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.
Having 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.
With 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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