Traditional music from the Netherlands Part IX:
JANTINA NOORMAN, PIONEER OF DUTCH FOLK
This year it is exactly 50 years ago that a young Dutch woman recorded Dutch folk songs on a 33 record for the first time. Her name is Jantina Noorman and on this 10" lp she recorded several kinds of folk songs she remembered from her childhood. I started a search for her in October 2004 as I wanted to know more about her and wondered if she was still alive. Soon I found out that she was a much more famous singer than I had expected. As the lead singer of the group Musica Reservata she sold hundreds of thousands of records world-wide. I talked to many people who had worked with her, whom she had given singing lessons to or who had somehow got acquainted with her in the past fifty years. However, none of them could tell me if she was still alive and, if so, where she lived. With the help of the Dutch national radio I managed to trace her. The radio-show "Adres onbekend" (Address unknown) is one of the oldest broadcasting programmes in Holland and it is very well listened to. After telling the story of my search for Jantina Noorman on the air, a friend of hers called the studio and revealed that Jantina is still alive, 74 years old, and lives in Devon, England.
My first impression
Obviously, I wondered what to say to Jantina when I would speak to her on the phone for the first time; the woman I had been searching for for so many months. I need not have worried: Jantina seemed to be very surprised that I had been looking for her, but immediately invited me to visit her in England and hear her story. During the eleven-hour drive from the Netherlands to Devon, I often asked myself what kind of woman I was about to meet. I had formed a picture of her in my mind, based on the stories other people had told me about her. One of them was the Dutch baritone Max van Egmond: "About twenty years ago I worked with Jantina Noorman at an annual summer-festival in the USA for a number of times. The aim of this festival was to teach and perform baroque music. We were both part of the group of musicians who taught and performed. I remember her very well and thought she was a cheerful, witty and very amicable woman." The American singer Judith Milardo remembers her as well and describes Jantina Noorman's personality very clearly. Milardo: "I worked with her at The Castle Hill Music Festival in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in the late 1970's. She sang the part of Dido, with Max Van Egmond, and I had the role of the 1st Witch and the Spirit of Mercury. I remember asking Jantina about her life. She described herself as a "small-town school teacher, who happened to sing." At that time she lived at a boarding-school in England with her husband, who, I think, was the headmaster. She never told me the name of the school, or where it was. What I can tell you about her personally is that she was a first-class singer, down-to-earth and a real lady. She described herself as a mainly self-taught singer, who created her own "Reservata Sound" for her performances with the London Musica Reservata, and did not care whether or not her sound fitted in with the vocal conventions of that time. She was totally charming and unassuming. She treated everyone, from the kitchen help to the orchestra members, in the same way: with respect. One evening, a pianist who was in residence at the festival started playing jazz in the Great Hall of Castle Hill. Being an American, this was a style I was very familiar with and I began to sing along. Jantina entered the room and listened. She asked ME how to teach HER to sing in a jazzy style. We talked about jazz techniques for a few minutes, I gave her some examples and off she went - an instant jazz singer. The two of us improvised on Gershwin's Summertime for at least half an hour, drawing quite a crowd. Her natural artistry was only equalled by her dignity and grace as a human being. I often think of her fondly and still use some of the "tricks" and advice she gave me. I have passed these things on to my own students."
Other people gave me similar impressions of Jantina, but Milardo's description seemed to be the one closest to the truth. Jantina's husband was indeed headmaster of a boarding school, she did live in England and after, visiting her, I can only confirm the way Milardo described her as a person.
Jantina Noorman's story: Her years in the Netherlands
After an eleven-hour drive we finally arrived at the beautiful farm, dating from the 14th century, where she lives with her husband nowadays. On arriving I heard the sound of a piano being played somewhere in the house. One of her grandchildren, who was visiting her, opened the door for us and only a few seconds later I came face to face with Jantina Noorman. Having reached my goal, after so many months of research, made me feel slightly victorious. That very evening, while we were having fish and chips, she started telling stories. But it was not until she had provided us with coffee, tea and after-dinner chocolates and had settled in a comfortable chair in the living-room, that she really started telling about her life. Noorman: "I was born on the grounds of the Rekken Institute in the Dutch village of Rekken in 1930. My father had been working there since it was founded in 1927 and took care of the patients living there. It was a remarkable place to grow up in; there were a lot of facilities, but we hardly ever saw the patients. Some of the mentally deficient people used to work for us in the garden or cleaned the windows. However, we never saw the people who were confined there because they had committed crimes. I lived there for seventeen years and there was a lot of music in the house. My mother loved to sing for us and she had a beautiful voice. Hers was not a trained voice, but very warm to listen to. She came from Northern Germany and mostly sang the German folk songs for me she had learned at school. My father played the harmonium and taught me to read notes. At a later age, I started playing the guitar, which I was never very good at, because my fingers were too short. When I was about fourteen years old, I formed my first band, together with some other children living on the institute grounds, just for fun".
