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My name is Miriam, and I went to Robbie Walsh’s bodhran workshop last night, with my friend Sarah Mahon, in Devitt’s Bar in Camden Street, Dublin. We have both had an interest in, and a hankering to learn the bodhran for some time, but never really did anything about it. I came across a bodhran page on facebook a few weeks ago, was contacted by Mick Quinn, and one thing led to another. We decided to go to Robbie’s workshop and see what it was all about. We are so glad we did!

First of all, there was a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, which made us feel part of things from the start. I had been a bit apprehensive about this but needn’t have worried – people spoke to us from the start, and we felt completely at ease.

The people there were divided into two groups – beginners, and not so beginners, and we worked at different ends of the large room. Our first teacher, Colm Phelan from Portlaoise, introduced us to the basics – the instrument itself, a brief history, how to hold it, how to hold the stick etc. The we started learning the basic beats – first for a reel, then a jig, and then a combination of the two. At first the whole thing felt weird (holding the bodhran and stick correctly) but after about 15 minutes we were fine, and found we could actually do what we were asked to do, managing to go faster and faster without missing a beat, or dropping a stick! It was great.

We then had a break, during which Colm and another expert bodhran player (I’m afraid I didn’t catch his name) treated us to some solo playing. At first, they were so good that we were tempted to go home in despair…but we hung bravely on and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is certainly a mistake to think that the bodhran is a simple instrument that can be learnt quickly – it would take years to have that kind of expertise ….but we still want to learn!

After the break, the beginners were taken by Robbie, the host of Bodhran Buzz. At first, he showed us a number of different bodhrans, explaining how they had changed in shape and materials used since the beginning (less than 60 years ago, we learned last night). Robbie showed us how each made a slightly different sound, and also how to use our hands to change the sound we are making while playing – spreading our hand at the back of the bodhran immediately dulls/quietens the sound, for instance.

Robbie took us through a few more beats, a little more complex, and showed us how to mix the beats we had learned in the first session. We also learned how to hit the side of the bodhran for a different sound. It was all very enjoyable, and the two hours felt like five minutes.

It was a most enjoyable evening, and one I would recommend to everyone. Even if you are not sure you will like it, or know nothing about the bodhran, I would recommend that you give it a try. You don’t need a bodhran of your own – the lads have about 20 to spare. The only cost is 10 euros at the door – well worth it.

If you enjoy it as much as myself and Sarah did, you will soon be buying a bodhran of your own to practise!