What makes a good summer school?
by Gordon Gregory
What makes a good Summer school for lute players? What things should you consider when choosing?
I think the main ones are as follows:
- Clearly the quality of the lute tutor is very important. I won't name names -- people with lots of recordings and big venue recitals are in the running, but remember that some great players don't teach too well and some less famous people are terrific teachers. Talk to people who've experience (don't write, verbal comment is the most uninhibited and revealing!). Beginners will benefit from courses where there are several lute tutors.
- For beginners, it helps if there are lots of lute students; more experienced players don't necessarily need crowds of players if there are a few of a similar level.
- Experienced players in particular benefit from the presence of other musicians and in my experience that means singers, viols and to a lesser extent dancers.
- Eating arrangements - not the quality of the food -- that's important, but unless it's awful or wonderful, it's where you get your meals that matters. Communal eating is great for sharing views and meeting other musicians.
- Repertoire & pitch. It's obvious, but if all the other attendees play Baroque at 415 and you like Renaissance at 440, you could have problems.
- Opportunities for ensemble playing and places for informal playing.
I don't consider cost and travelling as particularly important. If you've bought an expensive lute and spent all year practising, the difference of a hundred or so pounds for a Summer school is minor in comparison to the time and money you've already invested.
So how do courses compare when judged by these criteria? The following are my highly subjective opinions:
Lute Society of America
Lots of lute students, lots of good lute tutors, few other musicians, communal eating (and usually v. good food, Americans demand that), pitches and Baroque/Renaissance no issue, relatively little ensemble playing, but usually plenty of places to play informally (the accommodation rooms tend to be big), lots of lute recitals by some of the world's best lute players.
A few lute students, one lute tutor, plenty of other musicians, communal eating with v. good food, 415 Baroque, no Renaissance I believe, some ensemble playing, informal playing rooms scarce (the accommodation rooms tend to be small), one or two recitals.
Up to 10 lute students, one lute tutor, plenty of other musicians, communal eating with v. poor food, pitches and Baroque/Renaissance no issue, lots of ensemble playing, usually plenty of places to play informally, lots of recitals by the faculty and students.
Up to 10 lute students, one lute tutor, plenty of other musicians, no satisfactory communal eating, lots of good Italian restaurants, but relatively less opportunity for the serendipity type encounters with fellow students, pitches and Baroque/Renaissance no issue, lots of ensemble playing, usually plenty of places to play informally, lots of recitals by the faculty and students. Many people will understand English.
A few lute students, one lute tutor, plenty of other musicians, communal eating with good food, but there a several eating venues and you may find yourself in a different one from the other lute players, pitches and Baroque/Renaissance no issue, some ensemble playing, usually plenty of places to play informally, a fabulous series (3 a day!) of recitals by some of the world's best musicians.
So which one would I choose? If the LSA had lots of other types of musicians I would go. If West Dean was 440/Renaissance I would consider going. If NORVIS had good food I would always go. If Urbino had good communal dining I would always go. If Dartington had better communal eating I would go frequently.