Joglaresa: Sing We Yule!

Sing We Yule!
Joglaresa, Belinda Sykes
St Bartholomew the Less, 8 December 2019

Formed by Belinda Sykes in 1992, Joglaresa is one of the most inventive and imaginative medieval music groups around. Their lively approach to music-making might not be the most ‘authentic’ around, but they bring enticing energy and brilliant communicative skills to performance. In their early years, they were strongly influenced by the music of the Islamic Middle East, based on the specific training and musical inspiration of Belinda Sykes. But that seemed less evident in their latest incarnation in this Sunday afternoon performance in London’s St Bartholomew-the-Less. It was a short-notice event added after earlier sell-out concerts, and itself also sold out.

In a programme that was about as far from a Nine Lessons and Carols as you can get, the seven-strong members of Joglaresa took us through a fascinating sequence of Yuletide music ranging from 13th-century England, pieces from the 1582 Northern European Piae Cantiones collection, to traditional folk music, accompanied by fidel, harp, bagpipes, recorders and a range of percussion instruments including two hammered dulcimers and a wonderfully Gothic-looking triangle.

One key aspect of the current line-up of Joglaresa is that Belinda Sykes has assembled a very impressive group of young performers, no doubt aided by the role as a teacher (she is Professor of Medieval Music at Trinity College of Music). I would guess all of them, other, perhaps, than Belinda, were in their 20s. One of the most inspirational aspects of this concert for me was the extraordinary range of young musical talent on display. I have reviewed the two leading singers (Angela Hicks & Victoria Couper) very positively in the past for their particularly fine ‘early-music’ voices. My previous praise was well-judged if this performance was anything to go by. Angela Hicks had the only entirely solo spot of the concert, with her delightful singing of the folk song The Snows they melt the soonest. They were joined on several occasions by another impressive singer and folk harpist Cerian Holland. Fidel player Elisabeth Flett played a key part in the concert, with several pieces of her own making, including the clever opening Jig, played on fidel and jaw harp.

I was particularly impressed with the two percussionists, Louise Anna Duggan and Jordan Murray. The use of percussion in medieval music can be contentious and, in my view, is often overdone. Of course, we have little or no idea what medieval percussionists actually played, although some of their instruments can be seen in the iconography of the period. On this occasion, the playing was musically sensitive and subtle.

Of course, the focus throughout was on the founder of Joglaresa, Belinda Sykes. She introduced the music and was a key part of most of them. Her arrangements of the music were well-judged, with many starting with a simple solo voice or instrument before building to a climax. Several of the pieces are on their Sing We Yule CD, and extracts from examples of the music played can be heard in these web-links (click for MP3 extracts) –

Personent hodie | Veni Emmanuel | Ave rosa novella
Peperit Virgo | Sainte Nicholaes | In dulci iubilo
Don Oíche ud im Beithil| Christ Child Lullaby |  Make we myrth 

Another prominent feature of Joglaresa’s recent activities is their support of the cancer charity Sarcoma UK a cause close to Belinda Sykes heart. All takings from their CD sales, both at the event and online are donated directly to the charity, as are the profits from their current concerts. They also have their own fundraising site for Sarcona UK here.

photo: ABW