The Taborers Society organises an annual Pipe and Tabor Festival. It is usually held in Gloucestershire but in 2006 we had the excitement of holding it in York in conjunction with the York Early Music Festival, and playing for the Mystery Plays. We were based in Barley Hall, a mediaeval townhouse off Stonegate, and members who were able, arrived on Friday 14th July, including some from America. Rob, who used to live in York, took us on a short guided tour of the city, ending at the Minster, where we played music in the Chapter House for half an hour – some solo pieces and some ensemble.
The afternoon was devoted to a Symposium at the Centre for Early Music with four varied talks being given. Afterwards we partied late into the night.
On Saturday more members arrived and the day was spent in workshops and practising pieces that we planned to play the following day for the Mystery Plays. We had found, distributed and practised English music dating from no later than the 15th century that was playable on the three-holed pipe, and this was our first opportunity to play them together. In between workshops we had a joyful procession down Stonegate to St Helen’s Square where we played for half an hour. We gave an evening concert “Music for Mystery Plays” at All Saints Pavement together with the York Waits and the Staffordshire Youth Recorder and Renaissance Ensemble. The evening ended with clients of the “Three Legged Mare” being treated to impromptu pipe and tabor performances, song and dance.
Sunday saw us impressively costumed. We divided into two groups and each group led a Mystery Play wagon through the streets between performance stations, then played to the audience while the wagon was being set up and again at the end of the play. Having reached the fourth and final station, we hurried back to the Minster to pick up a second wagon and repeat our performance. It was a hot day, it was thirsty work, and there was at least one convenient hostelry while Adam and Eve were being expelled from Eden, or Hell was being harrowed outside.
It was a wonderful experience for members of the Society (as can be seen from the smiles) – and the feedback from the organisers of the Plays was full of appreciation for the way that the authentic music had enhanced the experience.