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The following explains some of the instruments and vocal combinations used in Chanterye productions. Our basic group of 3 people, supplemented by up to 10 others, can create a great variety of textures.

Voices and Instruments

Here are some of our more commonly used resources.

Chanterye sings a variety of vocal music - from plainsong, conductus and full polyphony, to the cansos of the trouveres. Since part of the sound of medieval vocal music is created by the particular vowel and consonant sounds, we aim to recreate medieval pronunciations.
Extremely versatile, the recorder can be used for solo estampies - particularly Italian ones - or combined with other instruments or voices in a 'broken consort' of the later medieval or renaissance non-liturgical repertoire.
Often found as a solo instrument in virtuoso estampies, the fidel, a fore-runner of the violin, is also an ideal accompaniment to the voice. The construction of a flatter bridge than those of the modern violin family means more strings can be struck simultaneously to produce incidental drones.
Frame Drum
This agile drum provides a range of percussive effects and, being struck by both hands, can add very rapid and varied accompaniments to
We use this long drum to provide a clear and regular beat for dance music. In conjunction with the 'tabor pipe' (a 3-holed recorder-like instrument capable of playing melodies) this enables a single person to provide accompaniment for the dance.
Either as a solo or accompanying voices, the gut strung English instrument has a gentler sound than its modern relatives. Partly this is the result of medieval finger technique - you stroke the strings of a medieval harp rather than pluck them as you would on a modern instrument.
Hurdy Gurdy
Instead of a bow, a rotating wheel turned by hand, continuously strikes up to 6 strings; a chromatic keyboard provides the melody, whilst up to 4 drones accompany this. An additional texture is available by rotating the wheel suddenly faster; this prompts the 'trompette' string to produce the characteristic 'buzz' as it points out key rhythms.


Pictorial and sculptural evidence, along with the manuscripts themselves, give hints as to the sound of medieval music.

The performance of vocal music is difficult to assess, and we must rely on the scant evidence to suggest how such a wide and varied repertoire was conveyed. Continental listeners noted the 'sweetness' of 14th and 15th century English performances with their sweeping treble lines; we have interpreted 'sweetness' as 'homogeneity' and a 'natural', unconstricted voice production and we aim to convey this in our performance of pieces such as 'Salve Sancta Parens' and 'Ecce quod natura'.

The instruments present less obvious problems since their construction can be re-created (see ../contact.html for links to some of our instrument manufacturers). Solo pieces of technical difficulty were performed on fidel and recorder, and it is clear that there were virtuoso performers on the harp, but there is less evidence to guide us on the combinations of instruments that may have been used. Chanterye sometimes strays into early tudor period, and broken consorts of crumhorns, sackbutt and recorders are effective for performing the wide range of dance music of this era. Prior to this, however, musical discretion is required. Although there are illustrations depicting various groups of minstrels with their instruments, many of these are plainly allegorical and need to be treated with caution.

Iconography is often difficult to interpret e.g. illustrations of processions may show several people simultaneously playing 'pipe and tabor' (a one- man-band arrangement where a single person can play melody and rhythm at once). Is this because they were played in groups, or because the painter is attempting to show the scale of the procession?

These are a few of the questions which need to be acknowledged, if not conclusively answered, when preparing to perform early music. Chanterye hope that we provide a convincing and attractive interpretation.