At the age of seventeen, after one year at a teacher training college, Jantina moved with her family to the USA. During her studies there she recorded the 10" Dutch folk songs for the famous Folkways label. Noorman: "My parents moved to the USA to give us a better future, something that wasn't really possible in the Netherlands just after the war. My mother had a sister who lived there and she sponsored our trip. There I started my studies at the university of Illinois. My main subject was music education. I wanted to become a music teacher. During my studies I worked in the University library and became friends with a girl from South Africa, who also worked there. She told me that she had recorded South African folk songs for the Folkways label and she would ask the label if they were interested in recording a record with Dutch folk songs. The label was very much interested in this project and I started working on it. I chose the songs myself, mostly songs I knew from my childhood school time, and I wrote some guitar music that matched/was suitable for the songs. I recorded the songs myself, with the help of a sound-engineer from the university, in the university's own studio. When the tape was ready, I sent it to Folkways and a few weeks later I received a few copies of the record and $100. From that moment on, I would get $0,25 for each record they sold. That really happened; up till about 1974 I got a letter with some dollars and another letter telling me how many of my records had been sold each year. To be quite honest, I'm not all that proud of these recordings. They were my first recordings, very amateurish and not at all the kind of music I wanted to make. It was great fun though and a good experience. However, what I really wanted to sing was "Oude muziek". In those days I already did so with Collegium musicum, with whom I also recorded an LP some time later."
For many years Noorman has lived in England now. She was one of the central musicians of Musica Reservata and, for as long as this group existed, they were very successful all over the world. The group played early music and became well-known for their characteristic and unique interpretation of this style/type of music. Jantina's way of singing became an example for many other singers. Noorman: 'At the end of the 1950's I went to England to take singing lessons from Margaret Ritchie. I had always dreamed of her being my teacher and, with the help of Alfred Deller, I got in touch with her. She also organised summer schools and during one of these weeks John Beckett asked me to join Musica Reservata. At first I declined; I had responsibilities on the other side of the ocean, as I still had a teaching job there. But in the same period I met my husband and we got engaged quite quickly. I decided to stay in England and joined Musica Reservata after all. Michael Morrow, the leader of the group, discovered my ability to imitate several vocal styles. For his interpretation of "early" music he did not want a "trained" voice, but a voice that sounded like "ordinary" people's voices. He was particularly fascinated by the way people from the Balkans sang. He told me that the voice should sound like the instruments that accompany the singer. He played the bagpipes himself; so when I sang with him my voice had to be loud. However, when I sang with a crumhorn, for instance, that required a different way of singing. I think you can compare it to pop music, as most pop musicians are not trained musicians as well. Most people appreciated our way of interpreting "early" music and we spotlighted this style (again). Besides singing with Musica Reservata, I also taught a lot of music; for example at the festival mentioned by Milardo and Van Egmond. I wanted my students to be conscious of their voices, of the possibilities of their voices."
For the past ten years, more or less since Michael Morrow died in 1994, Jantina Noorman has sung on informal occasions/on a much smaller scale only. She sings solo in the church choir every Sunday and conducts other choirs as well. Nowadays she prefers singing Schubert and, apart from this, she works as a volunteer in a charity shop for the benefit of animals.
This article is only a short account of my meeting with Jantina Noorman. It could never have been written without the help of Max van Egmond, Judith Milardo, Marcel Bijlo, Trevor Herbert, Daniel Knight, Juul Muller, Kees Schilder and, especially, the editorial staff of the Dutch radio-programme 'Adres onbekend'. Thank you all for your contributions to this great adventure.
Informations to the photos:
(1 + 3) Cover of the album of Dutch Folk Songs
(2) Jantina Noorman, photo by Eelco Schilder, 2005
(3) Musica Revista
DISCOGRAPHY (only CD):
The series "Traditional Music in The Netherlands" tries to provide an overview of Dutch traditional music from both the past and the present, presenting musicians or groups who represent some of the most important trends or movements in Dutch folk music. The first parts of the series were:
Do you have any questions about the article? Do you want more information? Are you interested in one of the albums mentioned above? Feel free to contact me any time; also with suggestions for future articles etc or comments on this article. Eelco Schilder
All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission. Although any external links from FolkWorld are chosen with greatest care, FolkWorld and its editors do not take any responsibility for the content of the linked external websites.