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The October residential weekend put on by the WCCP moved venue from Kilve Court to Quantock Lodge just a few miles away.  This was going to be a big change and a step into the unknown.  I was really keen to see the new venue and find out how it would work for the club.

My journey down from Bedford was my usual route across the Chiltern and Cotswold Hills so avoiding the M25 and M4.  Friday afternoon was quite pleasant although it did rain briefly. The leaves were turning and the views along the route were wonderful.  Once on the M5 I could feel strong side winds but not serious enough to slow me down.  The satnav instructed me to leave at junction 23 which took me by surprise as I expected to leave at the next junction. I thought that perhaps I had selected the wrong postcode before starting off so I double checked – the directions were correct and after leaving Bridgwater I had to take a left turn before reaching Kilve to head towards Quantock Lodge.  From that point on the roads became narrower and narrower. I turned up the drive into the Lodge grounds and eventually found the entrance to the building and a drivable route to the parking area in front of the house.

Once inside I was impressed by the height and size of the rooms.  The weekend organisers were already there helping and guiding people to sign in and find their allocated rooms.  There was a welcoming log fire and cups of tea on hand for people as they arrived.

After the Friday evening meal the workshops started in earnest. People dispersed to all corners of the building to do their particular thing.

I had bought myself a Crane Duet at the Swaledale Squeeze last May and was keen to join Paul McCann with his duettists some of whom must be really slow learners as they have been to his beginners’ workshop since the year dot.  Apart from me the others were really quite expert on their instruments.  Both McCann and Crane duets were represented.  Paul started us off with Autumn Child in D major.  Everyone else in the group managed to find the notes but for my first piece away from the C major scale it proved too much.  I took the sheet music to my bedroom and over the course of the weekend ploughed through it managing to find the notes (if somewhat hesitantly) by the end of play Sunday afternoon.  The others went on to play Que Sera Sera, Lovely Nancy, and Allangrange by Paul Machlis.   Also Carillon in Goslar (a bit like Monk's March) and Keating's Triumph from the film Dead Poets' Society by Maurice Jarre.  These two tunes were performed at the showcase presentation after lunch on Sunday.

I had my own Song Accompaniment Workshop to lead based on the English concertina but equally applicable to other systems.  I had not led the workshop for some years and the workshop manual I had originally written has in the meantime undergone numerous changes. 

We started off with half the group holding the C on the lower left hand side of the instrument whilst the others played the scale of C major paying particular attention to how note pairs sounded i.e. harmonious or discordant. From there we went through what notes made up a chord, how and where a chord could be played on the instrument and the principle of the three chord trick i.e. a chord progression.

The songs used in the workshop were Kum Ba Ya and Michael Row the Boat Ashore.  Starting with Kum Ba Ya we went along the melody line one note at a time and comparing them with the notes used in the chords of the three chord trick.  Thus we selected the chords we wanted to play.  The test was then to play the chords against the tune either by humming it or having someone else playing it.  The final proof on whether the chord selection is good are one’s ears. They are the judge and jury.  If at any point the ears were saying that chord is wrong another chord had to be selected until the ears were satisfied.  The same process was used for Michael Row the Boat ashore.  As the key of C Major would not suit everyone’s voice we looked at transposing the chords for C major into other keys using conversion tables.  Finally we split the group in two with one playing the melody and the other playing chords and everyone singing.  It never ceases to amaze me how much can be achieved in such a short time. For the workshop presentation we sang both songs and had the whole room join in after the first verse.

Quantock Lodge being so large it allowed for a greater variety of workshops than at Kilve. It is wonderful to have such a choice but it means some people having to decide between two or three options all running at the same time. Other workshop groups included English Beginners led by Colin Sleath, English Ensemble Music - Sally Barrett, Anglo Beginners - Steve Grayland, Anglo Improvers - Andrew Collins, Playing by Ear - Kate Portal, Feeling the Tune -  Kate Stokes, Trying Other Systems - Liz Millward, Playing Rounds - Adrian Waters, Slow Session Tunes -  Paul Hardy, Band For All (easier band pieces) - Paul Barrett and last but by no means least the Band Workshop with Claire Wren.  Keeping us all playing by fixing any problems that our concertinas developed during the weekend was Dave Elliott at his Concertina Repair Workshop.

Saturday after the evening meal the tutors put on a concert showing what the beginners will be doing themselves as they progress in their chosen music genre.

After lunch on the Sunday it was the students’ turn to show the other groups what they had been doing over the weekend with some really polished performances.

The venue worked out to be a big improvement for the Beginners’ Weekend.  Quantock Lodge is a fantastic place and the staff there did an amazing job looking after us. The accommodation at least in the main building had very comfortable beds and en suite bathrooms.  Once away from the main halls downstairs the rooms were very quiet.  You could not hear anything going on outside the bedrooms.  There was a fire alarm incident when the alarms went off accidentally (no fire at all) at about 1am Saturday morning. It took a while before the alarm was stopped.  Some people even slept through all of it which is a little worrying.  The alarm was eventually switched off by the owner who could not hear the alarm as she was still in the kitchen preparing our breakfasts.

It takes a great deal of time and effort to organise the WCCP weekends so on behalf of all who were there I would like to express  thanks to Rosemary Kavanagh and her team: Paul McCann and Margaret Foord-Divers with help along the way and at the weekend from Alex Kay, Trish Nicklen and the WCCP Committee.

Martin Henshaw

This article was first published in Concertina World 476 December 2018 the magazine of the International Concertina Association and reproduced here with Martin's permission.