Sacred Instrument Making on Dartmoor with Nigel Shaw & Carolyn Hillyer


Our next workshop date will be SEPTEMBER 3-5. This will be our only instrument making during 2021. This workshop is now full but please contact us to go on a reserve list and for information about the instrument making workshops for next year.

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 those musician ears 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 (12 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. After Sunday 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: these may include 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 the last ten 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 drum and 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.

Booking a place

The weekend workshop place costs £300 for either Flute Making or Drum Making. Your workshop fee includes all materials, use of 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 are welcome. Not suitable for those 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 including self-service breakfast; or local B&B options.

To attend please email us for a booking form. A deposit of £100 is required to secure your place. All deposits are non-returnable. Your place is not confirmed until you have paid your deposit. Our cancellation policy and payment schedule are sent out with the booking confirmation.

Sacred instrument-making weekends generally take place on our farm once each year in May/June, although we sometimes also offer an autumn date. Occasionally Nigel offers an advanced drone flute making workshop for those who have already made a single flute. Once this autumn’s weekend is full we will be holding a reserve list of names of those interested in making an instrument with us in early summer 2022.

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