Halsway Manor Euro Music Weekend: A Personal Journey

My very first visit to Halsway Manor started at the ludicrous hour of 5:50am! What with it being a journey involving the M5 south on the bank holiday Easter weekend, my chauffeur Jo May (percussionist extraordinaire) and I agreed that the earlier we leave Derbyshire the better. So 7am pick up it was. Funny thing – we sailed through in under 3 hours with not a brake light in sight!

Early mornings and me don’t go together too well. Jo seems brighter!

Happy to be at Halsway ‘Hogwarts’ Manor

Having beaten the traffic, we arrived at Halsway with plenty of time to explore. Having never visited before (but seeing A LOT of posts and photos from friends) I had a mental image of Halsway that I like to refer to as ‘Folk Hogwarts’. As you can see from the image above, I was rather excited to arrive and see it for myself. I spent a while in the library reading up on the origins of the house, and was astonished to discover that it was mentioned in the Domesday book! I had this sudden feeling that the house had probably seen a lot of the traditional music that we have come to cherish nowadays, and maybe some of it was even played or written there!

I didn’t have time to rummage in the library further to find out because as soon as the teaching started on Friday afternoon, my brain was occupied with a lot of learning!

Magical ‘Folk Hogwarts’ aka Halsway Manor (photo by Leslie Barr)

The entrance hall in Halsway Manor *jaw drop*

I hadn’t participated in a workshop as a student for a number of years, but this was one of the reasons I wanted to attend this course. A large proportion of participants were professional or semi-professional musicians, many of whom I have learned from or alongside whilst developing my own career.

Having entered a learning environment, there was a tussle in my head between ‘teaching mode’, where I felt responsibility for others well-being, and ‘student mode’, a little used and unfamiliar part of my brain these days. I spent a lot of the weekend trying to figure out what ‘student mode’ meant for me now I have reached a certain standard of playing. Whilst I was trying to figure this out, my ‘anxious mode’ saw an opportunity to take the reins, which always helps (except it doesn’t).

What was interesting to me is that I was able to a) recognise this and, b) witness the mental fall out that occurred having recognised it! I watched it happen whilst allowing it to happen (if that makes any sense at all, do let me know!). To begin with, I noticed that I withdrew from the group musically, verbally and socially.

Tutor Anne Niepold skilfully crafted a beautiful opportunity for improvisation during her Friday evening workshop, but I ducked out, preferring to stay invisible. Everyone was doing such a beautiful job and I didn’t want to mess it up. I could feel my temperature rising, my shoulders tensing, my hands clenching, a lump in my throat. I thought I would burst into tears and run out of the room if Anne cued me to join in.

And then she did and I quietly refused despite her generous encouragement. I was able to explain to her later what was going on. I was tired and stressed, and in combination with feeling vulnerable trying something new just tipped me over the edge. I felt an overwhelming pressure to be shiny, and super good at everything I attempted because that’s what my fellow peers would be expecting from me as a professional musician and teacher. Or so my ‘anxious mode’ was telling me.

I am my own worst enemy – I know this! The first time I try something new, I’m convinced I’ll be terrible and an embarrassment to myself. Somehow I don’t expect the same rules of learning apply to me – I expect to be brilliant at everything I try straight away! Wouldn’t that be nice?! But the weekend was musically challenging and required me to recognise that I was building new skills and filling in gaps in my own learning. The daily headaches told me I was heading in the right direction!

My focus had been on the things I can’t do (yet) in my playing, rather than on what I can do – and can do really bloody well! This, I thought, was an important reminder of what a lot of my students and workshop participants might go through. As a teacher, I pride myself on my ability to recognise that feeling of being new to something all over again. My experience at Halsway was a stark reminder of precisely what that can feel like.

Ending on a positive

I have reminded myself that learning is a never ending journey. Tutor Paul James said something along the lines of “Music is never done – you never complete music. There’s always more to learn, more to experience.” I love this and it was a big help to my uncertain “student mode” to hear it.

My ‘anxious mode’ stood down during the course of the weekend (massively aided by the gift of earplugs so I could sleep – thanks Kirsten!). This enabled me to get on with trying new things out, making mistakes without inhibition, and smiling! I am phenomenally proud of the sound and talents we showcased at the concert on Sunday evening. With a little more time on the material, we’d be a Folkestra Force to be reckoned with (can that actually become a thing, please?!).

I’ve come away with a very clear direction for my own learning, and I’ve accepted that mastering scales really is necessary in order for me to level up as a performing musician! So that’s what I’m going to be working on over the coming months – and not in the slightest bit reluctantly! I’ve also booked on the Anne’s week-long advanced course at Halsway this October to continue my journey with this incredible musician and teacher.

Here’s a video from the Sunday night session of a tune I’d like to use as an incentive to kick start my personal musical development. ‘Prapoutische’ by Bruno Le Tron – I mean, just how gorgeous is this tune?!

If you’ve read this far, thank you and if you’ve ever experienced similar – keep the conversation going and post in the comments. Let’s break anxiety open!

[:]|| Mel ||[:]

PS You can see more images and video snippets of the weekend over on my Instagram feed!