Ben Miller reports

After the long drive north from New York to Maine, I arrived in the small, but beautiful city of Ellsworth. In town for the spring edition of the biannual Maine Pipes and Fiddle Weekend, I drove on for a few more miles. My accommodations were graciously provided for me by one of the weekend’s main organizers at his home just outside of town. That evening, I was introduced to the workshop’s two perennial instructors, Ward MacDonald and Ellen MacPhee. Both hailing from Prince Edward Island, Canada; Ward teaches fiddle and Ellen teaches Scottish Smallpipes.
Keeping in the tradition of their common musical background of Scottish step dancing, both teachers focus on the importance of music as it relates to dancing. Ellen and Ward both agree that a strong sense of the beat is key. They both put heavy emphasis on even the way players tap their foot, so they will better feel the true rhythm of the tunes. I found this especially fascinating. Even as I relearned a jig in one afternoon class, I saw it in a new light as Ellen showed me how to emphasize the beat in a new way with my foot tapping. Other aspects of instruction included a strong focus on learning by ear and proper posture, as Ellen is also a chiropractor. No more bellows-related back pain!

The nights I spent in Maine were filled with great music as students and instructors gathered at the house where I was staying for some tunes and a few drinks. Fiddlers and pipers joined together accompanied by piano, guitar, and even a harmonium to go through the tunes we had learned and many others. The whole weekend was filled with a fantastic sense of community and welcoming. Although it was my first time at one of these Maine workshops, I felt like I had been there from the first one, four years ago. I will most definitely be in Ellsworth for some more tunes and great fun in October for the fall edition. I hope to see you there.