Secret House CD & DVD Programme notes

Secret House CD & DVD Programme notes

All proceeds from the sale of this double album go entirely to Carnyx & Co. to help support our work.

The secret house cover

1: Hildegard of Bingen 1098 – 1179: Spiritus sanctus vivificans vita

Holy Spirit, quickening life, Moving all things, the root in all creation, Who washes all things of impurity, Removing sins and soothing wounds Who is shining light and laudable life, Waking and re-awakening all that is

Hildegard was an extraordinarily creative and diverse person spending her very long life as a diplomat, writer, abbess and musician. She was a novitiate at the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenberg from the age of eight, and later became the abbess at Rupertsberg near Bingen. She saw visions throughout her life, and made a record of them in words and music. She wrote medical and natural history texts and was famed through her prophesies, becoming a correspondent and consultant to Popes and Kings.

Although the sackbut is 350 years too modern for Hildegard, its role was to imitate and compliment the human voice in sacred music and it is perfect for the uplifting and joyous text.

2, 3, 4: John Kenny, Secret House, sonata for female trombonist.

This work originally formed the central part of a 90 minute multi-media music theatre piece called “The Secret House” involving dance, puppetry, live film manipulation, ambisonic sound projection, theatre and music, commissioned by Duff House at Banff in Scotland, and premiered there on November 16th 2000. The piece was conceived, composed and directed by myself, choreographed by Eric Tessier-Lavigne, and filmed by John McGeoch. Eight performers led an itinerant audience throughout the entire space of Duff House, an imposing baroque mansion commissioned by William Duff, Lord Braco, from the brilliant Scottish architect William Adam in 1735. Making use of stairwells, corridors, chambers, and eventually focussing on extended ballets performed in two great drawing rooms, our attempt was to examine the complex relation of human to house, as shell, shelter, prison, projection of ego – as well as exploring the huge variety of acoustics and atmospheres presented by such a magnificent structure. These two dance theatre pieces were scored respectively for male bass trombonist with two dancers and a duo for female trombonist with female dancer. At the premier, Emily White played trombone, with ballerina Patricia Hines.

Secret House is my fifth sonata for solo trombone. I decided to score it specifically for a female performer for several reasons: firstly, there are an increasing number of girls taking up the trombone, and consequently of top class professional female trombonists world-wide. Secondly, much of the existing contemporary repertoire which makes use of vocal multiphonics has been conceived for the male voice – it can be transposed, but the resultant tone colour is very different. However, this problem is also a wonderful opportunity: the female voice used within the trombone is essentially a different instrument, with a range of pitch and timbre unavailable to the male player. This piece could be transposed by a man, but the effect would be much altered. Thirdly, the theatrical concept of this piece requires a female performer to achieve the desired psychological and emotional impact.

The music is intimately bound to the spoken word. My three poems are a response to the task of reflecting concepts of “house” as shelter, womb, and icon. The first two are integrated into the music, the third narrated unaltered – the music which follows is a reflection on the poem just as the poem is an historic and personal reflection. The trombonist must speak, sing, play various percussion instruments, and make dramatic use of space and physical gesture – a considerable challenge. It should also be remembered that whilst Secret House was always intended to stand as a recital solo, it was originally conceived as a duo with dancer. The choreography of Eric Tessier-Lavigne transported the piece onto a different plane, and it is my hope that it may also be reinterpreted in this form in the future. Secret House is dedicated to Emily White

Secret House Poems:


Frost tang gags, reek of backed-up fires; soot falls silently, a black snow.

Towering brick buttress, winter whitened elder and honeysuckle entwined …. squeak and whisper.

Face cold … snuggle deeper into this warm nest … soft breathing of another, sleeping: …. Sister

Unable to turn, stare out, up – endlessly, ….. steely blue points ….glittering firmament

Now through the tunnel of years I grope, and long to see, to touch again my childish eternity Night – winter 1958 John Kenny


Blood warm citadel, perfected over aeons wrought of parts minute, invisible, coalesced to form this whole, yet divisible continuum of infinite variety: precious walls conceal the crucible.

