The International Guild of Town Pipers, “Music of the Waits”

30 April – 2 May 2011 at Fingringhoe Primary School, near Colchester.

This three-day workshop was presented by The International Guild of Town Pipers and expertly tutored by Keith McGowan, Adrian Woodward and David Corkhill.



The promotional page promised us:
The International Guild of Town Pipers presents three days of music making for players of shawms, sackbutts, cornetti, lysards, curtals and percussion covering material from the repertoire of the 15th – 17th Century Waits bands. Each day’s activities will be split between tutti sessions, technical sessions with instrument-specific tutors and smaller consort sessions, with a chance to perform to each other at the end of the course.

The weekend was organised by The International Guild of Town Pipers (IGTP) with Lizzie Gutteridge taking a leading role.

We turned up on Saturday morning in the bright sunshine at the primary school at Fingringhoe near Colchester. Although the village seems remote – and it is near Mersea (surely a tautology here?) – it is in a very picturesque area. The fine village church with its flints and bands of black and white decoration on the tower is next door, and the village pub is close by.

First up – after the gathering and the nervy introductions – was the introduction to the three tutors for the weekend. Keith McGowan, Adrian ‘Woody’ Woodward and David Corkhill – all have fine pedigrees as musicians and workshop leaders. We were in very capable hands and in exalted company!

The assembled company displayed a good array of instruments – with many shawms on show alongside sackbutts, curtals, crumhorns, lysard, cornetti, hurdy gurdy, bagpipes and drums. The range of experience was similarly broad. It was a mark of the weekend that the tutors successfully managed to include all the musicians in the pieces regardless of their stage of development with their instrument.

We had three days of music ahead of us. The programme was soon sensibly curtailed so that we ended at 7pm rather than later. This meant that we all had a bit of time in the evening to recover for the next day and to explore the local sights.

Each of the three days followed a similar format. Keith started us off with a round – Sanctus. For the first day we sang it. We were encouraged to join in with our instruments once we had learned the tune. Despite fears to the contrary and the evidence on the ground, we managed to play the piece successfully as a round on the last morning.

With the range of shawms, brass and percussion in the ensemble, the second session on each day was given over to music appropriate to the instrument. In the shawms group we played some fine polyphonic pieces which called for an ability to sight read and to count. Keith interspersed this with some helpful guidance on articulation and dynamics for shawms. The other groups covered similar ground.

After lunch there was the chance to shape the music in consorts, and various combinations emerged. Some people had brought music with them and others were happy to share the pieces on offer. The aim was to explore playing in small groups and eventually to produce something for the final afternoon’s concert.

Keith decided that the last session each day should be given over to some fun. For this session we came back together. We worked on some arrangements of Praetorius’ Le Ballet des trois aages and also a fast rendition of Millison’s Jig – this included us all dancing during one of the percussion riffs!

On the last afternoon was the chance to hear what the small consorts had played. These were various – from an all shawm band to one featuring shawms, bagpipes and hurdy gurdy to a band with viol, curtal, sackbutt and voice. It was a great concert that featured the wonderful talents of the workshop participants.

One final blast through the Praetorius and Millison’s Jig – including the dancing – and then it was time to go home!

Was it a success? Well, Lizzie had put on a fine weekend at the school which offered us several discrete rooms to play in as well as a room to make coffee and chill out. I should not forget her fine cakes too! The tutors achieved a great balance of stretching and supporting us all. We played and heard some wonderful music, and the weekend covered all the things promised beforehand. So, yes it was a great success. Thanks to everyone who made it so!

Peter Barnard
de Mowbray’s Musicke