Blowout 2010 – a hurdy-gurdy player's view

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As always, I was looking forward to the Blowout, knowing that it would be a great weekend, filled with music, dancing and good company, this year extending into the Monday as it was over the Bank Holiday weekend. This would be an extra special weekend for my friend Michael Opp (pictured far right), who had planned his trip to England, (to collect his brand new hurdy-gurdy from Mike Gilpin), to include the Blowout weekend. I met Michael at the Over the Water Hurdy-Gurdy Festival in Seattle in 2008, when he came along hoping to have his first go on a hurdy-gurdy. He left the festival the proud owner of a gurdy made by Cali and Alden Hackmann. Having worked hard at his playing, he decided that he should now have a more traditional instrument, and duly ordered one from Mike Gilpin, who lives quite near us in Cambridgeshire (Mike taught at OTW in 2008 and 2009). This was Michael’s first trip outside North America, so a big adventure for him. He is a big fan of Blowzabella (and loves French dancing too), so was absolutely delighted when I told him that Cliff Stapleton would be running the gurdy workshops at the Blowout. We arrived at Polesworth and pitched the tents before heading over to the community hall to check people in for dinner. The after-dinner competition was hilarious! I’m sure that John Cage would be delighted that so many people chose to play his well-known composition… And then the session began. I’m not sure what time the session finished, but it was in full swing when I headed off to my tent. Saturday morning arrived and we were soon breakfasted and ready for the first workshop, which took place in the refectory. All too often workshop leaders try to squeeze too much into a short time, leaving all the participants (except, perhaps, the best players), gasping for breath and feeling swamped. Thankfully, this was not the case with Cliff. He had supplied music in advance, for just one tune, Spider. On the face of it, this is a fairly simple tune, but presents a number of technical problems for the gurdy player, mainly to do with the fingering. During the first workshop we worked on just the first part of the tune, playing the melody over and over until we were all happy with the fingering. The tune is in two parts, in G minor and C minor, which meant that it could be played on both G and D instruments. The time flew past and very soon it was the end of the first of Cliff’s classes. After lunch we returned to the refectory for the next instalment. Again, Cliff worked steadily, this time concentrating on the second part of the tune (in both keys), until we were all confident that we could play the whole tune reasonably well, at first just the G, then just the D instruments, and finally all of us together playing in harmony. What a lovely sound we made! Up to this point we had not even looked at the trompetting side of the tune - that was to be saved until the following day. Cliff ran a further two workshops on Sunday afternoon during which we worked on the trompetting, looking at possible variations and decorations to both the tune and the rhythm. By the end of the final class we were all able to play the tune confidently, and most managed the trompetting as well. I certainly felt that I had gained a huge amount from Cliff’s workshops and I think the other participants felt the same. Nice one, Cliff! And as for Michael… well, he’s hoping to be able to come back to England and says that he would love to come to the Blowout again.

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