“Cittern construction in the Forest of Dean” – or how Fiona got saddled with my half-finished renaissance banjo – a confession by David Norman.

Back in the last century, then a Buckinghamshire schoolboy, I was introduced to madrigal singing and recorder playing by a music teacher whose knowledge, unusually then, stretched back further than Haydn. At the same time, in a different part of the county, a young Morag Cameron was in several choirs singing works by Bach and his contemporaries. Over a decade later, now married, our enthusiasm for early music was renewed by David Munrow’s radio and television broadcasts and the recordings of his Early Music Consort of London. On into the 70s, now living in the Cotswolds, our involvement in the local folk club led us into playing earlier and earlier music so that by 1980 we were part of a six-person early music group (we were the first Amaryllis Consort!) playing gigs around Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. Over 1980-84 our range of instruments expanded – I made two crumhorns that sounded as near to music as such things are capable – and between the six of us we had recorders, rebec, crumhorns, cornamusen, racket, psaltery, shawm, violin and various drums plus two fine (and one dreadful) singers. In late 1981 we thought making a cittern to accompany lighter and ruder madrigals would be fun. But, by then, me, Morag and our older son Tim were also much involved in cycle touring and racing which meant Tim and I were also part-time bicycle mechanics and wheel builders. And in 1982 January and February were particularly cold, so I moved from my workshop in the cellar to the warmth of an upstairs landing for the bikes and the dining room table for the cittern. After over three weeks of clutter and wood shavings on and around the dining room table Morag understandably snapped and demanded the use of the dining room again. Never really having grown up, I packed up the half-finished cittern and my wood-working tools and announced I was abandoning the project, intending to sulk for a bit and then move back to the cellar. Fate then intervened – my job became even more demanding with more UK power station visits, lectures, trips abroad (Europe and USA) and heavy involvement in the Sizewell B public inquiry. So the boxed up cittern carcase began a lengthy slumber. Eventually, in 1985, my work in Gloucester having moved to Knutsford, we moved house to a small farm in Cheshire, taking the unfinished cittern with us. More work in and out of the UK, plus agricultural training and a start in part-time farming allowed the cittern parts to continue collecting dust. Then a job change into strategic planning and finance got us moved back to another farm in the Forest of Dean, still with the dusty cittern body parts which remained neglected throughout our thirteen years at Crooked End Farm. But, loyal to the end, we moved the cittern’s bones with us when we retired and downshifted into a one acre dwelling. It’s taken us another seven years to decide that we now only need a small house and garden – but this time I haven’t the heart to move the unfortunate instrument on again. So, when passing on our small library of early music books and scores to Fiona’s fine band and learning of her skills in making a symphony, I spotted an opportunity to give the cittern parts a chance to become a real instrument at last. Now in the hands of a craftswoman, I’m sure they will.”


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