Handwashers’ Newsletter 12th July 2020

(Carleton and Katie, Hannah and John, have been in Cumbria this week so, thoughtfully, Carleton sent this before they went. We all hope that they had a good break, despite the weather, and were able set aside the current frustrations suffered by musicians and teachers. Ed.)


Following last week’s major work by Gustav Holst I now share a beautiful miniature from the same composer.

Like so many musicians, Holst supplemented his earnings from composition with teaching. In 1913 he bought a cottage in Thaxted, Essex for use at weekends and during school holidays. He began a series of festivals known as the ‘Whitsuntide Festivals’ and it is for the first of these events that he wrote his setting of the Cornish poem, ‘This have I done for my true love’.

Thaxted Parish Church

This carol is dedicated to the Vicar at Thaxted, the Rev Conrad Noel. Noel was a rather controversial figure whose philosophy combined High Anglicanism with flying the Red Flag from the church tower! Holst always referred to the piece as ‘The Dancing Day’ and considered it to be his finest part-song: https://youtu.be/-Gp5CZ2Ef28

EMAIL FROM BEN SAWYER We’ve received this from Ben Sawyer:

Dear friends,

Please forgive me writing to you in this round robin email. I email you with the link below as an old school friend is working hard to raise awareness of the struggle the Performing Arts are up against in the present climate. He explains the situation very eloquently in a video on the website and I am sure some of you will have already come across this.

Please can I ask that you look at the website and consider writing to your MP to express your concerns. I would not expect you to sign up to something they would not want to, but to act as a voice in support of what we hold so dear would be of great support in getting us back to where we want to be, singing and performing together. 

I would never normally use these contacts for political means but I feel strongly that the rich cultural life of our country is in danger of being seriously affected without financial support from the Government. We heard yesterday of two professional church choirs in London being disbanded, and theatres around the country, including the National Theatre, forced to make redundancies. Even the Royal Albert Hall is under threat without support from the Government.

Here is the link: https://www.onevoicecampaign.org/

Again, this is a one off and please accept my apologies if you are already well on top of all this.

With all best wishes,


(Since receiving Ben’s letter, the Government’s announcement on Monday has clearly helped, though it looks as though the focus will be on keeping major organisations and facilities open. We expect there will still be individual musicians, particularly those who rely wholly or partly on freelance work, who won’t qualify, just as there were in the more general furlough schemes, so we suspect the message of their plight still needs to be heard. Please view the video and consider lending your support. Ed.)

MUSIC QUIZ Dorothy Andrews suggests we try this quiz from Classic FM:


BASS CHALLENGE Di Welch wrote:

‘I was wondering if you or any of your colleagues in the Basses fancied a bit of a challenge during the remainder of lockdown. How about trying to sing like Robert Crowe? Do take a look and listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOHnJZHiM9s

If, after watching the you tube clip, any of you feel that you are sitting in the wrong section of the choir, Catherine and I will budge up and squeeze you into row three of the Sops!’

What an invitation, chaps! We should point out, though, that we have over three times as many sopranos as basses so, if anything, we should be looking for transfers in the opposite direction, which poses a different question:


Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

As we know, Vivaldi wrote music for SATB choirs of girls at the Pieta in Venice and men would certainly not have been permitted to take part. Indeed, the girls themselves were hidden behind screens on their balconies out of the lecherous gaze of Venetian males.By studying contemporary instruments, experts confirm that such works as the Gloria and Magnificat were originally performed at a similar pitch to today’s (A=440).

So who sang the bass line?

Most of the girls at the Pieta were illegitimate, so in the absence of surnames, were known by their musical part such as Appolonia dal Soprano, Cecilia dal Alto, Paulina dal Tenore or, and here’s the answer, Anna dal Basso. (Similarly, with orchestral players such as Silvia dal Violin.)

Vivaldi was able to find, in the Pieta, enough girls able to provide the bass part themselves.

A recent survey by Richard Vendome, taking a sample of 132 women aged 14-80, indicates that about 20% could sing tenor and 2% could sing bass down to at least F2 (The bass lowest note in the Gloria is G♯.). To prove it, listen to the bass line in this all-ladies’ choir performing excerpts from Vivaldi’s Gloria: https://www.youtube.com/user/VivaldisWomen#play/uploads/3/2JPkCfvhuyM

Read more about Richard Vendome’s work here where there is an opportunity to test your own vocal range: http://www.spav.co.uk/SPAVwomentb.html#theories


An annual competition is held by the New York Times to see who can create the best original ‘lexophile’. Do enjoy several of this year’s submissions:
I changed my iPod’s name to Titanic.  It’s syncing now.
England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.
Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.
This girl today said she recognized me from the Vegetarians Club, but I’d swear I’ve never met herbivore.
I know a guy who’s addicted to drinking brake fluid, but he says he can stop any time.
A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.
When the smog lifts in Los Angeles U.C.L.A.
I got some batteries that were given out free of charge.
A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.
A Will is a dead giveaway.
With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
Police were summoned to a day care centre where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.
Did you hear about the fellow whose entire left side was cut off?  He’s all right now.
(You can stop groaning now and, instead, think of some of your own musical experiences to share with us.  Ed. timp470@btinternet.com )