band of minstrels

As composers of music became more ambitious in the Late Middle Ages, they sought to write intricate polyphonic songs for ensembles, and the challenging music demanded musicians increasingly specialize in particular instruments, or families of instruments, and acquire professional training. This undermined the role of the self-taught (or informally apprenticed) and multi-instrumental wandering minstrel, much of whose performance was based on improvisations on simple melodic themes. Similarly, the growing taste for dramatic performances reduced the need for the 'wandering minstrel as as bardic storyteller'. In some towns we find evidence of minstrels' gilds at the close of the Middle Ages. That at Beverley contributed to the rebuilding of St. Mary's church, one of whose pillars bears a carving of a minstrel band, on which the drawing above was based. Although the clothing worn by band members appears Tudor, the instrumentation is typical of the Late Middle Ages (from left to right):

  • pipe and tabour (the pipe was a simple instrument with only a few holes and could be played one-handed, leaving the other hand free to beat the drum)
  • fiddle
  • tenor recorder (? or possibly a cornett)
  • lute
  • shawn

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