What You Say About Hands On Music

Some impressions of Hands On Music Weekends from those who have taken part

Accordions  Concertinas  Fiddles  Winds

This is a message for Dave Townsend.
Just to say a big thank you for organising the Accordions at Witney weekend - I didn't get a chance to fill in a feedback form. However, so far as I was concerned it was a huge success. The concert was great and I thoroughly enjoyed the workshops with David Oliver and Sam Pirt - 2 superb teachers and very inspiring (definitely 2 to invite again!). as usual I came away full of ideas to try over the coming year and thoroughly refreshed by such an absorbing and enjoyable weekend. The formula is perfect! Please do keep on organising them - it's so worthwhile for us.
Thanks Dave
best wishes
Mary Esslemont

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Concertinas At Witney 2009
Hi Dave
Just a little message to say how much I enjoyed the wekend. The people were very friendly - it's strange, but I've never yet met a concertina player I didn't like! Organisation excellent, tutors very good. All in all, a very pleasant way to spend the weekend. Even had good weather.
many thanks.

I very
much enjoyed Concertinas at Witney which took place on 23rd and 24th September 2000 and I would definitely go again.
You sign up for two 'classes', one on Saturday and one on Sunday. I signed up for Chords and Keys for the Anglo with Brian Peters and Playing for Fun and Dancing with Dave Townsend. Brian's playing style was more from the John Kirkpatrick than the Noel Hill school of playing, and he gave a stunning rendition of The Entertainer (among other things) during the tutors' concert (you would never have suspected he was playing that "limited", "diatonic" instrument the anglo!). Dave Townsend shared a wealth of information about learning tunes, recognising their structures, and playing with other people and in sessions. I am more drawn to that "English" style of anglo playing, but with hindsight I don't think either of the courses I chose were right for me as, although I am a relative beginner concertina player (18 months or so), I am a pretty experienced amateur musician in other fields and the material covered in both of them was stuff I am familiar with from my other musical experiences. Other courses included Playing Irish Anglo, Making the Tune Your Own, The Secret Life of Hornpipes, Song Accompaniment, Concertina Band/Playing in Parts, Duet Concertinas (I'm not sure I've remembered them all).
On the Saturday night all the tutors played in a concert. They are all excellent musicians and it was truly delightful to hear such a wide variety of music played on the concertina - from Joplin on an Anglo to Bartok on an English, via Blue Moon on a Duet and, of course, some splendid jigs, reels etc. The concert was very entertainingly run to time by Dave Townsend to allow us all to dash to the pub, and the tutors all kindly agreed to allow private recording so I have a memento of the evening.
Colin and Rosalie Dipper ran a first aid point for concertinas throughout the weekend, and were very generous with advice and help, and on the second day there was a trade exhibition with stalls manned by Barleycorn, Marcus Bros., Hobgoblin and Accordions of London (and others). CDs of tutors and other players were available for sale throughout the weekend.
The weekend really starts the night before, however, when in a couple of pre-identified pubs 'sessions' take place. After checking into my hotel I took my concertina and headed off to one. Coming from the concertina desert that is Moscow I found it wonderful to walk into a pub and find about thirty concertina players chatting, playing, drinking! Everyone was very friendly and welcoming and I found that I could pick up a phrase or two in the tunes that were being played by the second (or third) time through which, for me, was good experience. Unfortunately when I plucked up the courage to throw a tune into the ring no-one else knew it (another consequence of being self-taught in a concertina desert!) but I wasn't left floundering on my own for too long, as a couple of people picked it up quickly enough and helped me out!
The price of Witney covers only the musical bits, so accommodation and food (apart from coffee and tea in the breaks) is additional, approximately doubling the cost. You are sent a very long list of accommodation but it would have been helpful if these had been graded as to distance from the school where the event itself is held (especially for those who do not have a street map of Witney handy!). Click here for map of Witney
See you there next year?
Samantha Boorer

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Fiddles 2008

The fiddle weekend at the beginning of Feb was excellent!
Best regards, Ros

Absolutely amazing weekend. Was in Chris Haig's and then Pete Cooper's workshops. Must say that I got so much out of the two days. Hope I can keep up the momentum.
Big thanks
Helen Booth

