The Smith's Journal - July 2006

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M.A.D. About Waddesdon drum workshop

Another Vitae mission, this time as part of M.A.D. About Waddesdon at Waddesdon Manor. Justine had been asked to lead a children's drumming workshop in the morning before our gig later in the afternoon. So I arrived early to help her with that; we'd been told that 6000 people were expected each day (!), so we arrived very early to avoid the inevitable car park scrum. Having never been there before, I was not prepared for the grand scale of the place. We drove along a long winding drive, passing through lush parklands and then into woodlands where the road went steeply uphill. As we climbed, glimpses through the trees showed us how high up we were getting, with splendid views out over the surrounding area. Rounding a final bend, it was clear we had ascended to heaven itself, as ornamental fountains stood before a vast avenue leading to a massive mansion fit for the gods themselves.

[ Statues of lovers entwined in front of Waddesdon Manor | Statues in the fountains at Waddesdon | Front view of Waddesdon Manor ]

We negotiated with the site crew and got an escort to the South Marquee where the workshop was to be held. After unloading countless drums and setting them up in a very inviting circle, I wandered off with my very excited camera to capture some of the incredible beauty surrounding us, in perfect weather.

[ Right view of Waddesdon Manor | Fountains at Waddesdon Manor | Left view of Waddesdon Manor | Waddesdon Manor | Tower at Waddesdon | Statues in Waddesdon gardens ]

The gardens and manor house are a truly magnificent sight, resembling the Palace of Versailles. The building itself is a glorious amalgam of architectural styles, with enchanting folly towers (some with grand spiral staircases and elegant exterior stone balustrades) and countless chimneys rising from the heights. A friend described it as being so overwhelming that it is quite difficult to look at in one go. Fairytale towers at Waddesdon ]Waddesdon towers |[ Tower at Waddesdon Manor |I fell instantly in love with the huge round towers on two corners, which I decided would make a fabulous round music room, not unlike the designs I have made for the Abbey I one day hope to build (! :-) The epic scale of these buildings is shown by the tiny size of the people stood next to them; each storey is many metres high, nicely suitable for giants such as myself. Note also the exquisite ivy growing criss-cross up the walls on trellises, which had the gardeners amongst us green with envy.

[ Circle of drums at Waddesdon Manor: just add children :-) ]Soon people started to appear for our sold-out workshop, mostly children. Justine had strained her arm, so I led the workshop under her direction, and she accompanied me on dun duns using her other arm. We played a few rhythms and I was happy that the kids all managed to pick it up well. A BBC camera crew appeared and filmed us, telling us we'd be on BBC South East News that evening, but I forgot to watch it. (Not that I need another chance to be on TV to inflate my planet-sized ego still further... :-) (*Bangs head on both sides of doorway while trying to walk through*)

Afterwards we spent a leisurely few hours wandering about this paradise, where hundreds of local musicians were performing in school orchestras and bands on the various stages set up around the huge grounds; there were more violin cases about than at a Mafia convention.

[ Annie, Ant and Justine in front of Waddesdon Manor | Huge bird made of topiary at Waddesdon | The Aviary at Waddesdon | Towers and flowers at Waddesdon ]

Vitae Drumming Marathon - Stage 6: Waddesdon Manor

It was a very hot day, and luckily our afternoon performance on the Stables Courtyard Stage was held undercover, providing some shade from the beating sun; this still didn't stop the sweat from dripping off us though. A large audience gathered despite the intense heat, and we gave them another cracking set, and luckily Justine's arm was well enough for her to play and dance. A big thanks to Sam for taking more great photos of us:

[ Stables Courtyard at Waddesdon Manor | Horse sculpture in the Stables Courtyard | Vitae drummers nervously await the firing squad ]

[ Ant, Malc and Steve in full voice | Justine and Annie dancing at Waddesdon | Vitae Drum Circle going M.A.D. about Waddesdon ]

After packing everything away, Lin, Justine and I felt unable to leave, and so we strolled once more around the gardens, captivated by the sublime scents of the many exotic flowers. We lay face down, breathing in the heady aroma of the chamomile lawn, and delighted in the ornamental flower beds, sculpted into marvellous mounds of colour. Finally we wandered through the wild woods to see the orchids and commune with some nature spirits.

[ Collage of flowers at Waddesdon Manor | Flower beds at Waddesdon Manor | Wild woods at Waddesdon | Wild orchid at Waddesdon ]

Not wanting to go home, I remembered that Louise and Ian were visiting Fabrizia at Michael's Folly, and so took them some Waddesdon vibes. They also had a Canadian guest and his young son staying over, and when we mentioned drumming, he wanted a piece of the action, so I ended up giving another workshop, teaching yet another youngster the same rhythms and songs from the morning. We were having such a jolly time that I totally forgot about my TV appearance. Afterwards we chatted late into the night about buying property in France, Spain, and Nova Scotia. A great day.