A box without hinges, key or lid Yet golden treasure inside is hid

Invading deluge, thrust, squirm and die …… all but one…… Tenacious alien, consumed and consummated

In comes I, welcome not or welcome be, to lodge and feed at your expense; my right ordained ‘fore your march of time began: Succubus or incubus, you are my promised land

Paradox: the end of “I” the start of “We” Yet this hallowed chamber is still only “Me”.

For Klaus and Susanne, July 2000

Dark House, Donegal. Stones shaped by wind and ice, Loaded creels on aching sturdy backs Stumped weary miles

Patient eyes, gnarled hands, Laid each one to rest, no cutting tool or mortar. Roof ribs of blackened bog-oak Reed thatch a yellow living skin

One small window and a door set in wall a man’s arm deep ….Dark House…

Soot Blackened kettle and cauldron Straddle turf fire, lit by long dead hand Re-kindled from the dying embers Each day, a dawn-red kiss

Passed down through generations This flame’s flicker, life breath To croft……

House home to man, beast and vermin Crawler, spinner, winged And singer at the hearth

Love, birth and death revolving Never plenty, one time famine, Endless toil yet always laughter Pipes and fiddle hid on rafter. ……………………………… Life patterns knit by seasons’ passing Myth, faith and family formed a fabric Rich and self sustaining – Unravelled at the flick of a switch, Irresistible images of a new world Flood and overpower the old, which Poverty held at bay.

So, now the whitewashed walls bulge out
Thatch fallen in, growing tufts and moss. Hearth cold, peeling door ajar Since the day the last of old ones left, feet first.

Stones rain-washed, sliding, settling slowly Back to ground – a house no more, Gentle mound to cover memory, The passing of a time and of a people

5: John Kenny: Intrada for Bass Trombone

This short piece is extracted from my 90 minute setting of the Book of Revelation, “Das A und das O” for trombone, organ, percussion and narrator commissioned by the Landshut Festival in Bavaria, and premiered at the Landshut Auferstehungskirche in December 2005, performed by Michael Büttler, trombone, Georg Rothenaicre, organ, and myself as narrator. This music forms the dramatic entrance of the 4th Horseman of the Apocalypse.

6,7,8: John Kenny: Sonata for Unaccompanied Bass Trombone

Having previously written sonatas for unaccompanied tenor and alto trombones, it was a logical progression to write one for the bass trombone. Many of the finest professional trombonists I have known have been bass players, and as a teacher I am continually meeting highly talented young exponents of the instrument – yet, sadly, whilst the solo repertoire for tenor trombone has expanded enormously over the past 30 years, there is still very little challenging solo material which is truly idiomatic for the bass trombone. There are wonderful players who need music to interpret: a new generation of bass trombonists should have the opportunity to explore their potential as concert soloists and composers need to be encouraged to write for this exciting medium. The available palette of sounds and techniques specific to the bass trombone need to be more widely explored: this piece, and its sister piece On Bamburgh Beach, are my own first contributions to that effort.

The Sonata is in three movements; the 1st begins with a sequence of notes derived from the shape of the trombone itself – that is, by moving the slide at a slow, regular pace from fully closed to full extension and back, and allowing the embouchure to fall onto notes in a comfortable relaxation/tension cycle. This 22 note pattern is used at first with great freedom, becoming increasingly structured into a melodic theme, with a series of commentaries. The availability of two independently operated valves offers the possibility of a multiplicity of glissandi, breath effects, and multiphonics far beyond those of the tenor or alto trombones, and there is a preliminary exploration of these sounds before the opening sequence returns, leading to a brief coda.

The 2nd movement begins and ends with a gentle, dreamy melody, followed by a first dip into the world of lip multiphonics, before a bolero of sorts takes over. The player moves in and out of a derby hat mute on a stand, trying to achieve the effect of a split personality: bass vamp and lead voice. The upper voice becomes increasingly wild, with its partner plodding steadily on beneath, until a point of exhaustion demands a change of direction – achieved by a more complex exploration of lip multiphonics over different valve combinations. The opening theme returns, this time distorted both by continual valve trills of microtonal intervals, and by moving in and out of the hat mute in waves.

