The Minisingers and Venetian Brass


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The MINISINGERS are Hilary Rhodes and Graeme Stentiford who formed their partnership in 1986. They specialise in music from the 12th to the early 17th centuries. Hilary is a soprano and Graeme, tenor and countertenor (male alto). They are multi-instrumentalists and accompany themselves while singing with lute, viol and percussion, and are thus able to perform music in three or four parts, e.g. madrigals and motets. They present a wide variety of sounds and textures with many interesting combinations - e.g. crumhorn, voices and percussion. They perform in many different styles ranging from secular and religious European music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, to folksong and dance music, singing in Italian, French, German, Spanish, and Chaucerian English.

Here below is a photograph of many of our instruments

Click on the instruments to find out more
about them

Here is a brief description of some of their instruments, many of which are Australasian made.

    Instruments A lute is a plucked stringed instrument. The name is derived from the Arabic "al-oud" meaning wood, and was thought to have been introduced to Europe by the Crusaders in the 13th Century.

    The two larger lutes are tenor lutes made by Johnn Dale of Australia as is the smaller soprano lute in the foreground. (back to picture)
    A renaissance viol made by Les Stanners of New Zealand. Viols were used on many occasions, and most noble families had a chest, or set of viols in their homes to entertain themselves and guests - a similar pastime to part singing. Viols were also used to accompany voices, and part-singing. The viol is thought to have developed from the Spanish Vihuela, a guitar like instrument. In Spain, the early viol was known as the Vihuela de Arco, or bowed guitar. The viol is not thought to have developed into the violin family, as violins were already in existence at the time.

    The viol family differs from that of the violin in that it has frets, seven or eight frets, held between the legs, is bowed underhand and has an extremely reedy sound. Viol consorts are becoming quite popular today, with the advent of summer schools and play-ins.
    (back to picture)

    Another insrument which was popular in the 16th century. It was hung up in barber shops as a dalliance for patrons to while away the hours. It is tuned similary to a Ukelele, and has metal strings and played like a flat back country mandolin. It is also used as a Morley Consort instrument, and is used for both melodic and rhythmic parts in that repertoire.
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    A beautiful instrument invented by John Rose about 1650. Used extensively in renaissance dance band music - esp. the Morley Consort pieces. (back to picture)

    Three hole pipe
    The primitive yet effective pipe. Used by Morris dancers', often with a drum (tabor)

    Bamboo pipe
    Ancestor of the familiar recorder

    This is a Renaissance recorder, which differs from the more familiar Baroque recorder in that it is of one piece of wood, and therefore untuneable. It has a larger bore and a stronger, less sweet sound than the Baroque recorder.

    The recorder shown here is an alto and is made out of ti-tree wood by Paul Whinray of
    New Zealand. (back to picture)

    The name Gemshorn means goat or buck horn. The Gemshorn on the left is made from a cowhorn, and the right, from a goathorn. These instruments are fingered like a recorder, but are ocarina like in that they are closed off. The have a sweet, pure and haunting sound.
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    A double reed capped instrument, which emits a rasping, reedy sound. The reed is not touched by the lips, but is made to vibrate with the air penetrating through the reed cap. They are played in consorts, or groups of four to five players, and are in sets of soprano, treble, tenor and bass.

    Crummhorns are very difficult to keep in tune, as the breath pressure, is variable with each note. Players of crumhorns are usually better if they learn to sing before playing such an instrument. Krum means bent in German, and the instrument themselves were very difficult to make as they were bent by steam out of one piece of wood! These Crumhorns are made by the German company, Moeck. (back to picture)

    This instrument is a reedcapped oboe, with an extremely loud and strident tone. Used in outdor music especially that of the town musicians at that time, known as waits, they would be used to herald events and also sound the alarm. Shawms are often played in Renaissance band music, along with sackbuts and crummhorns. (back to picture)

    Appalachian Dulcimer
    Progeny of an instrument found in many medieval carvings

    Hammered chord dulcimer

    The rare (and difficult) most highly regarded virtuoso instrument of the Renaissance. A wooden, "hybrid" with a cup mouthpiece like a trumpet, and fingered like a recorder

    Graeme playing a cornetto; a curved wooden, leather covered instrument with recoder fingerholes, played as a trumpet with a conical mouthpiece. Extremely difficult to play, it was popular with nobility in Venice and Florence in the 16th century and was most highly prized as its tone somewhat resembled the human voice.

    Cornettists at that time were even paid more than composers such as Monteverdi, and were used in his operas.

    In the last few years, skilled players have been making a comeback, as the instrument fell into disuse for many years, because of the development of the valve trumpet, and easier to play and louder brass instruments. (back to picture)

    Mute Cornett
    The gentler version of the cornetto with a sound very close to the human voice

    The soprano member of this family (sounds like a boy soprano/trumpet!)

    A sackbut, also known in Perman as Posaune, is the Renaissance forerunner of the trombone. It differs from the trombone in that it has a narrower bore, a less flared bell, has a much lighter construction and has no water tap.

    Sackbuts are quieter than modern trombones and do not have the brassy quality of contemporary instruments. They blend very well with the human voice.

    Like most Renaissance instruments, it is usually played in choirs or consorts, with cornetti on the top lines, then alto, tenor and bass sackbuts. The sackbut on the left in the picture is the rarer soprano sackbut, and is handmade by Max and Heinrich Thein of Germany.
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    Percussion A battery of period instruments

  • Tabor
    A very popular instrument in England at the time of Shakespeare. The 3 hole pipe and tabor were often used by a musician to accompany morris dancers. It was used as entertainment by court jesters and fools, one of the most renowned being little Lord Tarlton, a dwarf, famous in his seven day jigge. (back to picture)

  • Darraboukka
    An adaptation of the Arabic drum the 'duf' or 'doumbek.' It is thought to have been used in certain secular types of medieval music, but also, may be conjecture. It certainly sounds appropriate to the idiom. (back to picture)
    GRAEME has been a professional Frenchhorn player in orchestras for many years before specialising in early music. He has headed the music department of a NZ secondary school for four years, after graduating Bachelor of Music from Auckland University, and Diploma of Teaching from Auckland Secondary Teachers College. He is an experienced performer of early music and has studied in London and the Continent including singing, with Emma Kirkby. Has performed internationally, on record, and broadcast.
    HILARY was born in London, and lived in Africa where she studied music at Witwatersrand University. Travelling widely, she has performed choral, folk and early music. Her special interest apart from early music is ethnic music and culture.