.
The other part of the session follows the history of classical music and has so far taken them from 800 AD to 1700 AD, from Gregorian plainchant to Henry Purcell – Handel comes next. Once again this follows a course, this time on an audio CD “The History of Classical Music”, Richard Fawkes. The group also makes extensive use of You Tube and have found there Howard Goodall’s “The Story of Music”, Leonard Bernstein’s 1973 Harvard lectures and Monteverdi’s, “Orfeo”. Favourite composers amongst the group include Hildegard of Bingen, Giovanni Palestrina, Thomas Tallis and Henry Purcell. Group members also bring along, or suggest pieces to listen to, relating to the topic of that particular meeting and some do research for discussion that follows.
I visited the group when they were about to listen to Dido’s Lament, the aria “When I am laid to earth” from Henry Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas” in this instance sung by Emma Kirkby. I read that it is included in many classical music textbooks on account of its exemplary use of passus duriusculus (a chromatic fourth) in the ground bass
As you can see this group really enjoys listening to music especially in an environment with no distractions and Jill has to be well organised to ensure they have time to cover a variety of topics. She also serves refreshments, once on arrival and again halfway through.
Having so far got only to the 1700’s there is much more music to look forward to including Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi and Beethoven that will keep them listening for years to come.
The group meets on the 4th Friday monthly and if you would like further details please contact the group leader Jill Taylor on 01621 783669 – but, as I said previously, the group is full and your name will be placed on a waiting list; as with all groups when there are enough people on the waiting list we endeavour to start another group. Jill is willing to lend her DVDs & CDs as and when her group has finished using them.