The 3rd movement makes considerable use of breath sounds, both in vowel and consonant forms. Elegiac in intent, it seems to be harking back to something, but exactly what is hazy: is there a longing for the conventional sound of the trombone, for the meaning behind the wordless speech-sounds, or for the musical styles of a bygone era? There are references to all three ideas, interrupted by a brief but violent jazz based episode; but the movement closes with a gentle falling melody projected backwards through the empty tuning slide of one section of valve tubing, rather than forward through the bell.

The piece was begun of August 11 1999, the day on which southern England experienced a total solar eclipse, and completed on September 22nd. It was commissioned jointly by the British Trombone Society, International Trombone Association, and Warwick Music.

9 & 10: Peter Cowdrey, two duos for two trombones Irish air with Songthrush and Wrens

All human beings have experienced birdsong directly or indirectly. It probably influenced the development of language, as songbirds and humans, along with humpback whales, are almost the only animals who choose individualised improvisation in place of genetically encoded vocalisations. Recent technology has enabled us to slow down the sounds to speeds and pitches at which we can appreciate the true essence and subtlety of birdsong. A bird’s ear is tuned to be aware of all of this detail, so slowing down birdsong to the pitch of human instruments gives us an awareness of what a bird must hear. It also provides a wealth of wonderful bird-generated raw material to compose with. Trombones are particularly suitable, as their ability to slide between pitches regardless of frets, valves or keys, is shared with birds.

Irish Air with Song Thrush was premiered at Dartington, and contrasts human and bird-generated song. Wrens is based on fairly strict transcriptions of slowed down songs of wren species from Japan, Colombia and the UK. It was originally for violin and piccolo, part of a larger encyclopaedia of pieces based on fragments of slowed down birdsong, so further slowing down and dropping of pitch was necessary for trombones. In Irish air with Song Thrush the bird generated lines were specifically adapted to be played comfortably on trombones, whereas in Wrens the instruments have to adapt to the details of the birdsongs, regardless of technical challenges.

Peter Cowdrey’s works have been premiered at Istanbul and Schleswig Holstein Festivals, the Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. A recent commission was premiered by the BBC Concert Orchestra in Bucharest in October 2016, and Recovered Voices, a song cycle based of transcriptions of the recorded voices of Gumilev, Mandelstam, Akhmatova and Pasternak, was premiered at the 2016 Moffat Russian Conference. He has written music for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

In 2010, he conducted the premiere of his one act opera The Lovely Ladies at Christies. This production was repeated at the Buxton Opera Festival in 2011. In November 2011 The Mad Duchess was premiered at Boughton House in Northamptonshire.

Many of Peter’s compositions are inspired by birdsong; in 2009 he founded the ensemble The Conference of Birds. He founded a charitable initiative, Planet Birdsong, which promotes education and global communication through birdsong With his sister Liz Peter leads Birdsong and Music Walking tours at Finca Buenvino in Andalucia. He has also led tours in Tuscany for ATG Travel.

11: Etienne Rolin, Caccia for tenor & bass trombone duo.

Harking back to an old renaissance form of imitative counterpoint as well as to the etymological sense of the Latin word “a hunt”, my duo for tenor and bass trombone underlines both those qualities. The hunting aspect is somewhat of a chase after one another as well as after one’s one musical shadow and discovering jazz phrasings and cross rhythms as if a devil emerged from darkness of the trombones’ low registers and was grabbed by the tail. Through the use of the voice and extended techniques, the exchanging parts give an aural impression of more than two players interacting. Caccia was written for the boisterous and genuinely stimulating partnership of John Kenny and David Taylor. In this recorded version, Emily White’s female vocal harmonics add an even wider register and chromatic spectrum to the interpretation.