Witney 2000 write-up
As tradition dictates, the weekend was started on the Friday night with a superb session at the Court Inn. Irish, Scottish, Cape Bretton, Eastern European, English, Bluegrass and French music blended into a brilliant sound, and with everybody improving year on year we shall soon have to charge the locals an entry fee!
The presence of the tutors, lead by Dave Townsend and Pete Cooper, meant that there was always a great tune being played as the evening progressed.
It was also great to see Mairi Campbell, who was unable to tutor at last years Fiddles at Dorchester, but was able to survive Mr. Branson's train service and get here almost on time!
Bright and early on Saturday morning I was part of the stewarding team rushing round putting up parking signs and making sure the toilets existed! As the first people arrived to register for the course, the atmosphere from the night before quickly began to build. As the tutors were introduced one by one, everybody began to get that incurable finger twitching associated with fiddlers wanting learn new tunes and styles. Stampedes of eager fiddlers rushed to the various classrooms of the Henry Box School, and were ready and starting to learn in record time!
I attended Chris Bartram's extremely informative and interesting workshop on the Decoration and style in English fiddle music. Some great new tunes were explored and used to show how various ornamentation and bowing styles were used by fiddlers of past generations. Several old favorite tunes were also given new life with energetic bowing and new ornamentation.
The coffee break gave everybody a chance to recharge their batteries and wonder how seriously the piggy-bank should be raided in order to buy some of the great selection of CD's available from the Honest Jo Records stall.
Another highly enjoyable and informative workshop and then lunch, plus some time to do some homework, and work on the tunes and ideas that had been covered so far.
After the final workshop of the day, it was time for the tutor's concert. And what a brilliant concert it was! Each of the tutors proved their virtuosity and supremacy of the fiddle. The atmosphere was absolutely electric as the audience hung on every subtle nuance and phrase of each of the tutor's playing. The concert ended superbly, with just enough time to get last orders at the bar!
Sunday morning, after a small ly-in, everybody was refreshed and ready to learn more tunes and styles as they arrived early to check out the great deals in the Sunday trade fair held in the main hall. Some where after a new block of rosin or a set of strings, while others wanted to buy the fiddle of their dreams.
With the morning workshops completed and a hot lunch consumed, it was time to for everybody to play in the showcase concert. Each of the separate groups that attended the various workshops got to show everybody else their new tunes and styles. Yet again, I found myself wishing that the weekend included eight days, so that I could have attended all the workshops!
As with the night before, the hall was host to a tour of the world of fiddle music as we hopped from England to Ireland to America to Cape Bretton, Scotland, and to Eastern Europe via Egypt!
In short a brilliant weekend was had by all. The relaxed yet informative atmosphere of the Henry Box School again worked perfectly for this wonderful event.
And don't forget, that if you, like me, wished they could have learnt even more, then Strings and Bows at Witney is in February, when we fiddle players get the treat of playing with cellos and basses for a much fuller sound. . . yippee!
John Dipper

