From Bagpipes to Nyckelharpa – an instrumental journey

Vicki_Pipes3Our guest blogger this week is Vicky Swan who tells us of her own personal journey in learning, playing and discovering these wonderful, yet quite different instruments. Over to Vicky…

These two instruments might seem poles apart and in many respects they are, so how did I get to become a player of both? My Dad was piper and entertainments manager at a hotel up in Scotland one year, where he met a Swedish lass on holiday – the rest as they say is history. As my Dad was a piper, the pipes naturally came first. He was an excellent teacher and ran the Brentwood School of Piping, which was later to become a full-blown competition pipe band. I like to think that I got my pedagogical background from him; his mother and sister were also both teachers. I tried at many different times to take up the Highland Pipes, but they just weren’t quite right for me, so when I discovered the Scottish smallpipes I was instantly away. Unfortunately my Dad died quite early on in my piping career, but I know he’d be proud of what I’ve done. I’m sure we’d have had many discussions on style and grace notes. He would definitely be proud of the teaching work I did for my Masters degree in Education and the subsequent tutor that I wrote.

quartet1Having spent several years teaching students with no face-to-face interaction as a teacher on-line I decided to put myself back in the position of being a learner with no teacher of my own. What better instrument to choose in the UK but the nyckelharpa. Being half Swedish I had the advantage that I’ve always known about this stunning instrument and I could speak the language and was able to get hold of one. It was a major turning point in my life. I discovered that I could never really be a beginner again, I have too much ‘prior learning’ and too many ‘transferable skills’ to eve really be a beginner. Initially it was just an instrument I could sing and play with but gradually it has taken over my life.

quartet1With my Swedish connections I do as much as I can to bring instruments into the country and unite them with new owners. I have a little stash of instruments that I can let people use to see if they like the instrument. It’s not likely that anyone wouldn’t want to take it up, but it can be a big outlay for an instrument you’ve never tried. Not everyone can take the risk I took of ordering one before I’d really seen one properly live (at the Swedish Church in London as a small child doesn’t really count).
My leap of faith paid off but if it hadn’t I’d have had no difficulty in selling it on as nyckelharpas are like gold dust! Of course I haven’t forgotten about the pipes and since taking up the nyckelharpa I’ve added English borderpipes and Swedish bagpipes to my collection. It’s a lot of up keep, practicing all these different instruments but luckily I love playing and it’s really not such a hardship. The only problem is deciding what instrument to play first!

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Vicky will be running a Nyckelharpa Workshop Weekend on 1st to 3rd November at Halsway, and a Scottish smallpipes workshop weekend 29th November to 1st December.

If you would like further information please contact vicki@swan-dyer.co.uk or to book, please email office@halswaymanor.org.uk.

Spring Up! Halsway Manor’s local schools’ folk dance programme

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Spring Up! is a programme of folk dance workshops delivered in local schools with the aim of giving children an opportunity to learn traditional dances, gain new skills like spatial awareness and sense of rhythm, work as a team and come up with their own creative I am setting up for my session in the school hall (newly swept to clear away the lunchtime peas from the floor) when the doors fly open and a swarm of eager young children spill into the room. You can always feel that moment of sheer joy that comes when children leave the confines of the classroom for a large empty space that invites them to move and burn off some energy! Of course, they are also keen to find out who I am and what we are going to be doing too… but, none of that – we get moving straight away!dance ideas. In summer 2013 Halsway’s Youth Dance Associate, Clare Parker, worked in Taunton primary schools taking country, folk and a little bit of street dance to over 150 children. Here she blogs about one of the sessions…

Halsway May Day Hires-1069We start with an exercise that involves using all the space available: the corners of the room, cutting through the middle, down on the floor, up in the air, making longwise, circle and square formations, working with a partner to gallop or form a right hand star. It  might look like utter chaos to anyone passing but there is a very real and serious purpose to the task  as it tunes in our awareness of the space and of each other. It is structured by the phrases of the music as we change direction or actions on musical cues; it is very inclusive and nobody need feel insecure, worried or exposed because any movement choices are OK and all importantly, it burns off some of the excess energy to bring the children to a place where they can focus.

Halsway May Day Hires-1009The exercise lasts for about 10 minutes and gives me a chance to observe the children and set up expectations for the session by reminding them to keep in their own personal space, be aware of people around them, listen to the music, listen to the instructions, using the whole of their body and their energy. It may also look nothing like folk dance but it contains the core elements and skills needed and helps children tune in to their spatial awareness, sense of rhythm, and to the sheer joy of movement. This is what the children tell me when they sit, all puffed out and very focused as a group, and I ask them what skills they have just been using.

 

Halsway May Day Hires-1080I call out “longwise formation!” and we are there in a matter of seconds, ready to start learning the Cumberland Reel. I want everyone engaged so it isn’t just the top couple but every pair (the children keep correcting my use of the word ‘couple’ which they decidedly disapprove of!) in the set that gets to do right hand and left hand star.  Then it’s the moment they love best – the chance for the top couple to gallop like crazy down the set, spurred on all the way by everyone clapping. Now, this needs a bit of work. We need to keep the energy and exuberance, but refine the movement so that it looks slightly less like a cross between Hussain Bolt and a rugby hacker! It needs quite a bit of work too to remind them to keep listening to the music and make sure they arrive back in time to cast down. Then it’s another favourite moment at the bottom making the arch and pegging it to get back to the top – to start all over again!

Once we have mastered it and each group is ready to perform for the others, I have the luxury of being able to watch the children dancing because 3 of the children take on the role of callers. They bellow instructions enthusiastically and perfectly in time with the music. They come up with their own names for movements : ‘cast’ becomes ‘banana split’, and mysteriously a “stingray!” is featured!

What is clear when watching the children dance is that they are really enjoying themselves and enjoying dancing with each other.  They perform with clarity, focus and a massive sense of energy that is infectious. Their faces show a sense of achievement and as we feedback to each other at the end of the session I am thrilled when one boy asks: ‘Can we carry on? Can we do it again?’ 

See now, see now… A wee selection of hothouse festival photos 2013.

A small selection of images from the day! it was such fun! Apologies (of sorts) to Sam Brookes for catching him unawares towards the end of a long day, mid yawn! Couldn’t help but post it! He worked very hard as some of the other photos will show! Enjoy!

 

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Welcome to Halsway Manor, Somerset

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Welcome to the new Halsway Manor Blog. Halsway Manor is a creative organisation that provides courses, events and activities for everyone interested in traditional folk music, dance and song, storytelling, folklore, arts and crafts. We are located in the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the South West of England.

We are very excited to be able to use this blog to tell you all about the wonderful things that are happening at Halsway, both before and after the events. We would love to hear from you, so please come and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest as soon as they are all up and running – which won’t be very long!  Don’t forget to check out our website http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk too and please feel free to comment on our posts. We look forward to connecting with you!