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Recorder31 - Day 19

Recorder31 - Day 19

Recorder31 & HISS at Home – Q&A

For Day 19 of Recorder31, we are delighted to share an opportunity to catch up with Historically Informed Summer School’s director, Graham Coatman, as the “virtual” HISS at Home takes place this week. Alongside this our Recorder31 celebration continues...

Visit for information, demonstrations, live-streamed concerts and much more.

  • It must be very disappointing that you’re not able to celebrate your 10th anniversary with a physical festival, but it is fantastic to see that you have created ‘HISS at Home’ for all of your followers. Why has it been important to create this virtual platform?

Of course. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disastrous effect on many aspects of our lives, and especially for musicians, many of whom are still unable to carry on their lives and work. For me, as for many musicians, a day in which I have not been able to do something practically and positively with music is a day lost. For me this takes many forms, whether directing a choir or orchestra, accompanying a soloist in a recital or for an exam, running a schools workshop or training day, or leading a “Singing for Lung Health” group, or teaching. I feel this loss keenly, but those whom I work with often feel it just as keenly, even if they are not a professional musician. Over the 10 years since we began HISS has seen many regular attenders grow in many directions. They have blossomed, growing in confidence and technical assurance, taken up new instruments and sang, moving out of their comfort zones. On several memorable occasions individuals have quietly taken me aside and told me how much HISS has done for them, how they live for it, how it has become the highlight of the year for them, and how it has transformed their lives. There is genuine emotion there, and this has come out in some special moments during the course each year. It has always been my driving force to create the time, space and opportunity to enable people to take part in and enjoy music of all kinds. We could not let them down this year, when there is so much disappointment and desolation and isolation out there.

  • Could you tell us a bit more about what’s happening?

As I said, HISS is about encouraging and enabling people, who may be beginners or not had opportunities to get involved in music making, to sing or play with others. We have seen the standards rise markedly over the years, yet we still welcome beginners. There is a special sort of synergy, symbiosis and serendipity at work in HISS. It brings everyone together, whether from an early music or folk background – and of course the “common grounds” is a constant running feature of the course. It happens in many ways, people may arrive with half a dozen instruments, with the intention of playing them all at some point during the week, as well as having a sing, and this throws up sometimes some weird combinations – which our fantastic team of tutors takes on board without batting an eyelid. HISS is quite unique in this way. I remember, two or three years ago, we had a session for all course members taking part in Tallis 40 part motet Spem in alium. It was something quite special. Great for singers to get a chance of doing this amazing piece, but for many instrumentalists (who may not have been singers) it was an amazing revelation. Some were in tears at the end of the final run through, with the mixed “choirs” in the round, consisting of voices, strings, wind, brass and so on, hearing the overwhelming depth and power of this music, and they were physically right in the middle of it.

So, this week there will be live opportunities to play along and take part in sessions – indeed, we are trying to recreate the live “sessions” that end each day of our course in the bar, being led by genial fiddler Stewart Hardy and our beloved recorder tutor Mary Tyers. I’m sure everyone will be there at home with an instrument and a glass of something appropriate, raring to go. We have other presentations, some other conversations, providing an insight into the other parts of our tutors lives, which may not get such an opportunity to be aired in our normally hectic week! We have already had a session with Jacob Heringman (lute) and Susanna Pell (viol) leading players through the Gloria from Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, which has gone down very well. Then, Rebecca Austen Brown has a live looping session on recorder (see below), demonstrating the many ways to play a recorder, or recorders, simultaneously!

  • What do you think will be your highlight of ‘HISS at Home’?

Well, I think, as happens at the course itself, it is very difficult to predict what the highlights are going to be. In fact, it turns out that almost every moment is a highlight for somebody – it is always a voyage of discovery! Again, going back to what I said earlier, it is frequently a voyage for an individual to discover more about themselves, and what they are capable of achieving. This is the power of music, as a way of learning, as a way of life. Everything we do has the potential to be a highlight!

  • This year has been a huge shock to many musicians who have been, and continue to be, unable to play together. How has this affected you personally, and have any positives come from the situation that you have seen?

Many of those who know me, and those who have been to HISS over recent years, will know that I have become full time carer for my wife, since she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s nearly 5 years ago. She is only now just turned 60. This has obviously had a huge impact on me and my life, limiting the time I can spend in music. Those who know me will also know the huge amount of work I have done throughout my career, in many different ways, whether in theatre, concert hall, classroom, workshop, church, and so on. Consequently the isolation that COVID-19 has brought is not really so different to the way my life has changed already. It does make those opportunities to make music, especially the small, the local, the intimate even more special. And above all, it is about people. As a conductor, one thing I learnt early on, as accompanist or assistant to quite a few eminent musical directors, in different fields, was not so much their conducting ability, but their ability to bring together the right combination of musicians, who could then create the magic.

  • All being well for next year, what are your plans for HISS 2021?

Well, this year should have been the 10th anniversary of HISS. We have seen phenomenal growth over that time, not least, as I mentioned, in the confidence and technical and musical ability of our attenders, especially those who have attended for several years – we have many returners. I am also convinced that (and again, this is borne out of directing, and “rescuing” many choirs), it is important not to get into a rut. Those groups or organisations who steadfastly repeat the same formula year in year out eventually go stale. This year has presented an opportunity to refresh our position, to enable us to plan a bit further ahead, and in some degree a reset of our position. For example, we aim to plan further in advance, which will enable us to get our publicity out earlier, and more detailed plans out sooner. This will in turn allow us to penetrate further afield to bring more people in to enjoy the unique friendly atmosphere that is a hallmark of HISS. It is interesting to note that the “mixing it” approach we started out with has now been taken up by a number of the larger more established summer schools! More importantly, and urgently, with a year with no income, we just need to bring more people into the HISS family. We have always had visitors from across the world, besides many European countries, from Japan to Argentina, New Zealand to Canada and the USA. We’ve enjoyed people bringing hurdy-gurdys, serpents, even saxophones and accordions, but many also have a recorder in their back pocket – so we’ll welcome great bass to sopranino as much as ever! We will definitely celebrate our 10 plus years of existence and look forward to many exciting years ahead!

Graham Coatman, Director: HISS

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