Fiddles At Witney, 7th Oct. 2000
Which is more nerve-racking: playing a serious concert to several thousand people in a major concert hall with your name (or at least your band's name) in big letters on the poster, or doing a twenty minute spot in a school hall, to an audience of 60, amongst eight other equally talented and respected performers? To judge from the demeanour of several of the participants in last Saturday's fiddle concert at the Henry Box School in Witney, the second option is the more difficult. Introductions were either blurted out briefly, or else were long, rambling and full of pauses. Microphones were moved to and fro, up and down, and even struck by wayward bows. One player hurried off the stage at the end of her set without waiting to acknowledge the applause. It was very strange since even the youngest are seasoned artists well used to playing before more hostile audiences than the knowledgeable and friendly people gathered that evening. Perhaps it is the thought of playing to people who are intently interested in what you are playing, hoping to learn from every detail and inflection? Perhaps it is simply that playing to people whom you know is more difficult than playing to strangers?
It sounds as though I was disappointed by the concert, doesn't it? I wasn't. It was one of the most enjoyable I have ever been to. The standard of playing, the musicallity, the variety of material, and the warm, inspired personalities of the performers combined to make a memorable evening. But I have to get two more gripes out of the way before I can concentrate on the performances. The concert took place on a temporary platform in front of the main stage, which brought the performers closer to the audience, and meant we didn't have to crane our necks too much to see them. However, every tap of a foot or shuffle of a chair was exaggerated by the stage floor then amplified by the microphones, through their stands, in a most intrusive fashion. Which brings me to the vexed subject of amplification. Several times, I thought the amplified sound too harsh and, in such a lively acoustic, too boomy. Undoubtedly the sound operator was making the best of difficult circumstances, but given the trouble everyone had with the microphones, and the questionable benefits for the audience, I might be inclined to do without amplification another time.
So lets talk about the performances. First came Dave Townsend, guiding light of Hands On Music Weekends. Of his two numbers, I would pick out his illustration of how a morris tune should be played, returning The Orange in Bloom to its correct 6/8 rhythm, even if his tempo was, to my mind, a little brisk for dancing.
Pete Cooper showed his great versatility by singing American and English songs whilst accompanying himself on first fiddle then viola, playing a set of his own tunes, each with devious rhythms, playing a piece of Hungarian funeral music on the viola (a Chinese-made instrument with a rich, velvety tone - "the best eleven pounds I ever spent"), and finishing with a duet with John Dipper, which matched some 3/2 hornpipes from North-west England with a Bulgarian piece. A particular feature of Pete's set was the contrast between the Western tunes, made up largely from multiples of 8-bar phrases and in fairly simple, regular time-signatures, and the Eastern ones, which are far more complex, rhythmically, and are composed of longer, freer phrases.
Chris Bartram's playing of English fiddle music is lively without being too quick, and wonderfully idiosyncratic. He says he learnt his style from chatting up old men in pubs and getting them to play for him, and this has the ring of truth. It is a shame that his introductions were the least informative of the evening. Chris's party piece was the tune he played on his "hump & scrump", a home-made instrument with three strings, fiddle-style headstock, neck, bridge and tail-piece, built up around a small loaf-tin! The sound was very quiet, thin and scratchy. The effect was spooky, a bit like an early cylinder recording of a fiddle.
I have heard each of the fiddlers mentioned so far before, in some cases many times. The first real surprise of the evening, for me, was Liz Doherty. I was most impressed. She played a dazzling set of Irish & Cape Bretton tunes. Her sound is very distinctive, but I struggle to explain quite what it is. She doesn't dazzle with shear speed, in the way that, say, Chris Sherburn does. She plays with great attack, so that every grace note and trill is clear and distinct. Also, she works in plenty of variations in the tunes, each statement of the phrases being slightly different from the last. She is also quite unassuming and nervous on stage - it was Liz that forgot to take a bow.
The second half opened with a duet from John Dipper & Laurel Swift, in which they followed a simple jig with two interweaved waltzes, the different tunes complementing each other and creating a facinating texture. These two young players are followers of the current sensitive school of English playing, taking their cue from the likes of Chris Wood, Andy Cutting and Tim Van Eycken. They show great promise - all power to their elbows!
Giles Lewin is such a confident, effortless player. I felt that every note he played was exactly what he intended. This is the ideal qualification for the material he presented: three tunes from Greek, Klezma & Egyptian traditions, incorporating some distinctive and, to me, unfamiliar scales, slides and quarter tones, most notably in the Egyptian piece. If only he had stood one pace further back from the microphone to avoid hitting it with his bow.
I have always thought of bluegrass music as being quintessentially American: fast, flashy and ultimately rather tiresome. Bob Winquist (accompanied by Pete Cooper on mandolin and fiddle) obviously doesn't share my view of the genre. His playing was modest, subtle, even restrained. The first piece he played sounded rather like a Scots tune to me, with just a little syncopation and a couple of extra accidentals. I thought the highlight of his set was the piece he played on a D-tuned fidde (DDAD) - is it a viola string on the bottom?
Even if the only person I had heard on Saturday had been Mairi Campbell, my journey would have been well worth while. She was simply stunning. She started with a set of half a dozen tunes, progressing from a slow air, through strathspeys to reels. The progression from one tune to the next and from one rhythm to the next was perfectly judged. Her playing was smooth, assured and beautifully phrased. Then she sang a song, The Piper And The Maker, written with her husband. What an exquisite voice, and what superb song-writing? Seriously, if you have the chance to hear her, or one of the groups she plays in (The Cast, The Occasionals or Bella McNab's Dance Band) I recommend that you take it. How could she top that song? By playing a duet with Liz Doherty, of course. These two too modest, brilliant fiddlers blew the audience away and left them calling for more. A great finish to a memorable concert.
Mark Fry

Dear Dave,
What a great weekend you and your crowd provided in Whitney! Iíve been to several Fiddles at Whitney over the past several years and I think this was the best of them all.
I did classes with Stewart Hardy (what a find he is!!) and Bruce McGregor (extraordinary, as always) and came away with great tunes and lots to work on over the next couple of months, which was just what I wanted. Iíve been playing their two CDs ever since I got back home. Their instruction was excellent as were their performances at the concert on Saturday evening, which was also one of the best Iíve seen at Whitney. All of the instructors were gifted teachers as well as wonderful performers, and it showed! The Marlborough Hotel also seemed to offer some special rates for the weekend, which was a welcome change from past years and made the weekend much more affordable.
So, thanks for all the effort you put in to making the weekend such a success. It was great.
Looking forward to next year already.
Kind regards.
Holly Norton

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Hi,
I've just realised that it's a whole week since the Winds at Witney course and really wanted to put on record just how much I enjoyed the whole experience.
The organisation was smooth and unhurried and the tutors (in my case Gordon and Dave) quite outstanding, both musically and in their ability to enable us to achieve what we didn't think we could, or at least to leave at the end of the weekend infected with some of their enthusiasm/love for their music!
The concert on Saturday evening was also just such a good event! Everyone relaxed and out to enjoy an evening of variety and delight. Sorry, I'm waxing far too lyrical...
Just thanks again, and please keep me in touch with the next opportunity to get that buzz which goes on for weeks after!
Mel Leggett

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