Greg Ellwand mentioned his planned performance of “Bread” in the Toronto Fringe Festival, telling some of the story of the part which bread plays in life, death, giving and nourishing and even more serious aspects of the universe. What a joy, when he suggested that I and a few other of my relatives with the same surname on my side of the Atlantic could add to the play. We thought of some musical items to play to settle down the excitable audience before the play starts. His show includes him, his wife and daughter, Ellie, with the boyfriend of another of his daughters taking part. His father also supplied the show’s graphics. Nearly all with the Ellwand surname. You can never have too many of us rare Ellwands, so we were delighted to supply a recording for him to use. Surprisingly we are all united in an appreciation of bread.
His consciousness about bread is a parallel to my own obsession with bread in all its rich manifestations, from eating to making croissants, Sally Lunns, pissaladieres and boules. We both independently learned bread making from our mothers in our mid-teens. My mother’s resumption of bread-making was around an emotional time when she had her first breakdown. She brought passion to baking when in a manic stage and found consolation in the trough of depression. Baking was both an outlet for her anger when working the dough and a creative act that gave her back some significance in that world which threatened to slip away from her. She received appreciation for what she made: it was regarded as an acceptable eccentricity and the preservation of a nearly-lost art. She earned respect for her skills, so baking was always important to her. For me, bread-making is both a personal delight and also holding faith with those difficult times in my past and with those values I held in common with my mother. Values she expressed once, quoting my grandmother, as “If it moves, feed it!” I cook frequently. I feed others habitually. I bake with a passion.
There’s a group of people who get together over refreshments in my kitchen to exchange ideas and practical solutions, from designing fittings for houses, planning performances, to creating art for exhibition. This circle of my like-minded cronies are commonly referred to as the “Grand Association for the Enjoyment of Afternoon Tea and Traditional Cakes, or for short, the “sticky-bun club.” They respond to an invitation to “drop in for tea and a sticky bun,” and will probably rewire some electrical sockets or build a housing for an art installation while they’re there. I regularly visit ancient bakeries with old wood-stoves, wind-mills and water-mills. I’ve even worked a night shift in a bakery when on holiday and I take pictures of bread varieties and baker’s shop window displays when I travel.
What was most bizarre, is that only when Greg unfolded his performance idea, only then was it apparent that most of humanity doesn’t share the same relationship with bread and baking that I’ve described. In fact I began to suspect that most people are a bit odd, compared to me, Greg and a few other Ellwands.
So I was committed to supporting Greg. Our music had been planned over a week or so with many suggestions from well-meaning friends, whose delight in the excruciating pun was evident throughout. Gerry Jones, the country-dance guru, even rewrote the words for “We are Sailing” as “We are Baking.” We didn’t rehearse, but put the tunes together in the kitchen and in my attic office when my daughter and son were visiting.
My son Marcus is a gentle soul with some sight, speech and dexterity problems after a head injury. He makes the best bread and buns. He gives them as gifts when he thinks the recipients need cheering up. He’d made a few dozen rolls which I was filling with locally made cheese, salad and pickles. I was also baking (and sampling) the hot ginger and pink-peppercorn biscuits and Kanelbullar – Swedish yeast cakes flavoured with cardamom and cinnamon. All these were to be sold in a fund-raising event for the tree conservators in my area, when for two days we took the home produce to a stall in a near-by country park.
So that’s when we were putting the music together. Normally traditional music-making is fuelled by strong drink and so sounds uncritically wonderful to those playing. Our jam session had an inbuilt relationship with its subject matter. In our session in the kitchen, the music was punctuated with washing up, dough squeezing, falling cutlery and breaking mixing bowls, resonant on the tiled floor and with the sounds of rain and flowing water outside whenever anyone opened the window as it grew too steamy in the kitchen. The music therefore grew out of a mix of baking, eating, swearing at the hair-scattering, food-stealing dogs and room-decoration. My wife says that when I bake, the kitchen resembles a crime scene, especially as everywhere in the room is covered in white floury fingerprints.
