Sacred Instrument Making on Dartmoor with Nigel Shaw & Carolyn Hillyer
We have been sharing traditional instrument making at Lower Merripit Farm, our ancient farmstead located in the heart of Dartmoor, for 25 years. These workshops have been profound and creatively exciting weekends, during which hundreds of participants have handcrafted their own beautiful flutes and frame drums, using materials carefully sourced from Dartmoor. We make most of our own instruments for recording and concert performances; we bring that musician’s ear to the workshop, always aiming to help participants achieve the best tone or tuning for their instrument. The weekend drum or flute journey moves at a gentle but steady pace, with time for finishing details and decoration, learning about techniques for playing and traditions relating to the instruments, having the chance to play a range of other flutes and drums we have made, as well as enjoying this sanctuary space on the farm and participating in a blessing ritual in the ceremonial roundhouse.
The workshop takes place from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, with Nigel’s flute group (7 places) and Carolyn’s drum group (14 places) running alongside each other. The weekend starts on Friday with arrivals from 4pm to 6pm. Supper at 7pm is followed by session 1, a welcoming circle for everyone, followed by teaching with each group that includes a short opening ritual, a talk about the instruments and some simple preparations for the next day. On Saturday session 2 instrument making begins at 9am until lunchtime, session 3 continuing from early afternoon until 6pm. After dinner session 4 consists of a flute circle in the cottage group room and a drum circle in the roundhouse where participants will be able to play music together and learn more about the instruments they are creating. The evening finishes with both groups coming together around the roundhouse fire. On Sunday there will be a short optional early morning walk onto the open moor with Carolyn. After breakfast session 5 begins at 9am, for finishing off, fine tuning and decoration; this completes around lunchtime. In the afternoon session 6 consists of a final ceremony for everybody to bless their flutes and drums over the fire in our ancient roundhouse. The workshop weekend finishes at 4pm.
About making a flute
During the many years since Nigel has been creating and teaching traditional wooden flutes, he has developed the original ancient Native American design into a sacred instrument that plays the songs and prayers of these wild and ancient islands. The workshop offers a choice of several beautifully-grained indigenous woods all harvested locally on the moors: you will be able to choose from silver birch, ash, oak, sycamore, red cedar and others. Each wood has a different tone and energy, carrying the song of the land in its own voice. You will be able to decide what wood to work with when you are here.
About making a drum
For nine years Carolyn has been carrying out all the preparation of skins for drum making in our small farm tannery. Every hide is sourced with great care and respect, from a long-established herd that dwells on the high moors. We also prepare red deer skins for the leather that is used to trim the instruments and to make the drum beater. The workshop offers Dartmoor red deer skin laced onto medium size (16“) hoops. These skins have beautiful markings and a very good resonance for many different purposes: journeying, ceremonial, healing, drum circles or playing alone in nature. Everyone also makes a drum beater and has the chance to create a red deer hide and antler rattle to play with the drum.
Booking a place
The weekend workshop place costs £300 for either Flute Making or Drum Making. Your workshop fee includes 6 teaching sessions, all materials, use of all tools, two nights camping, two vegetarian evening meals (with vegan & gluten free options), hot drinks throughout the weekend, spring water on tap, roundhouse ceremonies, flute & drum circles and Dartmoor walk. No experience is necessary – all skill levels welcome. This workshop is not suitable for people under 18.
Accommodation options are free camping in the meadow with full access to cottage kitchen and bathroom facilities; inside accommodation in our guest cottage for £60 total per person with self-service breakfast included; or local B&B or YHA forest hostel options in or near to village.
Booking is done with a booking form and the choice of either making full payment or paying a deposit of £100 to secure your place. All deposits are non-returnable. Our cancellation policy and the payment schedule are sent out with the booking confirmation. Payment may be made in smaller installments by arrangement.
Flute & drum making generally takes place twice a year, in May/June and September/October. In 2019 there is only the June date available (now fully booked) as we are running the FOUR WINDS flute event in the summer. We are holding a list of names of those interested in the 2020 workshops, which will give you early notification of dates and booking forms before we advertise the workshops on this site; this usually takes place in January. Please contact us if you would like to be on the list for 2020.