by Penny Chowning.
Every spring and fall there is a wonderful musical happening near Ellsworth, Maine – the Maine Pipes and Fiddle weekend. Bud Clamatoson and Ellen MacPhee from Prince Edward Island come down from Canada to teach the PEI way of fiddling and piping.
So let me take you back to the most recent MP&F weekend, November 2010. After settling into my hotel in Ellsworth, I got into my car and drove towards Blue Hill, Maine. Passing through the village, I took Maine Route 175 south a short way past the Reversing Falls Bridge. There in the darkness of the Maine evening I found the warm glow of lights from the local Grange Hall. I had arrived at the evening’s concert being performed by Ellen MacPhee, Bud Clamatoson, Timothy Cummings of Vermont and Koady Chaisson, also from Prince Edward Island, the instructors for the weekend.
Inside I could hear the sound of instruments being tuned, stage props being set up, amplifiers and recording devices being positioned, and most importantly, the sound of friends greeting friends and strangers becoming friends. Soon after joining them, the magical hour arrived and we all had to take our seats. Two hours of fantastic music and dancing (they taught us a PEI square set) began and was over way too quickly. I went back to my hotel to get rested up in anticipation of the next day’s happening.
In the morning, participants and instructors met at a local elementary school and classes began. Bud took on the fiddlers and judging by the smiles on their faces, a good time was being had. Ellen and Tim split the smallpipers into two groups (beginner-intermediate and intermediate-advanced) and started teaching tunes. I put myself in the beginner-intermediate class. I am an experienced piper, but these classes are taught by ear without sheet music (Ellen gets a chuckle out of the fact that here in the States we refer to sheet music as “the dots”) and I am slow at this method of learning.
In the morning class with Ellen, we learned a lovely little march called “Fifty Years of Bliss” and then got into a big discussion on music theory and how to pick tunes to make a set.
After lunch break, the pipers swapped instructors and I was then in class with Timothy Cummings. We continued our exploration of pipe music and talked about the different keys pipes can play in. Tim suggested that we could use key changes and time signature changes to make our sets more interesting.
Before breaking up for the evening, the pipers, fiddlers and instructors got together in the hallway and shared some tunes.
With the functions of the day finished up, we were all invited over to the nearby home of Keith and Kelly Pearson for supper and a ceilidh. While we waited for supper time, Nate Banton, an attendee and pipemaker, gave a very informative demonstration on the making of borderpipe and smallpipe reeds. I think we all have a much better understanding of why these reeds are so expensive. I know that I am going to treat mine more like a newborn than a baby.
And then the party began! Kelly made a wonderful chili for supper and a chocolate fondue to tame our collective sweet teeth. Laughter filled the air on into the wee hours of the morning accompanied by fiddles, piano, pipes, and guitar. Bud later calculated that music was being played, with a few short breaks, for seven hours that night!
Sunday morning found us all a bit bleary eyed from the night before. However, so much fun was had, I didn’t hear any complaints. Morning classes picked up where we left off Saturday afternoon, reviewing tunes and squeezing in another one or two. Then slowly we had to say our goodbyes and depart one by one as our individual lives took over the togetherness of the weekend.
Listening to the Saturday ceilidh tunes that I recorded brings back so many memories and makes me look forward to our getting together again in the spring to learn new tunes, renew friendships and make new ones.
Penny Chowning is a piper from the Belgrade Lakes area of Maine and teaches highland piping for the Rocky Bay Pipe Band in Augusta, Maine.
Here is a video from the concert featuring Ellen MacPhee on Smallpipes, Koady Chaisson on Guitar, and Bud Clamatoson on Piano.
Here is one of the tunes taught during the weekend:
Thanks to Tim Cummings for the Transcription and Nate Banton for the photos and video.