Fragments (revisited)

(As promised, here are some thoughts about singing medieval music and new music inspired by it! It first appeared on the Fragments Project blog, over here.)

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I’ve been singing in choirs since I was about 6 and had my first experience of singing Gregorian chant in an abbey choir when I was 13. Fourteen years on and I hadn’t sung it since, so when Matthew first approached me about singing some plain song in the Scottish Borders I was interested. Now, when I’m not singing I study medieval literature, so when he explained that the music came from a 12th century manuscript fragment that had been found in an archive near Hawick my interest became excitement which in turn became a 6 hour train journey and a performance at the Heritage Hub in Hawick for the Fragments launch event.
That was my first visit to the Borders and I was lucky enough to be invited back, just over six months later, to sing Séan Doherty’s new piece, Et Clamabant, at the Fragments of Blue event in Jedburgh. It was a singular experience for a singer, being part of an audiovisual event that went beyond a typical performance, to be at once performer and spectator, to be enveloped in the music, the imagery and the architecture of the abbey and the fragment. It was also a heart-warming experience for a researcher of medieval culture because we were singing music from the world I study and taking part in the revival of that world, letting its words and melodies ring out again.
Even more exciting was that we were also witnessing the new creative work which has sprung from those ancient texts and tunes. To experience the Red Field’s audiovisual pieces during the performance and to see the new installation in the ruined abbey, complete with the atmospheric sound sculptures, was both fascinating and moving. And to perform to such a large audience and to witness the interest and enthusiasm of everyone present for that little medieval fragment and what it represents gave me a new faith in my own work, in the idea that my own studies don’t represent a dusty little niche, but rather a different fragment, waiting to be brought into the light.

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