Fragments of folk music: composing new from old

In the previous class we discussed the idea of composing some music based on The Hawick Missal, an important fragment of medieval manuscript containing music associated with Easter at Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders.

It is thought that this music would only have been sung by the monastic community in the lead up to Easter and that members of the public in attendance would hear it, but not see what was happening.

Imagining a situation in which somebody heard the music and carried it in their heads after the event, I wondered what would happen if we took our own fragments of this music and expose it to the folk process. Could some of that music end up as a waltz, a jig, a reel or an air? A new tune inspired by the Scottish Borders?

The opening of the manuscript begins with the notes: A, F, G, E, F, E, D. The only indication of duration is the syllables of the Latin. I encourage everyone to play with the notes and the scale, transpose them, sharpen or flatten them, stretch and compress them as you like. It could be these particular opening notes or from elsewhere in the manuscript, it’s up to you.

The PDF of a modern transcription of the manuscript can be found here on the Fragments project website (PDF link). There is an ongoing wider project associated with this and details of it can be found elsewhere on the Fragments website.

Once you find a phrase you like, bring it to the next class and we’ll look at ways to build it up into a new piece. No need to write it down, just a way of remembering it. There may also be an opportunity for us to visit nearby Dryburgh Abbey to play our music in the Chapter House, which has fantastic acoustics, as part of our next group excursion. More on Dryburgh on Wikipedia.

Photo of Dryburgh Abbey (c) Gordon Turnbull; photo of the Hawick Missal from the Fragments Project web site (c) The Red Field

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