This course at The Friars was earlier than in previous years, which gave us the benefit of good weather and lighter evenings, although it meant that a few people were unable to come because it was at the end of the holidays, and just before the start of the school term.
This year for the first time we booked the conference centre for the Friday afternoon, and Lynne Watkins organised some playing for those who arrived early—Lynne’s session was based around chords and playing by ear, which was a good introduction to the rest of the weekend, since the tutors for the three adult groups all taught by ear.
Everyone gradually arrived during the afternoon and early evening, and following supper, the weekend started in earnest with an amazing concert by Diego Laverde on the ‘arpa llanera’, in the chapel, after which those of us who were not yet tired after the journey adjoined to the conference centre to look at the music from Pilgrim Harps, and to meet up with friends. From then on the pace was intense.
We had made some changes in the timetable from the previous year, in favour of longer teaching sessions rather than the ensemble session and masterclass which we have had before, and we also included the branch AGM at this weekend for the first time.
One of the newcomers to the course, and a beginner on the harp, was Nicole from Normandy, who was very brave to come along, since she did not speak much English. But by sheer coincidence, it turned out that all the others in her group spoke French—so for the rest of the weekend that group became the ’French group’.
As on the previous course, we had four groups in all—three adult groups and the under-14’s class—but this time, while our three tutors Diego Laverde, Grainne Hambly, and Wendy Stewart, taught each of the adult groups in turn, the under-14’s class had their own tutor throughout the weekend, Mike Parker, who kept the class of seven students enthralled and focussed and wanting more.
Two of the participants in this class, Imogen Ridge and Olivia McCabe, had been given bursaries towards the cost of the course, which was an innovation for this year’s course but something which we intend to continue in future years.
There was a good mix of those who had been on the course before, some for a number of years, and others who had never been before.
Among those who had come for the first time were, in the under 14’s group, the two Imogens (Imogen Ridge and Imogen Lees), Rebecca Toal, and Jane Miller—Jane came the year before to sit in on some of the classes and try a harp, but this was the first year she had come for the whole course; and in the adult groups, newcomers were Jenny Harrison, Mary Barclay, Caroline Merz, Graham Alsop, Nicole Bailleul, and Ann Lindsey, who had come for the first time for a number of years.
In the grounds of The Friars is a pottery, and one or two of the non-players took advantage of the pottery day course that took place on the Saturday, while the rest of us worked hard at the harp.
There were however respites from playing (for the participants at least), as we asked each of the tutors to give a short recital during the weekend. Grainne and Wendy played after lunch and after supper on the Saturday, and both recitals, although very different, were a delight to listen to.
Another break in the classes, and very welcome and informative, was Mike Parker’s talk on harp maintenance—how to look after your harp; what not to do; and what essential equipment to carry with you.
The ceilidh on the Saturday evening started rather late for some of the younger participants, because we had so much to fit in during the day—this year the timetable will be changed to allow an earlier start !
The first part of the evening began with performances by Imogen, Olivia, Mary, Jamie, and others, plus some unexpected, but very enjoyable extras—Nicky Browne and Grainne Hambly on the tin whistle, and the trio of uilleann pipes (Nicky), fiddle (Fran), and clarsach (Mike).
Later on the ceilidh Wendy, and then Mike, got us dancing, to an impromptu ceilidh band formed of Wendy (electro-harp), Mike (clarsach) and Fran and Lynne on fiddles.
It was probably a good idea to have a later start on the Sunday in view of the finish time of the ceilidh !
Many people helped to make the weekend a success, including Pilgrim Harps, and Holywell Music, who both loaned harps for the tutors. John Hoare from Pilgrim Harps also brought a stock of music for everyone to browse through and buy.
Patty O’Neill very generously donated prizes for the raffle, including a beautiful pottery bowl from Normandy, and also brought us wine and cheese.
Mike Parker, Lucy Mason, and Linda Hodgson gave lifts to Wendy and Grainne from and to the airports. Christine Weaver and Lynne Watkins competently ran the first part of the ceilidh.
And especial thanks go to all four of the tutors for their inspirational teaching and playing.