Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back Home from the Near East

It was great to get away for two weeks to the eastern reaches of our fair land. Cape Breton was fantastic. It was much like visiting Scotland (I’m told) as it rained nearly all day, every day for the entire week we were at the college. Not that it mattered much as we were up by 7am and rolling off to eat and attend our 6 classes.

So what did I learn this year? Each morning I spent entirely in the weaving and spinning shed with Marie MacDonald learning how to use natural dyes and spinning a variety of fibres I’ve never used before. We dyed with brazil wood, sandal wood, madder, and cochineal (which is made out of bugs, I’m not kidding). I spun mohair, wool, and silk. I can really see the fibre addiction beginning now folks. Look out!
Being in the Weaving and Spinning building was really nice because when you work with your hands, you really have the ability to use your ears and your mouth at the same time. So I heard stories of the other students who had spent time in other countries and in the far north, were coping from the affects of car accidents and house fires and family break-ups. It really made me pine for the company of women as we had the binding agent of the love of the college and the crafts to loosely tie such diverse and interesting people together while achieving the goals of learning something new. I can really see the merit in our guilds and knitting circles and quilting clubs, etc. The Weaving cabin has a sense of steeped quietness and secrets and it lends itself to sharing.

The afternoons were much more intense. Right after lunch was piano accompaniment. Kolten MacDonell was refreshing and fun. He taught us some really good rules of which chords were used most often and when we should try something different and he gave us some patterns to use for the different rhythms for jigs, reels and strathspeys. I got so much out of this year’s class.

Michelle Stewart (bottom left of the picture) absolutely blew my head off in her bodhran classes. Truly advance drum teaching was wonderful. Not only did I learn new rhythms to use, but she opened my eyes about using sound dynamics and different pitches to effect and I watcher her very carefully to see how she held the tipper and I’ve tried to emulate her economy of movement! This class was worth the trip alone!
Dance class fell at the end of the day. Jean MacNeil, mother of the Barra MacNeils, was just a real treat. Not only can this woman cut a rug, she’s a great teacher who is more than willing to use cool down time (and plenty of it) to tell us stories about being the mother of 6 and what it was like growing up in Washbuck. It doesn’t sound like much on the page, but let me tell you, she had us crying with her stories. And the dance steps were a review of all the ones we learned last year (which none of us had used since then). To my credit though, I continued with this idea of an economy of movement and didn’t end up wrecking my body in class or at the dances we went to.On Thursday night after the student ceilidh, a bunch of us packed into cars and headed off into the wilds of the night to find Glencoe Station and the dance hall. Mark was kind enough to encourage everyone to go and provided us with a map.

The dance was not well attended, but that actually meant there was lots of room on the dance floor and I did see some people who I had met at the dances last year. Quite obviously they go all the time all, year round. Beats going to the gym by a long shot.

On Friday, we packed up our things after our classes and headed off into the next leg of our trip. Mabou and the dances. Which I’ll tell you about next time.