Review of Cuffern Manor Fiddle Weekend November 2014.with thanks to Caroline Yeates for this review.
Imagine a weekend in an 18th century manor house set in spacious grounds within minutes of the Pembrokeshire coast. Imagine good food , log fires and inspirational music making. This was the experience of a dozen or so lucky fiddlers of varying levels of skill, experience and confidence who booked for this weekend hosted by Julian Rutter, himself an experienced folk fiddler, and his wife Jane at their lovely welcoming home last November. Tutors were Mairi Campbell ,leader of the Lismore Fiddle Retreats, performer,,composer,songwriter and teacher,and
Angharad Jenkins from “ up the road” in Swansea,fiddler with Welsh multi instrumental group Calan and fiddle/harp duo DnA.Participants were largely fairly local but some had come from Cornwall and Devon. This mix of “ Home and Away” was to be a theme for the weekend. Arrived and settled in on Friday evening we spent time with Angharad getting to know each other and learning traditional Welsh tune “Marwnad yr Ehedydd” ( The Death of the Lark) in the comfortable sitting room. After supper and Mairi’s arrival after an epic journey from Scotland we piled into cars and set off by winding and precipitous roads for the seaside village of Littlehaven for a superb concert ( included in the course ticket) by fiddle, guitar and banjo virtuoso Bruce Molsky in the village hall. Inspired, we made an early start the next morning, initially dividing into two groups, some with Angharad to learn tunes ,some with Mairi for a more improvisational session using movement, singing and playing exercises to free up inhibitions and really look at making sounds. “ Home and away” was the concept of a starting rhythmic or melodic phrase, or just a note or a sound as “Home” and then improvisation round and “Away” from this, always able to come “Home”.We worked in pairs and as a group, watching, listening and mirroring each other. We learned and experimented with songs- Mairi’s own “ The Big Man’s Moving On” and the Scottish “Green Grow the Rushes –Oh” and “The Slaves’ Lament”. So many new concepts to assimilate- this was helped by a walk that afternoon on the wide sands of spectacular Newgale beach. After supper we came together as a group and played and swapped tunes. The next day we decided to join as one group and this was when the magic really started to happen as everybody joined in with more improvisation and the increased confidence of even the least self assured was amazing. We learnt Angharad’s tune “Stranded on Lismore” inspired by her experience at a Lismore retreat when the ferry was unable to leave. A lovely tune which is on Soundcloud and which made us all want to be stranded on Lismore.We also learned some bowing techniques and also “ left hand leading” using finguring rather than bowing to add space and drive. By the afternoon we were very relaxed about our informal performance for a few friends and we played and sang tunes and ended with an improvisation which seemed to spontaneously capture all the elements of the weekend as in the midst of it “ Marwnad yr Ehedydd” just seemed to arrive, full circle back to the first evening. We gained so much from this weekend ,so much more than just a few tunes learned, a different way of approaching music making. And the good news is-another weekend is planned for November 2015. Wherever you are as a fiddler, go – you will go home with so much. www.cuffernmanor.co.uk www.mairicampbell.co.uk