Annual Gathering at Hope 1994 - Glorious Hope!

Sally Whytehead

The beautiful setting of Hope in Derbyshire was an ideal spot for the largest gathering of Dulcimer players at a Nonsuch Annual weekend to date.

A total of 42 people participated in this year's event, which had a full range of workshops and talks. Quite a few people even took the Saturday afternoon walk up the local peak, for which the weather remained dry and mild.

We made sure that there was a core of technique-based workshops from total beginner to advanced, and with the addition of workshops on Chinese folk tunes, jazz improvisation,
arranging for duets, and even an impromptu workshop on accompanying story telling - to mention just a few - there was also plenty of new material for the most seasoned workshop attendee to get their teeth into.

Roger Frood, Chris Coe and Maclaine Colston did an excellent job on techniques. For instance, Chris Coe put forward her ideas about the silences in the music being as important as the notes. We were given ideas about how to play about with or emphasise the rhythm and how to preserve the tune instead of over-ornamenting it.

Two of the most interesting sessions, from my point of view, were the talks by Mandy Lowe and Xu Pingxin.

Mandy told us about her travels to Minsk, where, financed by the British Council, she spent 3 weeks learning the basics of the Beylorussian Dulcimer or Tysmbaly. Mandy had to take a crash course in Russian in order to communicate with her teacher, Prof. Eugene Gladkov, who teaches in an Academy in Minsk where this is a very popular instrument with a "classical" standing - many different types of music are played on it. Mandy had to brainwash herself into an entirely new technique - the hammers or pelushki are much shorter than ours, and the hold and wrist action are very different. Because the instrument is chromatic, there is much greater use of damping with the hand, and this is built into the hand and wrist action. Plucking is also widely used, and there are several subtlely different ways of doing this.

Pingxin told us about the Chinese Dulcimer or Yangqin, which he demonstrated in a breathtaking way as he is a master of the instrument. The yangqin has only been used in its present chromatic tuning in the last 20 years or so, and is very widely used in Chinese orchestras and operas in China. As in Beylorussia, it is a very popular instrument - in China there are tens of thousands of players, many of whom take professional training. The yangqin has very long, flexible bamboo hammers and again quite a different technique, although closer to ours.

Pingxin topped the bill at the excellent evening concert. A four hour marathon - it started off with a bang when Kathie Drinan and Jenny Smith did an exciting bodhran based number with a little help from an impromptu band, and then the evening just got better and better. The warm friendly atmosphere is something that has become a trademark of these events.

During Pingxin's spot I noticed Maclaine Colston and Jim Couza watching with their eyes popping out of their heads. Jim declared afterwards that he felt like breaking bottles over his hands. Fred Woodley however was quite calm about the performance until the next day, when Pingxin, asked to play in another style, struck up one of Fred's favourites - Memories - with superb interpretation and great feeling. Just as well there weren't any bottles around to break!