Our Workshop at Musikene in San Sebastián

Improvised Vocal Counterpoint of the Renaissance (contrapunto alla mente)

17 – 19 February 2020

Daniel Serrano, my young Spanish colleague, and I organised and conducted a three-day workshop on “Improvised Vocal Counterpoint of the Renaissance” (otherwise known as contrapunto alla mente) in San Sebastián in February, 2020. How did it come about?

painting: "The Concert" by Geriet van Honthorst (1623), singing and drinking musicians
I like to use the picture “The Concert” by Geriet van Honthorst (1623) on my workshop documents

We had both been teaching contrapunto alla mente as part of our classes at the mdw, both of us being fans of the Renaissance and of singing. We had been rehearsing regularly at the mdw in a vocal group headed by our colleague Michael Meixner, Vienna’s contrapunto alla mente guru.

Musikene (building)
Centro superior de música del país vasco

We were interested in conducting an Erasmus workshop in Spain; we applied and received an offer from “Musikene” in San Sebastián (Higher School of Music of the Basque Country – Centro superior de música del país vasco) to do a three-day master class in February 2020.

workshop-poster with picture and text
poster of our masterclass_c_INÖK-Joanna Pianka

As fate would have it, Michael Meixner was not able to attend so Daniel Serrano and I had to divide the twenty or so interested music-education students into two groups.

They all have good voices and love to sing. I taught in English; Daniel taught in Spanish.

workshop with Daniel Serrano and his students
Daniel Serrano with students
workshop with Martha Schwediauer-Southwick (piano)
Me at the piano with the students
class with Daniel Serrano
Lessons with Daniel Serrano

We stayed at the hotel “Somn Hip Suites” which is very close to the beautiful Bay of Biscay; from there you can reach Musikene in a matter of minutes. We had breakfast every morning in Tahona, a popular, inexpensive bakery chain where the food is very tasty! In the restaurant right next to Musikene we often ordered pintxo de tortilla and café con leche.

Playa de la Concha - San Sebastián
Magnificent views of the Playa de la Concha
Strandpromenade Playa de la Concha
Playa de la Concha

San Sebastián’s seaside promenades and parks are extremely inviting which is why we took many walks and ate in excellent restaurants. You can walk everywhere in San Sebastián so we rarely took the bus. Musikene is in an impressive and spacious modern building; the rooms where we held the workshop were well equipped.

Every detail of our workshop was organized meticulously by Erasmus at Musikene. We had long conversations with several music professors who were interested in our workshop. We sang and improvised using melodies from the Spanish Renaissance and were amazed by how well most students were able to improvise in Renaissance style by the end of the workshop.

We had a wonderful time!

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