Old World or New, Sacred or Profane

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Road to Cello - Chapter 2

Over a year had past before M came back. She was in a happier, more connected of mind. "Must get date, or at least phone number!" I thought. That had a snag, she was traveling to Washington soon to visit her brother for awhile. Hmmm, the next possible weekend I had my daughter with me. A few weeks later we had a first date at Chuck E. Cheese with me bringing my 7-year-old along and she bringing her dog.

In the following months we got to know each other, and each others tastes in things like music. We took some road trips out to the desert and she brought some of her favorite tapes along: some Celtic, some Appalachian, some various guitar/banjo/song collections. Real nice stuff. After awhile it starts to grow on you. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes somewhere in between, but always hummable and good listening.

Sometimes M spoke of the Summer Solstice Festival held in Calabasas by the California Traditional Music Society. It was one of her favorite places. I had heard of it and I knew many of the contradancers went up there but I didn't know much about it and hadn't thought of going before. So when June came, we packed up a tent and food and out to Calabasas we went.

Wow, it was better than I had imagined! It was held on the grounds of Soka University which was a beautful somewhat isolated place. Small by University standards perhaps, but with expansive lawns, large shade trees, a creek and pond with large graceful swans. Are we still in dusty, crowded, concrete-covered Southern California? Didn't seem that way.

For the two days there were workshops for singers, instrumentalists, and dancers at various levels, concerts, and jam sessions (both planned and unplanned) all over the campus and at the campgrounds. Instruments included, but were not limited to: fiddles, banjos and mandolins of various shapes, sizes, and tunings, guitars, hammer and fretted dulicmers, harps, whistles and flutes, psalteries, concertinas and accordians, string basses, and even home-made instruments, such as PVC pipe marimbas and washtub basses. And for non-instrumentalists, sessions in harmony singing, cowboy songs, Celtic songs, humorous songs, American contradance, English country dance, Greek dance, belly dance, and other international dance styles.

In the mornings and evenings groups formed in the camping area for song circles and jams. It's gets very dark there (no campfires are allowed, of course, but then, these people are not the type to pack music stands). At one point a washtub bassist came by, stopping for a while at the camping area before continuing on to a hotel with many other late night jams sessions. I still remember how that bass added a gentle depth and anchor to the sometimes chaotic mixture of treble instruments. Bimm-bumm-bimm-bumm... wafted through the campground. I had no idea that a washtub could actually hit specific notes and follow the chord changes like that. I wished I could do that, but I couldn't imagine learning to pull on a stick just the right amount to match chord changes by ear. No way I could even hope to identify chord changes well enough and fast enough for any instrument yet alone on something like that. It seemed like magic.

Note: Since that time (2002) the CTMS festival has been scaled back. The grounds of the Calabasas campus of Soka University were purchased by the CA Park Service (See http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/712/files/031105a.pdf, and http://angeles.sierraclub.org/News/SS_2005-05/soka2.asp). By contract, although the sale was completed in 2005, Soka University maintained control on the use of the grounds until 2007. I'm told the Park Service wants more money for the use of the grounds than CTMS can come up with. While the 2006 festival still took place on the same grounds with a cut-down schedule, we hear the 2007 festival might be held at a large hotel in Encino instead. We're waiting for more word from CTMS.

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