Festa Fatuorum VI – the people and gratitude
The sixth in a series of blog posts by Leah Stuttard, musical director of our 2019 project Feast of Fools
The whole event is a massive collaborative effort. This is an aspect of the show that I find really lovely, it’s such a collective work. I might have found the music, but I’ve consulted with people in the BREMF background like Yvonne Eddy (over a nice cold glass of white wine by Skype!) as well as Deborah Roberts to confirm it all worked. Andrew Robinson, the director of the Community Choir, also gave much needed guidance about his singers whilst we shared a love for Santiago de Compostela where his choir have performed. Jeremy Avis helped transform some Latin chants into brilliant fun memorable moments for the children before actually going to the schools and getting them started on learning the songs.
Along with Thomas Guthrie and Saskia Wesnigk we went to visit the venues back on the hottest day of the summer (I’m actually not joking, it was the day when the rails all started melting and I wasn’t sure how I’d be getting back to London!) so that the narration of the story could start to take shape. This was the day that I met the choreographer JP Omari to make sure our ideas would work for his crew of street dancers. Saskia, who also sings with the Community Choir, then wrote brilliant English lyrics for some of their songs. And I haven’t mentioned yet Maya, a stalwart of the festival, who provided several cunningly genius Latin texts and was exTREMEly patient with my bizarre requests and long gaps between emails!
Finally, I’ve been to see both Clare Salaman and Ian Harrison in their homes (in London and Germany respectively… so not your average rehearsal, especially as I live in France!) and they’ve played through some of the song accompaniments and the dance tunes to help with the instrumental shape. Having such a big diverse team is enormously stimulating and exciting.
With choirs like BREMF Consort of Voices, I wanted to have moments of beautiful polyphony as well as some pure, unadulterated plain chant as seen in my liturgical sources. The fact that Feast of Fool type celebrations happened (and were testified to and sometimes condemned) from the 13th to the 16th century meant that I could spread broad my net in looking for music. I love to mix different eras like that – it’s less tiring for the ears and the hearts of all involved, public and player/singer alike. This choir will be representing the pious members of the ecclesiastical community and singing Machaut and even Cornysh (chosen by Deborah Roberts who is MUCH more qualified to have done so!)
And the BREMF Community Choir gave me a whole other realm of rumbumptiousness that could be tapped into! They’ll be playing the role of the smashing-the-hierarchy let’s-just-have-fun community members who not only like to party (and will perform the wonderful drunken ‘In taberna’ from the Carmina Burana that I mentioned in my previous blog post) but who actually listen to the children’s modern concerns about the climate problem. At one point, they will take over from the BREMF Consort of Voices who drop out in disgust because the words of the Gloria get all changed and ‘disfigured, not to reflect the glory of God, but to reflect our climate concerns. I used the plainchant Gloria from the manuscript that was written for Beauvais cathedral. There, extra words and music are added to highlight and enrich the meaning of the true Gloria text. This is called ‘troping’ and was a common medieval practice used when a Feast day was meant to be particularly splendid. In our new trope, provided very generously and ingeniously by Maya, important people who have drawn our attention to the climate emergency will make an appearance, and will be suitably ‘glorified’!
It really has been a genuine pleasure working on this, subverting and transforming and creating and imagining a modern Feast of Fools. I am so very very grateful to everyone involved, and especially to Deborah Roberts for commissioning my involvement in the first place. And now the exciting part is about to arrive….. actually PERFORMING IT ALL!!! Hope to see some of you there!
Leah Stuttard, 2019
To read more about Leah’s research and performances, visit her website