Report: Italian Circle Weekend + Public Performance

Date or timeframe: 28-01-2007 / 30-01-2007
Venue: Franciscan Monastery
City: Castelmonte, Udine
Country: Italy
Category(-ies): /

Castelmonte, 28/06/2007

Sitting at 7.30 in the rehearsal room.

A guy walked in while we were doing it, looking for some cleaning stuff.

Breakfast at the local bar: cappuccino plus a slice of local Strudel.

At 9.00 we had our official inaugural meeting; there’s five of us: Stefano Simioni, Roberto Duse, Roberto Deiana, Attilio Songia, and myself. Duse informed me about the “rules of the house” and what we are asked to do for the performance on Saturday evening; we acknowledged each other’s aim, then made a schedule for the day. Before grabbing the guitars, I read (translating it into Italian) the first chapter of an extract of the “Systematic Journal” dated Sept. 1964 by J. Bennet, about the human body and its functions, that R. sent to me quite a while ago.

Warm up: during our “open-A-alternate-picking-exercise” we paid specifically attention to the 4 against 3 and 3 against 2, tapping the foot and counting; then, during the “cross- picking-exercise” we did some slightly tricky things like playing a figure in 4 on a tempo in 3 and vice versa: it seems this is something this group needs to discharge (D of A).

3° Primary for the left hand: C-still-a-bit-unknown-major…

They play to me what they have of the Bach’s Prelude circulation: pretty good!

We have a quick overview of the repertoire; cut out “Funeral March” straight away: it doesn’t fit at all with the context of the performance which is a reading from modern poetry about the Announcement of the Angel to Mary, with pieces placed between the different chapters and circulations underneath the reciting voice.

I introduce a new piece (a piece which is not in the list): it’s Maryan (ACE version, with 3 of them playing the circulation in 7, Stefano playing the bass part, and me playing the melody on top) but we go as far as the second chord…

12.30 lunch: we have to walk few meters to get to the actual convent, a young chap open the door and let us in with a big smile saying we are perfectly in time; we don’t have the use of a kitchen here, that’s the deal, so we’re accommodated in a hostel annexed to the convent and have our meals prepared by a lady who does it for the monks, in a separated dining room. The food is simple but very good; while we eat we talk about GC emerging issues.

After lunch the young chap, who happens to be Father Francesco, the monk responsible for us being here, took us on the big terrace just outside the convent which is also the top of the small village, under a huge, old, beautiful tree with benches underneath and with breathtaking view over the valley. He’s a 33, tall, gentle, vivid eyes, jeans, man; and I find slightly hard to consider him “something different from us”.

14.00 back to the rehearsal room; our schedule is: 2 sessions of an hour with a 30 minutes break in between, then tea time at 16.30; at the bar (breakfast and tea time are not included in the monks’ package). The young, friendly, beautiful girl at the bar makes our lives more joyful.

At 17.30 we’re back to the circle and, with the same schedule than before (2 sessions of an hour with a 30 minutes break in between); we work mainly on the repertoire, the list so far includes:

Cutting Branches

Gymnopedie n.1

Le Petit Negre

Bach Prelude Circulation

Nothing Really Blue

Tango Apasionado






19.30 dinner. The only work we do is to set up and down the table…

At 21.00 we go back to the rehearsal space and go for another set (2 sessions of an hour with a 30 minutes break in between). I’m extremely tired, and so are the others I guess…

In bed at around midnight.

Castelmonte, 29/06/2007

Same structure as yesterday. The sitting this time was in an empty room of the dormitory instead of the rehearsal room, to avoid people walking in, but I was late, yes, after another unsettling night I didn’t hear the alarm (actually I couldn’t hear the bells either!); being ten minutes late I went for a solitary sitting in my bedroom.

The first session of work (the warm up): right hand – gradually getting into the Sermon On The Mount pattern, 8th notes first, 8th triplets, then 16th.

For the left hand I re-introduced one of Tony’s systematic exercise: different cross picking patterns over a harmonic minor chord progression; it’s an old one, but, as long as we act as it was presented for the very first time, it remains actual and valid, doesn’t it?

A short break then we get into set list mode: another piece is chopped out from the list, “Les Petit Negre” a Debussy fun little piece presented as a trio piece (the 2 Robs + Attilio); out of context, then, they can’t play it.


At least half of our time and energy is dedicated to circulations (including the Bach Prelude): we’re supposed to circulate a lot during the reading, so I select two keys (C Maj. And A harmonic minor) and few different modes like thumb, pick, double stop, repetitions…

Lunch time: we knock at the convent’s door and Francesco let us in this time wearing the Franciscan habit: he’s still the same person, but different…

Still talking about present/future GC issues, we figure out that, except Stefano, we’ll all be in SC.

Francesco suggests a first rough run through of the music with the text, after lunch; he’ll read for now even though there’ll be a semi-pro actor on Saturday.

As we get into the tea time break, Adriano and Luisa arrived; Adriano will go back to Venice in few hours, Luisa is going to stay until the end. We play for them after tea; I begin to have an idea of the set list; the “off-beat” part of Cutting is formally very simple but unbelievably tricky, Attilio can’t play it so I take it on (leaving Robertone alone with the melody) having difficulties. We also find an emergency ending for the Bach Prelude since the last 2 bars are not working at all at the moment, but we’ll keep working on it. I play a wild solo on Invocation: fun.

