As a non-resident attending my first Easter Recorder Course (ERC) I was a little non-plussed to be accompanied into the Hayes Conference Centre on the Saturday morning by the skeleton of a goat. The majority of participants, being resident, had arrived the previous evening and already knew they were sharing the accommodation with a gathering of taxidermists. So I was in the right place and looking forward to improving my recorder playing over the week with the other dinosaurs!
Jan Epps, who worked tirelessly throughout, was there to greet the “day students”. Then straight into the first session. I chose Rosemary Robinson’s group with the spinet and piano and was so taken with the music she had arranged that I stayed with the group all week. It is a feature of the course that, apart from the orchestral and chamber group rehearsals, where daily attendance is expected, it is left to each participant to decide whether to stick with one theme at the start of the day or sample across the wide range of tutors and music. A sometimes difficult choice.
We had received the timetable several weeks previously. This was very helpful in planning as, in addition to the usual information about difficulty level and repertoire, the tutors also provided notes about their intentions and expectations. Throughout the week there was an emphasis on learning and improvement, including a range of technique classes, plus opportunities to experience the joys of tin whistles and gemshorns. Whilst the course is not designed for absolute beginners, there was a good spread of difficulty levels, including opportunities for advanced players. Both Pam Smith and Andrew Collis established high expectations with their orchestras as demonstrated during the enjoyable concert on the final evening. It was good to hear what others had been doing as well as giving opportunity to perform for an audience after an intensive week of rehearsal. This year the orchestras mainly studied modern works, but workshops over the week covered a good balance across the centuries and musical genres.
I had not been to the Hayes Centre before. Set in attractive countryside, it is well organised and equipped (for example the sound system is extremely good) and I understand the residential facilities are very comfortable. The food options included gluten and dairy free, the high point for me being the best Cornish pasties ever! It is a busy venue with several courses running at the same time. Jan and the Centre staff should be congratulated on quickly sorting things out for us when mealtimes or coffee breaks got a little hectic.
A total of eight tutors ensured a choice of two or three contrasting workshops for each session. Always well-prepared, they were patient and responsive to their groups, presenting us with a blend of familiar and new music. Besides their expertise, several other professionals were in residence with instruments for sale, sheet music, accessories and plenty of good advice. Julie Dean’s excellent shop and repair studio was a little isolated, but she mitigated this with a simple “lights on / lights off” code.
But the week is essentially about the music. In planning this Pam and Jan excelled. The pace of the course, with five sessions each day, seemed about right, giving just about enough spare time for ad hoc groups to get together if they wanted. The friendly atmosphere encouraged participants to help each other as well as adding to the enjoyment of the week. At the end of the course, Jan and Pam invited suggestions for the future. There was clearly a very high level of satisfaction and a small number of positive ideas which were carefully noted. (Perhaps a short written evaluation next year would further enhance the already responsive nature of the ERC by giving participants opportunity to reflect on their week).
I will certainly be back next year.