By Sally McGlew
WHILE not too many old-time halls in WA can claim to have been part of the French barn dance tradition, the Chidlow Town Hall in the Shire of Mundaring has a whole band of musicians and dancers on board tapping their toes to French folk music.
Conducted once a month, the country dance held in the hall includes 30 to 40 participants who are entertained by the delightful sounds from a hurdy-gurdy, a trombone, a piano accordion, French bagpipes and two violins.
In a special tribute to a belated Bastille Day on July 17, there will also be a professional cellist accompanying the group of musicians.
Well-known for bringing the French Choir to the hall in 2016, Emmanuelle Daw is continuing sharing her “cultural traditions” with the local community and the support of her talented musical family.
Mrs Daw, married to Mundaring Shire President John Daw, brings an unenviable talent to get the whole town either singing or dancing in French.
Mrs Daw said the committee formed to save the Chidlow Town Hall which was built in 1905, has worked to bring groups together for fundraising.
Activities include the Sunday market days as well as the French barn dance held once a month.
Each time there is an event it helps raise funds to maintain the building which was saved after the Shire of Mundaring had it earmarked for demolition in 2016.
“It is safe while we can maintain a good committee,” Mrs Daw said.
“The building is old but it is great for singing and dancing because it has a sprung floor,” Mrs Daw said.
The French folk dance (Le Grand Bal de Chidlow) has helped fundraise for upgrades to the kitchen, re-cladding on the Northern and Western walls and treatment for termites.
“Once we were on a trip to France and we went to one of the folk dances near a village in Moulin, north of Lyon and I thought what a wonderful idea.”
“We want to be able to use the hall for the community, by the community.”
While many folk music festivals in France feature groups with hurdy-gurdy players, they are much rarer in Australia.
Mrs Daw has been able to secure a traditional hurdy gurdy player to add even more ‘savoir faire’ and sophistication to the folk dance.
“It is an ability to enjoy the different dances, to enjoy a moment in the present, laughter, exchanges of love and friendship like an Australian barn dance.”
Mrs Daw plays the flute while her husband plays drums and musicians like Russell Johnsen bring their special skills to the barn dance.
Mr Johnsen said he became fascinated with the hurdy-gurdy, regarded as a medieval instrument, while travelling through France.
As a former violinist he said the hurdy gurdy was easy to adapt to as an instrument but they are a difficult instrument to find and buy.
“My hurdy gurdy was made on commission by an instrument maker in the United Kingdom and I also bought one in France,” he said.
“But they are not commonly available.”
The hurdy gurdy has multiple drone strings which Mr Johnsen says can sometimes be temperamental when performing.
The next Le Grand Bal de Chidlow will be held on Saturday July 17 with $5 entry, bring a plate to share and revolution era dress is the theme.
Doors open 5pm.