CD Review by Graham Seal
The early music of the mediaeval era, such as we have of it, has a sense of joyous discovery as musicians found what they could do with melody and, later, harmony.
Sydney group, Wayward, recorded ‘Dance While You May’ in 2005, but its references to the Black Death and the impermanence of life resonates uncomfortably well with the present pandemic.
At the time of recording, the band consisted of: Ricarda Reeck (hurdy gurdy, vocals, bells); Nicholas Potts (English border pipes, crumhorn, shawm, recorder, flute, lyre – the list goes on and he sings as well); Kenneth Smith (percussion, puppets); Dick Alias (drums, vocals); Tarek Sawires and Karen Wray play the darbuka, a hand drum used in the middle east and north Africa; and, Peter Wilkin played the harp.
This is a serious armoury of ancient instruments and they know what to do with them.
Wayward bill themselves as modern day successors to the goliards and minstrels.
The songs and tunes are mostly from the troubadour or trouvere tradition which developed mainly among professional musicians composing religious songs, songs of courtly love and dance tunes possibly based on peasant music for paid consumption by the rich and noble.
It is, in other words, an art music rather than a folk music tradition.
And a very fine one, part of the considerable heritage of western music, yet often displaying middle eastern and even north African influences, presumably picked up through the Crusades.
One of the songs is attributed to Richard the Lionheart, famously captured on his way back from smiting in the Holy Land in the twelfth century.
And there are drinking songs, carols, a Swedish ballad and religious pieces mostly rescued from ancient manuscripts and brought back to life on this recording.
But as music must fade and die, so must we.
The CD climaxes with a piece by Ricarda Reeck titled ‘Death Dance’, a tribute to the Dance of Death and the Grim Reaper, figures that evolved during the outbreaks of plague in medieval Europe.
This CD and its cover decoration of rattling skeletons is a reminder to ‘dance while you may’.