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Pipe & Tabor for Beginners – Workshop – Andy Richards

Review of the online workshop – Pipe & Tabor for Beginners, given by Andy Richards and Stephen Rowley of the Taborers Society on 20th March 2021.  The video recording of the workshop is at (2 hours)

Mary Yates writes:

“This was the second of two workshops for the Morris Federation by Andy Richards and Stephen Rowley of the Taborer’s Society. The first one on 6th March described the history of the pipe and tabor and was reviewed on the Morris Federation website in the News section by Dave Milner.

“Attendance at the first workshop was not a pre-requisite for this one, which taught us how to hold the pipe and the tabor and how to play a simple tune.

“Possession of an instrument was fundamental to getting the best out of this workshop and for anyone wanting to buy a basic 3-hole tabor pipe they are available for £9.95 from the Taborer’s Society. (buying-a-tabor-pipe/). Hobgoblin and the Early Music Shop also have them online.

Pipe and Tabor Andy Richards 2021“From a distance the tabor pipe looks a bit like a whistle. When you get nearer it’s obvious that it’s very different. It has far fewer holes! And when you first blow it is disconcerting to discover that it only appears to play 4 notes. The secret is to overblow to get the higher registers and it is then possible to produce a full octave and a half. There are instructional videos on YouTube and an active community of Taborers for those who would like to explore further.

“I have owned a Tabor pipe (and a Tabor) for many years but have always been mystified by the overblowing required to produce the notes so the opportunity to have a real ‘lesson’ with Andy Richards was invaluable. The pipe and tabor are, in fact, inseparable and this was emphasised in the workshop.  The playing style and technique have been researched by Stephen Rowley and the style employed by Russell Wortley of Cambridge Morris and the Travelling Morris was especially popular with dancers as it emphasised the synchrony and synergy of the beat of the tabor to coincide with the footfall of the dancer/s. Especially when accompanying a single dancer, for instance in the performance of a jig, it is possible for the musician to observe and follow the dancer very closely. Even when playing for a larger set of dancers the musicians should closely follow the leader or the best dancer. Morris music involves much more than just playing tunes!

“To enable us to understand the rhythm of the dance and be able to beat the tabor to the footfall we learnt to dance a ‘foot up’ and then played the rhythm on the tabor, having been shown how to hold the stick loosely but with the flexibility to ‘wiggle’ it. Putting a rubber band on the balance point of the stick is helpful. We practised the beat using the centre of the tabor and the side, which gives a different sound, and tried doing this and stepping at the same time. This was a challenge and requires more practice!  We practised beating to a video of an excellent jig dancer incorporating jumps and fitting the beat to the time he spent in the air. There were also suggestions about attaching the tabor whilst playing the pipe. There are many different types of tabor and as many different ways of attaching them it seems!

“Having supposedly mastered the tabor it was time to pick up the pipe. Whilst the tune is important it was emphasised that it is the dancer who leads the process, followed by the tabor, and the tune is actually the least important element. The rhythm is everything!

“So we were shown how to hold the pipe, how to overblow, breathe from the diaphragm and tongue the notes to give the articulation. We learnt the music for the ‘Shepherd’s Hey’, demonstrated clearly though I think I need a lot more time to practice to be able to play at the speed Andy worked up to. There was not time in such a short workshop to consolidate the learning but it was good to have it broken down into sections to see how it should be done, and how to fit the parts of the tune (A, B and C sections) to the figures in the dance. Familiarity with the dance is vital for the musician to be able to do this and contrast with stronger beats to emphasise particular jumps and arm movements and softer beats for other movements.

“The Taborer’s Society have another free workshop on 4th April when taboring techniques will be applied to another Bucknall jig and the society have links to a repertoire of tunes and instructional videos.

“To summarise:

  • The pipe and tabor are inseparable and are regarded as one instrument.
  • The rhythm of the music, whether provided by a tabor or another instrument such as a melodeon, is fundamental and even more important than the notes of the tune. The musician must observe the dancer/s closely and play to the footfall, taking account of slows, leaps and stepping patterns.
  • Ideas to practice – watch a good video (the Jig Competition at Sidmouth is a good start), turn off the music and learn to tabor to the movements. Only then introduce the tune!
  • Players of the pipe and tabor are noted to be in decline. Hopefully they will be on the increase after today. The enthusiasm of the tutor is infectious and he clearly takes great enjoyment in communicating his skill. The workshop was great fun, really informative and I can highly recommend the recording to anyone who fancies having a go at these instruments which have such a long and illustrious history.

“Whether you take further the idea of playing the pipe and tabor for morris this workshop had lots of good advice for all morris musicians, whatever their instrument. I thoroughly enjoyed it, learnt loads and thank the Morris Federation and the Taborers Society for arranging this series of workshops in lockdown.

review by Mary Yates, a member of Silkstone Greens North West Morris from Dodworth near Barnsley, South Yorkshire

Donations from participants raised money for Bowel Cancer UK:

The video recording of the workshop is at (2 hours)

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