One of the highlights of Chatter and Chitter's summer has been attending the Dance Musicians Week Class at the JCCFS. Actually they enjoyed it so very much-they might tell you it was a highlight of their entire life.
I've wanted them to take the class for the last few years, but a few things got in the way. Actually-only 2 things. The girls didn't meet the age requirement-and even if they had-we couldn't afford to send them both.
Remember earlier this year when I co-taught the Mountain Flavors cooking class at the folk school? One of the bonuses of teaching a class for the folk school-is you get to attend a class for free. Well over a year ago when I was first asked to teach the class-that was my first thought-one of the girls can use my free class to go to Dance Musicians Week!
So this was the year-I taught the class and they were finally old enough. I had one paid for and one to go. Chitter took my class resource and then we applied for a scholarship for Chatter-and she got it!
The week is intense. They start class first thing in the morning and go until late afternoon. Along with classroom instruction there are individual workshops with one on one lessons. In addition to all that-there are contra dances every night during the week to give students an opportunity to sit in and play with the band. Once the learning begins in earnest, the class is broken up into small 'bands' and by the end of the week each band plays for at least one contra dance, square, or waltz totally on their own.
In years past, we usually attended some of the nightly contra dances that are held in conjunction with the week, so we've seen the instructors around but this year the girls got to know them in a more personal way-and loved them all.
There was Naomi Morse-amazing fiddle player-and full of encouragement for each student. On the night Chitter's band played, Chitter said she felt like a miniature Naomi sitting up there playing.
David Kaynor-fiddle player extraordinaire and one of the best dance callers I've ever heard! By the end of the week, the girls felt like they had made a lifelong friend in David. And David even had a vision for The Pressley Girls-and it was a good one too.
Sue Songer the sweetest lady ever-who just happens to be the rock star of contra dance piano playing. Sue was willing to work with Chitter on the piano-even though she hasn't been playing it much since she picked up the fiddle.
Peter Siegel an awesome mandolin player, folk singer, song writer, and super student encourager. Peter even helped Chatter write a song. She's keeping it top secret for now-but I've heard it-and I think it's pretty good.
I think playing for dances would be harder than playing for an audience. For one thing the songs last much longer so the dances can play out. The caller calling out the moves and the noise of the dancers would probably distract me too-but it didn't even phase the students from the class.
The video below is long-but you can see how Chitter and her band did when it was their turn to perform for a dance. Chitter even got to show off some of her fancy footwork.
Each band of students named themselves-check out The Ready Or Nots doing a medley of Kitchen Girl and Waterbound. (*Before you watch the video you need to stop the music player-the music controls are along the top of this page on the far left side-just above the Blind Pig logo. Click the center round button to stop the player)
I hope you liked the video as much as I did-it's hard to watch it and not tap your feet at the same time.
Chatter and Chitter learned so much during the week. The instructors were top notch-and the other students treated the girls as equals, even though they had all been playing a lot longer. It was a win win for the girls-they learned from the instructors-they learned from their fellow students and they had a ball of fun all at the same time.
For me, the most poignant moment happened after the last contra dance of the week. As I sat on a bench waiting for the girls to say their final goodbyes, Martin, one of my folk school friends came and sat beside me. I told him the girls had just finished up Dance Musicians Week. Martin said "Tipper the community and the folk school's paths don't always cross. Sometimes they run in parallel lines. But it warms my heart when I see kids like your girls who were born and raised right here in Brasstown being part of the folk school in a real way."
Earlier in the week, I had learned some of the history surrounding the old blacksmith shop on the folk school campus so I had Olive Dame Campbell in the back of my mind already. As I drove the short distance home late that night I thought about Martin's words-and I thought how right he was. Olive Dame herself would be thrilled beyond words to know her school was still doing what she meant for it to-educate the people of Brasstown in ways that enrich their lives.