I have talked about Shooting Roots before, a folk organisation that John and I are involved in, alternately as tutors and participants at various folk events around the UK. If you’re looking for a better description, here is one in the words of the organisation:
Shooting Roots is an organisation run by and for young people, offering creative and participatory folk workshops at festivals and other events. In a nutshell it’s all about generating opportunities for young people to perform, develop friendships and access the folk arts.
We aim to do this through a three pronged attack –
- Festival projects
- Tutor training
- Grass roots projects and an online community
We are run entirely by volunteers, who think Shooting Roots is so great they’re prepared to give up their free time to make it happen. Also it’s fun, and there’s nothing quite as good as making something amazing.
John and I spent the week before Unravel at Halsway Manor in Somerset, and I thought I’d share the experience with you.
Please note: I have not included any group photos as I do not have permission to post photos of the underage participants.
Halsway Manor with Shooting Roots
This is a programme held in the February half-term, at Halsway Manor. The manor itself is a national centre for the folk arts, and there are a huge number of programmes that are run, from violin-making courses to hurdy-gurdy workshops. Shooting Roots is aimed at 12 to 25 year olds, and gives them the chance to explore the folk arts. The youngest two participants were 12, and I was on the cusp of the older ‘kids’ at 25 – but it didn’t feel like it, as the atmosphere was extremely inclusive and we all enjoyed each others company in equal measure.
Five different disciplines were explored – music, dance, song, craft and theatre. I have, in the past, been a tutor for craft at folk festivals; but as a participant this time, I simply got to enjoy the whole experience. Throughout the four days, the group is working towards a showcase for the families so that mums and dads can see what their little cherubs have been up to on the course, which is fully residential; no parents allowed!
The showcase this year focused on four villages in traditional England, with four different tribes living in them and battling with each other through the medium of dance. A Great Evil occurred, and one person from each tribe had to go on a Quest to prevent dance being taken forever. The four heroes went on a journey while the rest of the cast provided props and additional characters using their bodies, voices, some costume elements and their crafted objects (more on that in a moment). At the end, dance was saved, and the tribes came out as a harmonious community.
With four slots each day to participate in each workshop (music and song were combined), the days started with a cooked breakfast at 9 am, and went on till 9 pm, when an informal session started. The first day was full-on with introductions to each other, playing ball games, then a start on each workshop. I did not do the theatre workshop, as I discovered within three minutes of the start of it that my anxiety would not let me deal with this without a large dose of medication…so I decided to give it a miss.
However, the wonderfully talented tutor, Lizzy, gave everyone a wonderful time as they split into groups and headed off around the grounds of the manor to explore and get to know each other, and work on their traditional theatre skills. Although it was similar to ‘drama’ as I knew it in school, the focus was on a traditional story line, and there was an element of folk story-telling in this workshop.
We were then split into groups, and my half went on to a Border Morris workshop. Our tutor, Grace, was the person who recites the poem ending “…will dance for you!” in the below video. Border Morris is a type of dance performed with sticks, reminiscent of sword fighting, using big heavy sticks to create interesting rhythms and a rather dangerous environment. I was reluctant to join in…but it was so much fun. I really enjoyed myself, and it felt wildly exciting to throw sticks around (literally) in the name of art. The dances we worked on were featured in the showcase as part of the fighting between the tribes.
It was then on to craft. For obvious reasons, this was the workshop I was most looking forward to. My wonderful friend Lizzie (who has featured on the blog before) was the leader of the workshop in conjunction with Marcus and Hugo. They taught us how to do wood-working without power tools. I kid you not, I think this was one of the greatest few hours in my life – we were set loose on logs with axes, billhooks, draw knives, lathes, sandpaper, saws…even John got really into it, and discovered the state of crafty concentration that I go into when I’m spinning. It was really good fun, and allowed me to gain further appreciation of how things that were handmade in the past were really handmade. Wandering back to the manor that afternoon, I was looking around the wood-panelled rooms with stunning carvings and beams, and marvelling at the number of hours and effort that would have gone into it.
We were making our own morris sticks to use in the showcase, using a sycamore tree that had been cut down on one of the leader’s farms. It was seriously enthralling, and I spent many of my spare hours (when I was supposed to be knitting) in the craft workshop, either working on my stick or helping out where others were unable to complete theirs in the time allotted.
From the craft workshop, we did song and music. I love to sing, and I haven’t played my violin for a really long time – so I joined in with song, and we learned a couple of songs from tutor Nonny. Unfortunately, I had a terrible cold and consequently lost my voice, so I did not get a chance to continue this workshop through the week. Folk singing is one of the best forms of singing I know. Anyone and everyone can do it, and it sounds great whether you’re in a concert hall, or sitting round a table in a pub several pints down and slightly worse for wear.
The music workshop, with Matt, worked on a big tune for all the musicians to play, as well as splitting them into groups and learning tunes on a smaller scale. This is not classical music – they do not use ‘dots’ (or notated music) and all the learning is done entirely by ear. There is small emphasis on playing perfectly, and more focus on playing as a group, enjoying each other’s company and just having the confidence to explore your instrument with other people.
The week continued in this vein, and the showcase was held on the fourth night to great applause and many congratulations. John and I now have our sticks standing in the hallway with pride, and my appreciation of folk arts has magnified ten-fold. Talk about crafty roots, these were exploring the roots of the British culture and it was just amazing.
I’ll next be involved with Shooting Roots over the summer, and I can’t wait to see this incredibly inspiring team of tutors and ‘kids’, all of whom are such a joy to be with. If you’re interested in the organisation, either for yourself or for your kids, please check out their website HERE, or send me a message!
And yes, I did get some Somerset souvenir yarn…watch this space for more information!