For live links, click to: riverhouses.org/2019-tallis
Take ten minutes this week for a lovely homeschool lesson in music history.
If you’re looking for something to be thankful for this coming Thanksgiving week beyond the custom of family, friends, and turkey dinner, why not invite your students to give thanks for the life of Thomas Tallis, the grand master of early English polyphony, who died on this November day in 1585.
Polyphonic music is the music of many voices. Unlike earlier styles of Western music such as Gregorian Chant, where all the singers follow the same vocal line, polyphonic music assigns different vocal lines to different singers — it is composed of “two or more independent melodic parts sounded together,” as your River Houses dictionary (riverhouses.org/books) says.
Here are three versions of Thomas Tallis’s ethereal two-minute polyphonic anthem “If Ye Love Me,” a work based on a text from the New Testament (John 14:15–17) where Jesus tells his disciples: “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.” Note how the voices are aligned together at the beginning, and then move apart and circle around each other like dancers, and then at the end come back into perfect alignment.
First, a version by the professional choral group The Cambridge Singers, with the musical score showing the four vocal lines (clicking in the lower right will open the video up to full screen and make it easier to follow along):
Second, a version by the group New York Polyphony (performing in Sweden) with the minimal complement of four singers, making it easy for students to understand how each person is following a different vocal line — and to see how amazing it is that such a complex sound can be made by just four people:
Finally, a version sung in its natural habitat by a full choir, at a 2010 ecumenical service in Westminster Abbey in London, featuring Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams:
So during this Thanksgiving week, why not turn up the volume on Thomas Tallis for your students and invite them to be thankful that we live in a world that has had such people in it.
What musical discoveries have you made in your homeschool this Cygnus Term? 😊
❡ Little lessons: A thousand little educational lessons are possible with a magnificent piece of music like this. If you have a musical household, you can get the sheet music directly from ChoralWiki. If you have a budding musicologist, polyphony is a very rich and complex subject that music historians have written about extensively — it’s a perfect topic to research on your next visit to the library. And if you are in the midst of studying grammar or poetry, you can point out how Tallis employs special poetic contractions in the text — ’bide, e’en, and the unusual monosyllabic spir’t — to align the words with the meter of his music. 🎶
❡ Explore more: Your River Houses history encyclopedia (riverhouses.org/books) has a beautifully illustrated overview of the Elizabethan period, within which Tallis did much of his work, on pages 260–261. It’s just the background you need to do a quick homeschool history lesson. 📚
❡ Stay in the loop: This is one of our occasional Homeschool Arts & Music posts. Add your name to our free weekly mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🗞