My second book, What We Really Do, was published by the Musical Times. It was indeed launched on October 15th 2003 on the occasion of my 50th birthday, and within three weeks of the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Tallis Scholars, on November 3rd 1973. The book is much more concerned with the thirty years of the group than with my fifty, in support of which it is filled with 30-year’s worth of photographs of us singing and touring. The chapters finally came out as follows:
- Chapter One: A history of the Tallis Scholars
- Chapter Two: A history of Gimell Records
- Chapter Three: Performing polyphony
- Chapter Four: At home and abroad, the spread of interest in polyphony account of the different organisations which have invited me to direct them)
- Chapter Five: On tour (what it’s like to be on the road for many months of the year)
- Chapter Six: Singers’ ‘argot’ (the special language of our profession)
- Chapter Seven: Not an interview with Peter Phillips (a spoof but earnest interview with me)
- Chapter Eight: An extract from the Tallis Scholars Journal Epilogue
- A complete discography
- A complete list of all the people who have sung in the Tallis Scholars
My original title for the book was ‘Nobody stopped me’, but I decided to shelve that until I write a genuine autobiography, if I ever do. However I start the first chapter about the history of the group with reference to it:
Interviewer: I’ve met a number of you English conductors who have come out of Oxford and Cambridge: Roger Norrington, John Eliot Gardiner, you and Harry Christophers, Andrew Carwood and Edward Wickham from the younger generation. You’re all quite alike in not apparently having had much formal training in what you do. Was there any particular magic formula in what you experienced at Oxford?
PP: Nobody stopped me.
This was the simple truth. If we wanted to put on concerts, we just did it. Nobody cared if we did, nobody cared if we didn’t. Nobody objected or put up barriers, but then nobody helped or encouraged. Maybe the Music Society of one’s college would offer a small sum of money to get a project off the ground, but it was indeed small and it was certain that somebody else would get it next term. Concert-giving had nothing to do with the degree course one was engaged in: it did not count towards one’s final result. There was and is no tuition in conducting at any of the British universities; and none of the conservatoires offers a course in choral conducting only. To all those people who have asked me how they can study and qualify in what I do professionally the answer is: you can’t unless you either go to another country where such courses may for all I know be available; or you just get on with it and learn as you go along. All the conductors listed by my interviewer initially went to Oxford and Cambridge to do something else and left those places formally qualified in something else. But if one did decide to pass one’s student days avoiding one’s degree course in order to put on concerts, one gave oneself the chance not only to learn how to conduct but how to be an entrepreneur as well.’
Lighter-hearted are the entries in the Argot chapter:
Hostilities: an argot rewriting of the word ‘hospitalities’. An engagement which involves staying overnight in the houses of the sponsors is not acceptable to professional singers, though the less thoughtful of those sponsors can never understand why. They think to themselves: ‘we have this beautiful house; how much more must these sensitive artists want to stay with us than in a dreary hotel.’ Which to the singer means not only having to make polite conversation around the breakfast table to the hosts while looking rapturously grateful for the privilege, but also to meeting their dog, the grandmother and the contagiously ill child. And any slightly awkward habits the singer may have picked up after a lifetime of actually being in hotels, like smoking or drinking or making long-distance telephone calls all night, usually serve to dim his or her lustre once off the stage, which arguably is best not discovered. The problem essentially is that musicians are all too used to being patronised by people who view them as some sort of clever toy, a fairy-ground source of delight (see also ‘Boys, Girls’). An extension of this state of mind is the oft-heard remark: ‘what a shame you have to rush away tomorrow. Next time you must stay for several days and visit all our friends as well as the local sights, not to mention the village organist who I know is dying to meet you. It would be such fun.’
‘Noch ein Minibar, bitte’: a request put to an unsuspecting hotel receptionist in the middle of the night, the contents of the minibar supplied in the guest’s room having been consumed. History no longer relates who said this, though folklore insists it was a brass-player.