Catalan and Mediterranian M

daveseawallAn affair with time – a personal view of Catalan music.

I met Catalan Music in an unusual way. It appealed to my personal obsession with how food, dance, stories and music fit into their landscapes and their epochs.

DSCF5167When I was researching European bagpipes, I heard of attempts after a gap of many years to revive the Catalan bagpipe, called amongst other things, the Sac de Gemecs or “bag of moans.” Over the years I’ve watched the development of this instrument, as local musicians recreated the sound and shape as well as the style of playing, so that now there are many professional makers of great-sounding sacs.

The quality of playing has improved, and in the region young people can learn traditional instruments in a way that the rest of Europe should envy. Many types of music have grown to suit new instruments or fashions, but what is also refreshing in the region, is that musicians have looked at the heritage of older forms. 090

An example is the cobla: the evocative and elaborate wind band that plays for the distinctive sardanes (circle dances.) I’ve delighted to see the bagpipe reintroduced in a recreations of an older traditions of “cobles de tres Quartants” – bands of three musicians one of whom plays the “Sac de Gemecs.

I’ve heard similar stories about how traditions have been handed on for accordion players, and how old styles of fiddle playing have been rescued from obscurity and taught to many hundreds of the next generation. Over many meals, many presentations of performances and many radio interviews, and through many friendships, I’ve heard how many strands of music make up the region’s riches. marisolOne friend described how she’d grown up thinking that she had no time for traditional music, but coming to recognise that the music was still part of her heartbeat, and part of her identity. Many in the region reflect, after the many years of cultural repression, that their music is something they treasure, as if they were returning from exile.

The sardana is for many an emblem of togetherness; a dance in which people of all ages can join hands and feel part of something special, timeless, intense, and powerful but measured, keeping time with the people and their land. Other great strengths exist throughout Catalan music such as some of the world’s most significant singer/songwriter traditions that encompass both troubadour, political protest, cantaor and rumbero. There’s the music that has continued to accompany festes, marking social events, providing the pulse for human castle-builders or giving a grand entrance to the dancing giants, dragons and eagles. Riches include the rediscoveries of older music, the successful cultural cross-overs, the dances from the high Pyrenees, to the songs of the sailors and fishermen afloat in the Mediterranean. Without meaning to, and often without being aware of it at the time, when I was collecting the stories, I’ve listened to this music and come to love and respect it. I’ve had to forget all my assumptions about how folk music should sound, and learn that this is an area where music is both sophisticated, modern, mediaeval and timeless all at once.

Perhaps an example? el ball del Rogle a dance from Areny from the Alta Ribagorça region of Catalunya. This is a dance that circles around a tree that once grew in the centre of a village: some guess it’s a prehistoric remnant of paying homage to ancestral spirits in the trees; some suggest that as it forms an open circle, it’s the originator of Catalunya’s characteristic and incredibly popular sardana. To me, even if the dance is happening in school or community hall many miles away, that tree is there too, as another dancer through time, and as another player of music heard only in the soul. Like so much of Catalan music and dance, it welcomes you in to something both simple and unexpected, both ancient and timeless.

Above all, it is music to be absorbed into your heart and soles of your feet, not music to be written about.

Philip David Ellwand

Illustrations, David-Thomas Crawley, Fira Mediterrania, Paddy Byrne


About pdellwand

I am enjoying my liberation! • this resulted from an early retirement from work in local government, after extensive experience in Youth, Community & Adult Education. An escape to be celebrated. • I've also finished work at Ofsted, the crown service responsible for inspecting the quality of education and services for children and their families. It used to be more conscious of its independence from the civil service, from politics, politicians and political positioning, from parties, powers and principalities, press, prejudice, pressures and striving for popularity and proud of acting without fear and favour and on the basis of evidence and performance. The following of these principles is currently less clear and although I miss my inspection work and former colleagues, I do not miss the pressures and current tends. Still lots of projects, contracts and commissions, providing management, consultancy, evaluations and inspections in education, heritage, arts & culture; giving individuals & organisations challenges: critical friendship; mentoring; leadership; management; quality improvement; adaptation to change; inclusive or ethical policies / practices. • Contracts include music production, unique participative music events and research. • Clients have included Help the Aged, with commissions for me to create projects for elders to make music in inspirational settings & to evaluate a pilot project for elders creating a radio station as a voice for their generations. For National Museums, Liverpool, the Musicians' Gallery, which brought new music, spoken word and dance into treasured spaces to invite a new way of appreciating them. From New Art Exchange, a commission to create a performance art installation during the Liverpool Biennial,. This took the ideas of volunteers, old and young: their hard work and beauty of movement and song into a successful, intriguing and soulful performance. • After many years of fighting for and sustaining arts work with young people and their communities, then for creative skills for adult learners while I was head of a centre of excellence - now MY turn: my free-lance work has helped me find my own voice and put my hands to work directly and creatively in music, environment & 3D art. Opportunities for making things directly, working with talented and good-hearted friends, sharing the delight in broadcasts, publications, presentations and performances – That is liberation.
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