Pipers return to the minstrel's court, Chester

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A couple of years ago I wrote about the revival of the Minstrels’ Court in Chester, a tra- dition where all the entertainers of the county would gather at Midsummer to obtain their licences in memory of the day when the musicians stormed a Welsh castle and saved the Earl of Chester. We’ve managed to keep the annual gathering happening and it goes from strength to strength. As this year’s event had a lot more bagpiping involved I thought I should write a little update.

In the lead up to the event I had arranged two days of workshops in a local school working with 5 classes to explore the Minstrels’ Court tradition through storytelling, roleplay, music and dance and also give a chance to introduce them to some of the in- struments known in medieval Cheshire, especially bagpipes. It was really rewarding to overhear some of the 10 year-old lads chatting in the playground as I packed things into the car at the end of the second day. One said, “There’s that bagpipe man.” Another replied, “Bagpipes are pretty cool actually.” “Yeah, they’re awesome” they agreed.

Then came the event itself, which we are lucky to hold in its original and authen- tic location of the church of St John the Baptist in Chester. The day comprises of per- formances of music, storytelling and mummers’ plays with the chance for visitors to have a try for themselves. This year I had arranged to run a few beginners’ bagpipe workshops during the day and was very grateful to Ian Clabburn for the loan of four sets of G pipes for this purpose. The workshops were a great success, with everyone manag- ing to get drone and chanter sounding evenly and some managing to play simple tunes. Perhaps a greater measure of the success of this is that at least two of the participants are now looking to order their own sets of pipes.

Another new addition to the pro-

gramme this year was to have a procession of minstrels through the streets of Chester along part of the origi- nal route used in me- dieval times. We’d chosen to play a me- dieval pilgrim’s pro- cessional tune – Dum Pater Familias – for the duration of the parade, which gave plenty of time to really get ourselves into a hypnotic trance state with the music. This experience was a real highlight for me, especially the change in sounds echoing back to us as we moved between different settings, from busy streets to within the Roman amphitheatre and then most strikingly from outdoors to inside the church. After processing through the church to the high altar, all minstrels then received their licences to perform.

We took a photo opportunity to recreate a record of an early 15th century payment “to 2 Pypers on Midsomer Eve before the Gyants 00- 02-00” although we had several more musicians this time so the two shillings didn’t go very far between us.

The afternoon continued with much shared music and dancing thanks to the many musicians who had travelled from far and wide to take part in the event. Next year promises to be bigger and better, with even more bagpiping.

The date has now been set - Saturday 16th June 2012 - do come along and join in the fun.

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