We chose some tunes with baking links, or those with family connections. Here’s the link to see how it sounded I started with “Libera Me, Domine, De Morte Æterna” a traditional tune from the Morvan in France. I learned this tune when studying the bagpipe of the Morvan. In the process I learned about local folklore, dance and music at Maison Beauvray alongside other courses about the watermills of the area. I remember the bread of the area – big crusty circular loaves with holes in the middle like giant doughnuts. The loaves arrived each morning with the baker carrying them in from his van with his arms through the holes, so that he resembled a Michelin Man.
Back to the tune – it’s part of the mass for the dead. In it, the precentor asks on behalf of the deceased for release from endless death and the congregation affirms everlasting life with the symbolic sharing of communion bread. A start to the music set the bread in the context of life and death, so we thought next of tunes which fitted the minor key, but linked to our family.
The “Wild Hills o’ the Wannies” is a traditional bagpipe tune. The Wanneys are particular hills on English and Scottish borders, but the “Wild Hills o’ the Wannies” is a more general term for the untamed and feared hills outside the populated areas. The rivers that flow from these wild hills include “Ellwand” also called the “Allen” which flows through the “Fairy Dean” and joins the River Tweed near Melrose.
The origin of our family name is convoluted. One version of the story is that “Ellwand” is in use as a surname from the 14th century as a Scots version of “Elwald” deriving in turn from “Ællewealde” or “elf-ruler.” I played an old version of a tune that has perhaps a connection with this, “The King o the Fairies” in recognition also of the mysterious glen through which Ellwand water flows. The thing about family history, and the history of bagpiping, is that it’s mostly lies. The odd thing is, to steal a quotation about the history of Ireland, is that half of the lies are true.
“Flou’er o Yarrow” a tune from the same Borders region, also known as “Sir John Fenwick.” The first version is about a beauty, Mary Scott. The second is about a Jacobite who was on the losing side in a change of regime in England and Scotland. I prefer the first title, as my excuse is that you use flou’er rather than a Fenwick in making bread.
Katherine sang a lovely song from Concelho de Miranda in Portugal with words in Castilian, “La Molinera”. The lady of the mill in the song title takes up with a passing soldier. It didn’t end well, but lots of references to grinding.
These next three tunes didn’t make the final cut of the recording, but would have fitted the theme: “Tam Lin”/ “Dwr Glan” “La Bolanguera.” Tam features in many ballads and tunes. In one he ate the bread offered to him by the Queen of the Fairies and so was obliged to stay with the Queen for many centuries. “Dwr Glan” means clear water in Welsh – essential for making bread and powering water mills. “La Bolanguera” a Catalan circle dance tune, with the title said to derive from a lost French song about a lady baker.
I had to include “La Conscripcion,” a link with Napoleon’s era and perhaps also with the soldier in “la Molinera”. Napoleon’s greatest claim to fame, far surpassing his military, legislative and imperial achievements, was in popularising the baguette: bread which soldiers could carry in their pockets when on the march.
“Cwm Rhonda” a Welsh tune, the melody used for all sorts, from football chants deriding the opponent team, the alternative tune to “oh me Darlin’ Clementine” and, best known, to the hymn tune “Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer” with the chorus “Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more; Feed me till I want no more.’ This was sung so badly by me, that we added in two French tunes: “la Souflette” – the bellows for getting up the heat in the bread oven and another one with a title lost to memory.
Finally, Katherine sings “Bread and Roses” – originally a poem by James Oppenheim, published in 1911, which attributed the saying “Give us bread, but give us roses” to “the women in the West.” It’s a song which has been used to give soul to strikes and protests, reminding of the dignity, deservingness and humanity of those who are resisting their prevailing exploitation.
Music is by Kathy, voice and her dad, (me) Dave (Philip David*) Ellwand, Scottish smallpipes (A /B minor), Cornemuse (A) and Northumbrian Smallpipes (d), tinwhistle, warbles. (* as distinct from David Ellwand, the photographer and author of “Faerie-ality,” another distant cousin, who was without involvement or blame in the making of the recording, despite all the “faery” references.)