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Teaching and Playing music from John Playford’s Dancing Master on the hurdy-gurdy at the Bagpipe Society Blow-out weekend (on my birthday)

I was very privileged to be asked to teach a hurdy-gurdy music workshop on playing music from John Playford’s Dancing Master on the hurdy-gurdy at the Bagpipe Society Blow-out weekend. The workshop was well attended with 15 attendees from all corners of the UK.

We looked at 3 tunes during the hour and a half workshop and all members of the group mastered them and we were able to play them together by the end of the session and create a joyful noise!

The tunes we worked on were Drive the Cold Winter Away, Argiers , and Nonesuch. I provided dots but the tunes were learnt by ear. I chose the first and second tunes and the group chose the third tune in the workshop.

We were lucky to have with us Ruth Bramley a re-enactor who dances Playford and her comments and additional information supported the learning and interpretation of the tunes in an applied, knowledge experiential real world way.

At various points I encouraged members of the workshop (Nicholas and Lucille) to lead the tunes and for me this is really important as it lays the groundwork for future workshop leaders .

Some notes on Playford for those that will:

John Playford

b. Norwich, 1623 d. London, 1686
Music publisher and bookseller, clerk to the Temple Church and Vicar-Choral of St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1639 he was apprenticed for seven years to John Benson, a London publisher, and in 1647 became a member of the Yeomanry of the Stationers’ Company.
As a Royalist, Playford began publishing political tracts, culminating in “The Perfect Narrative of the Tryal of the King”. This was an age when music publishing was part of the more general field of book publishing, a situation changing by the time of his son Henry.
On 7th November 1650 he entered in the stationers’ registers “The English Dancing Master or Plaine and Easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances’, which was published in 1651. It is generally thought that this was his first musical publication but “A Musical Banquet” bears the mark of John Benson as well as his own and so there is some speculation that it may have been earlier. “The English Dancing Master”, with enlarged editions, continued until 1728, each ‘new edition’ often differing little from its predecessor, although new lessons may have been added and some taken away.

John Playford published hymns and psalms and we have records of his personal feelings and ideals in introductions to his works.

An enormously important figure in the development of English music publication and a source of inspiration for Cecil Sharp’s English folk revival.

There is no exact record of Playford’s burial but it is of interest that Purcell wrote the “Elegy on my friend, Mr John Playford”.

My guiding principle in the workshop and interpretation of the Playford tunes was that music is correct when it sounds good.

PS. I was very surprised to have happy birthday sung to me in the evening and to hear the tune Argiers played in the session led by the hurdy-gurdy playing of my good friend Peter Kanssen from that there Laaandan Tooon!

Link to bagpipe society website here: https://www.bagpipesociety.org.uk/