Etienne Rolin is a French -American composer, woodwind improvisor Soundpainting-conductor, and teacher born in California in 1952. He has written over 1000 works for all genres solo chamber music orchestra, opera and big band jazz. A large work was commissioned by the Ensemble Intercontemporain of Pierre Boulez. He performs often on basset horn and alto flute with contemporary and jazz groups in Europe such as Tribal Klarinet Trio with German clarinettist Theo Jorgensmann, and the Phoenix Four wind trio with live electronics. He uses the soundpainting sign language to direct real time composition such as his multi disciplinary chamber opera 3D cave.

Etienne Rolin’s professional career started performing electric guitar for the U.S. premier of the rock opera“Tommy” by the WHO in 1970. He subsequently moved to France to pursue studies in Harmony and Analysis with Nadia Boulanger. Other influences in composition were Olivier Messiaen Iannis Xenakis and Franco Donatoni. Etienne Rolin has taught classical music theory, analysis, music history, jazz theory, chamber music and soundpainting at the Bordeaux Conservatory since 1985 to the present day. He is involved in many multi-media projects using employing both his own paintings and literary productions for performance. He has written three books on Improvisation and Interdisciplinary practices. For information on the full scope of Rolin’s work, visit:

Emily White is professor of sackbut at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She also teaches trombone and sackbut at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Wells Cathedral School and Co-Directs the Huntly Summer School which she founded in 2010. She was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music in the 2016 honours and became an affiliated solo artist to Conn-Selmer in the same year. As a member of The English Cornette and Sackbut Ensemble she has has scooped two Gramophone award winners and a Diapason D’Or in their extensive discography. ECSE play internationally, performed their BBC Proms debut in 2013, and are especially known for their collaboration with voices such as I Fagiolini in The Striggio Mass in 40 Parts and Alamire in The Spy’s Choirbook – voted Best Classical CD of 2014 in The Times, and winner of the Gramophone Early Music Award. Emily also plays baroque violin and is in the ground breaking ensemble In Echo as a sackbut and violin player. They closed the 2016 York Early Music Festival and their debut CD has been recorded in 2017 with Delphian label, featuring a new commission by Andrew Keeling as well as early music. Emily is a member of Pandora’s Box, the contemporary trio with John Kenny and Miguel Tantos-Sevillano who have given recitals across Spain, Portugal, Ireland and USA, were Artists in Residence at the 2016 Cumnock Tryst and are guest artists at the 2017 International Trombone Festival in California. She also plays trombone in Chaconne Brass, who focus on new music commissioned for them. Most recently they premiered their theatre piece commission The Farmyard Suite by Jacqueline Binns. Emily studied trombone and violin at The Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Trinity Laban, and is very grateful for the inspiration and ideas she has received from teachers and colleagues alike. Emily enjoys daring and expressive music making, at both ends of the spectrum, from historical performance to utterly modern.

John Kenny is internationally acclaimed for his interpretation of contemporary music, having performed and broadcast in over 50 nations to date. He also works extensively with improvisation and early music and is particularly active in collaboration with dance and theatre. In 1983 he began his long collaboration with playwright Paul Stebbings and the TNT Theatre Company performing, composing and directing music for productions which continue to tour worldwide including Cabaret Faust, Tempest Now, The Wizard of Jazz, Moby Dick, Moon Palace, The Taming of The Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe, The Ghost of Illiam Dhone, The Wave, The life and death of Martin Luther King, The Merchant of Venice, Le Malade Imaginare and Dracula. He has also received commissions from London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the International Trombone Association, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust, Chamber Group of Scotland, Dance Umbrella, St Magnus Festival, BBC Proms in The Park, American Drama Group Europe, The New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas (USA) the Festival d’ Angers, (France), Vokal Nord (Norway), CCMIX Institut (France), the Swedish Arts Council, Spanish Brass and the city of Wroclaw (Poland).

John is a professor at both the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He has lectured and performed at many of the world’s leading institutions, including Juilliard, Manhattan, Peabody and Eastman colleges in the USA, and the conservatoires of Paris, Angers, Angouleme, Bordeaux, Perpignan, Den Haag, Wroclaw, Gdansk, Moscow, Helsinki, Tromso, Munich, Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgart, Hannover, Sofia, Athens, Madrid, Seville, Porto, Tokyo and Beijing.

