Monday, 14 September 2015

The Prairie Paladin Medieval Market and Faire Spotlight: Weldon Gray

Our second spotlight interview of the Prairie Paladin Medieval Market and Faire series is with Luthier Weldon Gray. This is Weldon’s third year volunteering at the Museum’s medieval festival and he has been involved with the Museum since 2013 when the Museum curated an exhibit of his instruments known as Euphonia: Music for the Masses in the Middle Ages. His musical performances are enjoyed by all ages at the festival, and this year he is bringing with him an exciting new addition: Miz Weaver & the Ragamuffins, a youth choir that performs medieval music. It was my pleasure to sit down with Weldon to discuss the work that he does.

Luthier Weldon Gray
Q: Thank you Weldon for coming and doing this interview, I am excited to share all the things that you do. The first thing I would like to know is what do you do when you are not making instruments or performing, what motivates you to volunteer your time for the Museum festival?

A: I spend the majority of my days being a magician known as the Wacky Wizard, doing performances for groups. Otherwise, I am designing and building instruments. I volunteer my time for the Museum’s festival because you guys are so nice to me.

Q: That is awesome! We enjoy having you as part of our Museum community, so I am glad that you enjoy it as well. Now, what inspired you to become a luthier?

A: Building instruments started off as a hobby. I went to go buy a lute, as I was a member of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) but you can’t buy them, so I made one. The research and everything that goes with building instruments was so much fun that I just got hooked.

Q: So you took a little bit of inspiration and ran with it?

A: Yeah, you’re building something and you are wondering what it is going to sound like and you don’t get to find out until it is done, and even then you don’t know if it is right or not, but hopefully very close since the thing you’re making probably hasn’t made a sound for 500 years.

Q: Wow that is very inspiring! Do you feel like you are gaining more insight and interacting more closely with the history of the instruments as you go through all the steps needed to make an instrument?

A: Yes, it makes you feel like you are living the history. All my electric tools though, I am sure they didn’t have that! But when you look at the pictographs and stuff of luthiers shops, and I don’t know if you have seen anything like that on the internet, but they have lathes that run off big mill stones with some poor guy out there turning them, which powers the lathe. And when you start seeing all kinds of pictures like that your mind goes nuts.

Q: That is very fascinating and I will be checking that out later! It is cool to see how technology has progressed from the Middle Ages to the present day. So, if you could choose a favourite part of what you do, whether it is playing the instruments or making them, what would it be?

A: Making them definitely, or discovering the next one. Whenever anyone asks me what my favourite is, it is either the one I am making or the next one that I will be starting on. Even when I am focusing on making one specific instrument, my mind is usually on the next one.

Q: Now, I want to ask almost the same question again, but this time have it apply to the medieval festival:  what is your favourite part of it? The performing, interacting with people, talking about the instruments…

A: I would say talking to people about it after the show when people come up with questions.

Q: That is great as one of the things that you are here to do is to help educate people on instruments and music that they may know little, or even nothing, about.

Weldon Gray and Festival Participant
A: Yes it is amazing how little people know about this. For instance, I made an oud and assumed everyone in the Middle East (from where it originated) knew what it was. However, with all of the religious and political strife occurring at the moment, they have forgotten parts of their own history. I ended up talking to some people who were basically refugees from Iran and Iraq, so I brought out the oud, which they had in fact heard about it, but they have never seen one, which really shocked me.

Q: Wow, that is really incredible, but it’s good that you were able to share that with them! Now, to switch topics for a moment, what do you see in your future as a luthier?

A: Honestly, I don’t really think about the future, except for my next project which is a Prima Balalaika. I sold my last one and have been kicking myself ever since. I only build one instrument at a time, and cannot concentrate on anything else until that one is finished.

Q: Well I am excited to see and hear your newest instrument once it’s complete! I also know that you currently have a museum in your house, known to us as the Medieval Instrument Museum to display all of the instruments you have made and still have. How many instruments would you say you have built, whether it be for yourself or for others that have instruments commissioned?

A: Yes, I designed my museum to display my instruments for family and friends to come and enjoy them. And I don’t know how many I have made in total, as I receive a number of commissions, but I do know that I have sold at least 20 and have another 20 instruments displayed in my house. Alice, my wife, says that building instruments started as a hobby but became an obsession, as can be seen by our own collection of instruments.

Q: Well I would like to say that having seen most of the instruments that you have made, I am very impressed that it only started as a hobby! And for my final question, I would like to know if there is anything else that you are looking forward to for the festival.

A: Well it will be interesting as this is my new group’s debut performance, Miz Weaver & the Ragamuffins’. Miz Weaver teaches her music students medieval music, and actually was at the Euphonia reception where I first performed for the Museum of Antiquities. A few years later she came to talk to me about medieval music, and it seemed to click, as she has so many great ideas and I have so many instruments.

Q: Well I am excited for all of your performances! They have always been popular with the community members that attend the festival. Thank you for taking time out of your day to meet with me and discuss what you do.

Weldon’s, and his groups performances will be taking place in the early afternoon and it will be an excellent start to fantastic fun filled day. Don’t miss their exciting performance that will take place the next day on September 27th at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon. For more information about Weldon Gray and the instruments he makes, check out his website Graylore Lutes at

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