Festival of American Fiddle Tunes – The Workshop

June 28-July 5, 2015 (Registration coming soon…)
Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend, Washington

Spend the week of June 28-July 5, 2015 living, learning, and jamming with masters of a wide variety of fiddling styles. The Festival of American Fiddle Tunes provides an opportunity to be in community with the bearers of fiddle traditions.

The goals of the gathering are broader than improving your skills as a musician, and include discovering culture through music, learning music in a cultural context, and building lifelong relationships in the fiddle music community.

Fiddle Tunes started in 1977. It’s a week-long, total-immersion workshop with a hallmark of presenting an expansive array of regional fiddle styles. Workshops, classes, band labs, tutorials, dances, concerts, singing, open jams, hat parties – all contribute to a week of living, learning, and jamming with masters of regional fiddling traditions.  Visit the artist faculty page to learn more about the artists and the regional styles represented at the gathering.

You’ll learn by the oral tradition – listen, imitate, listen, practice, and listen again. You won’t get any written music on paper, except by accident. The main teaching focus is on the fiddle, but you’ll find day-long instruction on the banjo, guitar, and button accordion, and nearly as many classes on piano, keyboard accordion, singing, clogging, string bass, mandolin, and social dance.

What happens during the week?

You’ll arrive at Fort Worden and pick up your registration packet, which has a schedule, your button, and your meal ticket if you ordered one. You’ll have time to settle into your dorm room (or other housing) in time for the first event, which is dinner in the Commons at 6:00. After dinner we’ll have an extensive welcoming session where we’ll attempt to introduce everyone who is teaching during the week. This is harder than it sounds, as there are more than 60 people on staff. Your goals at the welcome session might be to visually identify the faculty, try to choose who you want to spend time with during the week, and enjoy other styles of music that you won’t have time to study.

There are two categories of staff–the faculty and the tutors.

FACULTY: During the week each faculty person will teach four morning classes, lead an afternoon “band lab,” play for an evening dance, and play an intimate in-house concert set in the Wheeler Theater.

TUTORS: Tutorials are available at 3:30, after the band labs. Beginning-level tutorials are designed to address the needs of beginning and beginning/intermediate players who wish more individualized instruction on their instrument; they will focus on technique. Intermediate level tutorials will generally focus on style. In many cases, the intermediate tutorials will be in the musical styles presented by the faculty. Tutorial sessions are universally small, and are open to all.

You will also find tutors leading jam sessions with a spirit of graceful encouragement, playing for dances, and generally being a welcoming and helpful presence throughout the week.

Band Labs
Each of the faculty will lead a Band Lab after lunch. What’s a Band Lab? Basically, you’ll be a part of a band learning to play in that faculty member’s style. You’ll learn what makes that style sound like it does – slurs, slides, bowing, ornaments, tempo, etc. Each band lab will play for a dance on Thursday night, and play in the band lab concert on Saturday morning.

There will also be a Beginners’ Band Lab, which is a band lab for beginning-level musicians. And for the first time, we’re offering a Teen Band Lab, taught by teens for teen-aged participants.

Beginners at Fiddle Tunes

“I am a brand new fiddler.   I’ve had one series of beginning classes, and three private lessons.  I have NO musical ability, I can’t read music, but I’m enjoying myself immensely. Is this workshop appropriate for someone like me?”

We get this kind of question a lot. What might a beginning musician expect at Fiddle Tunes? The gathering welcomes people of all abilities, but it’s not uncommon for beginning musicians to feel frustrated at Fiddle Tunes. Here’s what to expect.

In the mornings the main faculty hold forth. Generally speaking, these players were invited to the festival as representatives of a certain style of music, one that they learned from their family and neighbors. Some are experienced teachers, many are not. In an effort to present them in an organic framework as possible, they receive no guidelines from Centrum as to what level they should teach – it’s their choice. Most teach at an intermediate and above level.

So, although there is nothing geared specifically for beginners in the morning classes, we think it’s critically important that you attend these sessions. The faculty are active tradition-bearers, and they share more than their music. You probably won’t open your case. Rather, you’ll be in listening mode, soaking your head in a certain style, listening to stories, understanding the context in which this person’s music is played back home.

After lunch, from 1:30 – 3:00,  you can join the Beginners Band Lab – all beginning-level players of any instrument are invited. You’ll get an idea about how exciting it is to play with other people. The Beginners Band will play for a dance if they’d like, and also in the Band Lab concert on Friday morning.

From 3:30 – 4:30 we offer beginning level tutorials (see above). They’re small, so you’ll have plenty of personal attention.

We hope this information is helpful to you in deciding whether the workshop might be a good fit. Being among so many players can be overwhelming, but it helps to know what to expect. If you have any more questions, feel free to call Peter McCracken at 360-385-3102, x127.

What might a day look like?

So, it’s 9:00 on the first morning. Let’s say you’re an intermediate level fiddler preferring mostly old-time music. You check your schedule, and you see that there are eight fiddle classes in various styles – Cajun, Quebecois, old-time, New England, Cape Breton, Irish, and Basque music. There are also classes in Round Peak style banjo, back-up guitar, Cajun accordion, and clogging. You have your choice, and you decide to go to the old-time fiddle class. Same thing happens at 10:45, with a new slate of classes, before we break for lunch.

At 1:30 you can join a band. Each faculty person leads a band during the week, and you’ve already decided that you’re going to join the old-time band lab. This means you’ll meet each afternoon with the same folks (mostly), and try to learn some tunes in that faculty person’s style. Your band will play for a dance towards the end of the week, and also for an in-house concert on the final morning.

At 3:30 you decide to take a tutorial class.

After that you still have some energy, so you check “The Board.” All kinds of spontaneous workshops are on The Board, posted by everyone – participants, faculty, and tutors. Today you see cards that read “duet singing,” ”world choir,” and “calling a square dance,” among others.

After dinner, there is a four-set faculty concert in the theater. There’s no sound system, the music is splendid and varied, and you stay until the end. At about 9:30, two dances commence – a Cajun band is playing in one dance hall, and some contra dances are being called in another. You check The Board again, and you see that there are bands and callers scheduled until 3am. You end up dancing a little, and then find yourself in a jam session which is still going as the sky lightens in the east.

This goes on all week. By day two you feel like you’ve been here for eight days. Near the end, you wonder how the time has passed so quickly.

Is the gathering appropriate for children?

Absolutely! The Festival is an intergenerational gathering, and we welcome musicians of all ages and abilities to participate fully in Festival activities.

If your child is under 13, and not ready to fully participate, we offer a special Kids Track..

If you have any questions about any of this, send Peter McCracken an email: peter@centrum.org

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