Howard plays lute and guitar and is part of Trio Sefardi–one of our specialist groups for this year’s Christmas Revels. Howard has studied guitar in Cleveland, Ohio, Washington, DC and Alicante, Spain! (he even played for the King and Queen of Spain at the Smithsonian Institute in 1976 and at the White House in 1978). Howard is not new to Sephardic music (although Trio Sefardi is actually a fairly new group); he was a founding member of La Rondinella, which has three recordings on the Dorian Discovery label, with a new retrospective recording just released this November — Sephardic Songs: An Anthology. For many years, Howard has also worked extensively with Sephardic singer/composer Flory Jagoda (whom he accompanied on her latest recording, Arvolika) and early music singer Barbara Hollinshead, with whom he recorded an album of Elizabethan lute songs and solos entitled Loves Lost… and Found; their new recording of 16th and 17th century French songs and lute solos will be released in early 2012.
In this year’s Christmas Revels, Howard will be playing both lute and guitar, and will be playing everything from Renaissance and Sephardic music to some Flamenco (for our Sevillanas dancers).
There are two really exciting dances in this year’s show. I’m not in either one, which means I’ve had opportunities to take blurry pictures of both. One is called “Saidi” – it’s a dance from southern Egypt with its roots in Ancient Egyptian martial arts. It involves guys dancing with sticks.
Revels aficionados may think, “guys with sticks? that sounds familiar.” Indeed, guys have danced with sticks on our stage many times. They’re usually morris dancers. Morris is an English dancing tradition which is most commonly associated with big white handkerchiefs and bells on the ankles, but can also involve sticks.
Last summer I was in England and saw a bunch of morris teams performing in a town square. One of them was doing a stick dance and another team kept messing with them by running up, grabbing a stick, and giving them something else – a different team’s stick, a bit of ivy, a coffee mug, a flower, a member of another team. It was the funniest thing I’d seen in a long time. I was informed later by an experienced morris dancer that this is utterly old hat, but, you know, it was the first time I’d seen it. I was impressed.
I do not recommend trying that trick during a Christmas Revels performance, by the way.
Anyway, the point of that little digression on morris dancing is that the word morris supposedly comes from the Middle English word morys, which meant “Moorish.” I don’t think anyone actually thinks the stick dances of the Border Morris tradition came from the Upper Nile, but it’s an interesting connection, isn’t it?