Vitae Drumming Marathon - Stage 7: Astonbury Festival

[ Vitae Drummers playing at Astonbury Festival ]The Vitae drumming marathon continued at Astonbury Festival, in the village of Aston Abbots near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. This was a fun community event staged to showcase the local musical talent, to which the entire village turned out and set up gazebos and picnic rugs. The atmosphere was very convivial, since everybody already knew each other and most of the performers too. A local events company had kindly set up a professional stage on the village recreation ground and provided a massive sound and light show including lasers, smoke, fireworks and a 4kW PA system allowing us to be heard in the next village. Our dun dun player Anthony actually lived in the next village, and was undoubtedly tonight's star performer, playing drums in no less than 23 songs with various groups! Amidst performances from singers and a gospel choir, we delivered Kuku, Soli and Pap Magatte and Djole to the gathered throngs. It was nice to be playing on a pleasantly cool evening instead of our recent heat-exhaustion endurance tests. As the sun set over the fields, the light show began, and the whole village danced to keep warm. The grand finale ended with a thoroughly extravagant fireworks display filling the sky over the stage. [More photos coming one day...]


Vitae Drumming Marathon - Stage 8: Chiltern Show

Today we reached the finish line of our Vitae drumming marathon of eight performances in one month: The Chiltern Show, at Great Missenden. This was a much larger scale event than last night's gig, with thousands of people looking around the many stalls and tents set up selling arts and crafts and demonstrating all manner of traditional skills such as woodturning. We were due to play two sets in the hot afternoon, but unfortunately, instead of the main music stage, we were scheduled to perform in a small tent barely large enough to accomodate the drummers, let alone dancers. We managed to squeeze in, and the dancers did their thing outside in front, where a big crowd had by now gathered once they heard us playing.

[ Vitae Dancers | Vitae Drum Circle | Justine and Ani | Dancers ]

Luckily, for our second set, we managed to negotiate a free time slot on the main stage where we could comfortably spread out on a 10m x 6m stage, which our nineteen drummers and three dancers still managed to fill. The acoustics in this large arena-sized tent were great due to a flat ceiling bouncing the sound back at us on a large flat solid stage, and it sounded lovely even without amplification; only our Great Leader Justine had a mic for her singing and lead djembe playing.

Vitae Drum Circle | Handclaps | Vitae dancers ]

We played some high-speed renditions of Asiko, Kuku, Soli and Pap Magatte, with rousing songs and frenetic dancing, which compelled the crowd to demand an encore. We pulled Djole out of the bag and gave a full-on ending to possibly our best performance yet, quite apt since it marks the end of our recent Drumming Marathon hectic gig schedule. Once again, Ani's son Sam took lots of nice photos of us, seen here. As we packed away, we were deafened by the equally massive sound of the Pipers and Drummers of RAF Halton, all kilted up and ready for action.

[ Vitae dun dun players | Vitae Drum Circle | Vitae Drum Circle | Vitae Drum Circle | Vitae Drum Circle | Vitae Drum Circle ]

Vitae dancers | Vitae dancers | Vitae dancers | Vitae dancers | Vitae dancers ]

Afterwards, we wandered around the place, and Sam invited me to go on the ferris wheel with him, something I'd not done in years, and a great photo opportunity. It wasn't until we got to the top that I remembered that I sometimes get vertigo! Holding on with one hand, camera in other, sunglasses getting in the way of the eyepiece, I gradually regained my composure, and eventually we were rocking back and forth like it tells you not to on the signs. We got some lovely aerial views of the whole festival site on this fabulously sunny day, which I hopefully captured on film.


Learning To Walk Again

I've been needing some shoes for ages and when a friend told me she'd started working at Ten-Point in Amersham it seemed a logical step. They sell MBTs which have round sculpted soles to encourage better balance and ensure correct walking technique using the heel rather than walking slouched and flat-footed as many people do (myself included).

After trying out a few pairs and getting used to the soles I tried on some Chung Shi shoes. These have a rocker-sole instead of the curved one of the MBTs, and are even less forgiving of flat-footed walking. Initially they felt strange but after a while you get the hang of them. In the shop they have walking machines which allow you to get a feel of how they work, and also lets the staff comment on your posture and technique.

Being a fickle sort, with two very wide feet of differing sizes (!), it took me two three-hour stints in the shop to finally decide on which pairs to buy, eventually settling for some Chung Shi sandals and shoes. These may be expensive, but my posture has been suffering for too long, and yes, you are worth it.

So now I'm learning to walk all over again, which is a challenge. It takes some concentration at first, but these things propel you along at a good clip once you get in the swing.

[UPDATE: I later realised that all my life I have only ever owned one pair of shoes. This was down to necessity in childhood because my feet were growing, and so it was pointless buying lots of pairs I'd grow out of. Plus it was always difficult finding shoes to fit that I liked. But this habit has continued into adulthood, and I seem unable to get the hang of it being OK to buy more than one pair because they will fit me for the rest of my life. I'm currently receiving counselling from some of my friends to try and resolve this ;-]

[UPDATE: I have since bought some funky Chung Shi walking boots, and some chunky MBT "Kilima" winter boots which are wonderfully comfortable. The curved sole is so lovely and springy; walking around in them is like being in space :-) Some more shoes may follow...]

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2006-07-01 - last updated 2007-09-12