Fiddles and Goats!
Fiddle Camp is special. It really is. I can't say enough about the way a person looks opening up the black case I hand them for the first time. They hum with nerves and quiet thrills. Some of them are skeptical they will actually leave knowing what to do with the mythical being inside the case - but most are just there to experience the fun of trying at the farm they read about for so long.
They open those cases and pick up the fiddles and hold them so awkwardly. They can't help it and I can't help smiling because I know by the lunch break they will know it as well as a friendly dog. Still strange, but pleasant and comfortable.
The first thing we do is learn to set up, tune, and understand the parts of the fiddle. We go over installing the bridges and how to use tuning pegs and fine tuners. I used to skip this part about fiddles my first few camps - thinking folks just want to start playing - but I have learned knowing how the thing is put together and how to repair it is very empowering. So that's what we do, and then bows are rosined for the first time as I explain how to make their first music. They start with a single A note on one string on their new fiddle. The camp goes on from there.
After folks can bow out one solid note we add fingering.. When all three finger positions are memorized we start our first scale. Usually this is a time that we break for an hour lunch and folks need that break. Holding a new instrument up, pressing soft fingers on wire strings, remembering positions and tuning... this is a little more juggling than the mind can take for more than a few hours and the break is refreshing. After a picnic lunch outside or a trip to the Roundhouse Cafe in town folks return knowing how to tune, rosin, and get ready to practice scales and notes on what just a few hours ago was a strange beast in a little black cage. It reminds me of learning to ride Merlin, or figuring out a garden's needs for that first exciting harvest. The scary part isn't the work or the practicing. The scary part is choosing to ride or plant in the first place. Once you are at camp and holding that bow - it's too late to do anything but learn!
At this camp it means listening and playing while a bottle-fed ram lamb nibbles on your tee shirt or a just-born goatling wobbles by on his new long legs. It's whimsical in a way that I hope is disarming. I want folks to not take this instrument too seriously, and to understand it is not the monster they may assume. Fiddles are simple and easy. They are beautiful even if they only hold a few tunes. Wayne Erbsen compares them to gardens. He explains that you can have a complicated and elaborate garden with hundreds of flowers and vegetables - and it is beautiful. You can also have a small window box with just a few planted daisies - are they not also beautiful? That's how instruments work around here. Even if all you know on the violin is how to tune it and saw out five songs you learned by heart - that's a gorgeous window box.
Since the camp takes place here at the homestead folks get to step away and practice their scales and song next to Merlin's gate - or while chickens strut around. People kept poking into the barn in hopes Bonita would kid (She still hasn't) and picking up a Freedom Ranger chick from the brooder. Being at the farm with an instrument that plays songs tied to our history of pioneers, mountain steads, and the American story is just damn wonderful. So far several dozen people have come to this camp and left with instruments and the ability to learn them. I am proud of that as much as an carton of eggs or share of pork. Music feeds us just as well.
The Campers here learned to not just play scales but play their first tune. We learned Ida Red, and we learned to shuffle, drone, and slide as well. It's a lot to take in, sure, but everyone was playing the song by the end of the day and that is why I am so proud of the people who came. Everyone left knowing how to teach themselves every song in the book and hopefully had the passion of a new hobby to fuel them into another song or two this week! I thank you all for coming: Amelia, Paula, Katie and Sue! Don't stop practicing!
I like the Day Camp Model. It seems easier for folks to digest and attend. I will host another small, five-person, Day Camp in the fall when the leaves are gold and red and folks will want to spend a long Saturday coming here to the farm. I am thinking September 12th. If you are interested in one of the four available spaces: email me at firstname.lastname@example.org