19.30 Dinner: Adriano talks about the commitment Duse, Stefano and himself decided to take on for 6 months (as North-East-Sub-Circle) to work on specific tasks meeting every other week. He wishes this might trigger similar initiative in other parts of Italy so that we could have few small circles working in a coordinated fashion, and then get all together every 3 or even 4 months for a project.

20.30 Adriano leaves.

21.00 We attend a performance of a local choir directed by a professional singer and accompanied by a piano player; they sing love songs from the period between the two world wars: it’s a real lift! Just after 10.00 we’re back into working mode: we go for a proper run through, then spend some more time on the ending of the Bach Circulation; we’re too tired, no more energy available.

Again in bed far after midnight, again exhausted.

Castelmonte, 30/06/2007

Rise at 7.00 – Sitting at 7.30 – Breakfast at 8.15 – Guitar Circle at 9.30

During the warm up I insist with the 4 against 3 for I have a sense that it’s almost there for most of the team, then with the cross picking the focus is on the function of the wrist and the elbow. Anchor for the left hand.

Francesco comes in to tell us that the actor, who was supposed to arrive in the morning, won’t make it before the afternoon. After a break we spend the whole next session on Circulations and section work.

12.30 Lunch. Then out under the big old tree to write down ideas on how and when to come in and out during the reading. Fabio Turchini (the actor) arrives; we introduce each other and go to the rehearsal space. We go through the program of the show avoiding playing the pieces all the way through. The spots where a background musical comment is required are so many that we swap some of the pieces for the interludes between chapters, playing them underneath the voice: Gymnopedie, Bach Prelude, and a nice simple arpeggio with harmonic variations which we put together on the spot and called “Transone”.

We have a little rest, then, at 5.30 we’re on for setting up the stage and sound check. It’s an open air act, on the terrace on top of the village. We set up 6 chairs with the intent (agreed with the interested subject) of including the narrator in the semicircle (at the other end after Attilio); this will turn up to be a bright idea since he preferred to climb up a little staircase leading to a door which was somehow part of the stage; I think he found it more theatrical, so we had for the whole show an empty chair at the end of the horseshoe.

People is beginning to gather there, I can recognize Loredana and Francesco (Duse’s wife and son) and Paolo Aizza and his wife Ernesta. It’s a blessing to have friends in the audience.

Anyway, after the sound check we dress up, prepare ourselves and then collect in the rehearsal room which was then also our green room, at 8.40; we stay quiet, tune, ask for help. Fabio (the Voice) joins us at 8.55 from his room and encircle with us. The church’s bells tell us unmistakably at 9.00 that we have go; we let Father Francesco finish the introduction and then walk on stage.


We plug in, then I am supposed to give the cue to sit down, but Duse is already irresistibly attracted and concerned with the mixer behind him to switch on the channels so he goes down to the chair without looking at me first; I follow him instead, and the others follow me; I think we saved it. But then I realize my very first mistake: I allowed Duse to be responsible for the mixer knowing that his condition/situation was already, for different reasons, on the edge of overload; in a “perfect world” you’d have a sound man, this is not always possible; when we set up the PA in the rehearsal space 2 days ago I suggested to do it myself, Duse said it was absolutely ok for him to do it so, since it’s his own PA, I didn’t insist, but I should have done it.

The first note is mine since I bring in “Hope” which is the first piece in the set list: shaky, my right hand is literally shaking; it’s a relief when Stefano joins in; the beginning of the circulation is slightly out of time but it goes quickly ok, and as the piece unfolds itself we go from flimsy to solid.

The actor walks in and begins to read, his voice is very loud and this make even more difficult to understand what’s going on when we circulate. First interlude: we put the gamelan papers to play “Cutting Branches”; good beginning, we tend to loose the interlocking rhythm in the second half of the piece but manage to bring it to a decent ending, all together. Volumes down, we take the papers off. The voice begins reciting again and, after a while I send a note to initiate a circulation, but Attilio is not in the PA; I’m pretty sure he forgot to put the volume of his guitar back up after the gamelan paper operation, and so I mime the act of turning the volume knob on my guitar; he stays still; Deiana, who sits next to him, believing I was trying to tell him something, turns his volume down. So now we have only 3 sounding guitars on 5 and what was intended to be a circulation  is now sounding like groups of 3 notes separated by pauses: quite nice actually. Deiana turns his volume back up eventually but nothing comes out of Attilio’s guitar.

The reciting voice approaches yet another chapter, we leaves him alone for a while then come gently in with “Nothing Really Blue”; Attilio is not playing on this one so he has time to check his instrument. The piece goes off very well, lightly and fitting almost perfectly with the rhythm of the voice: a hit.

Now we’re into the second of three sections of the text, the voice keeps going and, after a while, we initiate another circulation (double stop, if I remember well); Attilio’s guitar is still not there. Duse takes the initiative and, with the intention of changing Attilio’s cable, quickly takes his strap off, stands up and leans against the mixer, but the guitar slips away from his hands and falls (volume up) very loudly to the ground.

A moment of embarrassment immediately followed by me addressing the audience saying something like: “stage troubles…” and Duse changing the cable.

As soon as we see that everything works fine I launch straight away the firs note of the Bach circulation; Duse can’t even check his tuning, and we’re lucky that the 2 strings he needs for the circulation remained more or less in tune after the bang… Unexpectedly  the piece had a good flow (we had quite some troubles in the rehearsal with this), the only mistake being my cue for the very last note. The actor, who should have read over the piece, let us alone; maybe still shocked by the “accident” or just delighted by the music, he forgot…

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