Since the early 1990’s he has also become increasingly involved with musical archaeology. In 1993 he became the first person for 2000 years to play the great Celtic war horn known as the carnyx. He now lectures and performs on the carnyx internationally in the concert hall and on radio, television and film. In March 2003 he performed his composition “The Voice of The Carnyx” to an audience of 65,000 in the Stade De France, Paris. A recent month long lecture recital tour of the USA which included the world premier of his composition “Wild Stone” for alto flute and carnyx, was followed by the release of his seventh solo album, “Embracing the Unknown” for trombone with harp & string quartet. In 2015 he was commissioned by Spanish Brass to compose a sextet for solo trombonist-narrator and brass quintet “Nocturne” based on the poetry of poet Brian Nisbet, , which was premiered at the International Trombone Festival, Valencia.

John Kenny is a member of the European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP) with whom he has worked to bring to fruition the reconstruction of many lip reed instruments of antiquity, including the magnificent Tintignac Carnyx, recently discovered in the Correze region of France, and the Etruscan litus and cornu. A solo CD documenting this work, Dragon Voices was released on the Delphian Lable in 2016, followed by a second album, Set Upon the Rood featuring Kenny’s setting of The Deer’s Cry, attributed to St Patrick, for carnyx and Loughnashade horn duo with the choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. In 2017 John Kenny was the recipient of the International Trombone Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award – only the second British Trombonist ever to be accorded this honour. To find out more about John’s work visit:

CD sessions recorded at St Bartholomew’s Church, Corsham, Wiltshire in 2010 by Mike Skeet. Produced by John Kenny and mastered by Mike Skeet

DVD: Secret House

Whilst working on the original live production of “Secret House” in 2000, filmmaker John McGeoch shot many hours of footage of the rehearsal process, and of the interior and exterior environments of Duff House in Banff, as well as lots of local locations connected to the history of that extraordinary place. Some of this was used as live projection during the final performance, but it was always my intention that a separate artwork should be made using sections of the music and visual material. This is neither a documentary nor a narrative film – it uses material from the live performance, but this is blended with many other images and also with new music, composed during a period as composer in residence to the Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown in 2007. This was very appropriate because Glenfiddich had been a major contributor to the reconstruction of the Deskford Carnyx in the early ‘90’s, and the carnyx plays a central role in this film, as well as in the 2000 live show. Furthermore, Glenfiddich’s Dufftown site is intimately linked to the same family who named both the house and the town, and the carnyx was discovered just a few miles away in 1816. Hidden, ruined and overgrown in the grounds of the modern distillery, is the cottage which belonged to the original William Grant, founder of the world’s most famous malt whisky – and also the 12th Century castle which belonged to the previous landowners. So in the same location we have echoes and artefacts from the Picts, Vikings, Normans, Scots – and the modern whisky trail. This was blended with footage of my own family home in Donegal, Ireland. Shadows, echoes of the past and present, kaleidoscopes of colour and movement, performance in unlikely places, ancient woods and the sea. There is no narrative in this film – but there are lots of stories!

Composed and directed by John Kenny Choreography by Eric Tessier-Lavigne



Emily White: tenor trombone, voice, violin John Kenny: tenor & bass trombone, carnyx, alphorn, recorders, conch, voice Patrick Kenny: tenor trombone Etienne Rolin: flute, saxophones, clarinet Marc Depond: percussion, voice


Patty Hines Eric Tessier-Lavigne


Klaus Tkacz Susanne Peschel

Film projection & production:

John McGeoch, Arts in Motion


Brian Gorman

Sound projection & recording:

John Whiting, Jim Brook, Mike Skeet.

Balvennie costume concept:

Ding Jie (Beijing)


Glenfiddich Distillery, Dufftown Duff House, Banff Meanabradden, Donegal, Eire Balvennie Castle, Dufftown

Thanks to:

William Grant & Sons Ltd, Artists at Glenfiddich 2007 Andy Fairgrieve Charles Burnet, John Mair and the staff of Duff House Claudia Zeiske Deveron Arts Historic Scotland Scottish Arts Council Heritage Lottery