Old World or New, Sacred or Profane

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

CTMS New Year's Camp

We both made it to New Year's Camp. What a fine weekend! Great featured performers and attendees, I experimented with a couple of other instruments, and I participated in a trio that performed, along with six other acts, in the Camper's Concert on Monday morning. And, I'm pleased to report, I was not the only cellist in attendance.

CTMS New Year's Camp is a much smaller event than Summer Solstice, but in some ways that's a good thing. With fewer attendees and featured performers you get to know some people better than you would with the much larger attendance at Solstice.

The event was held at Camp Hess Kramer, a Jewish summer sleep-away camp for youngsters located in Malibu, California, between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Jewish symbols, artwork, and Hebrew text adorn the camp, and the cabins are named after Biblical characters. That said, a Hindu group was wrapping up their event just as we were arriving. I know a camp for deaf and hard-of-hearing children is also conducted there, and I suspect many other events, as well. I'm not Jewish myself, but I'm quite impressed and grateful the temples that run the facilty make it available to others. I reckon it's a good thing Mel Gibson doesn't own all of Malibu.

New Years Camp featured performers that performed in the staff concert Friday night, conducted workshops on Saturday and Sunday, and performed "at large" in jams, dances, and song circles throughout the weekend. This year's featured performers were:

Banshee in the Kitchen!: To my thinking, this is the premier Celtic group of Southern CA.

Cathy Barton and Dave Para: Their repertoire includes many songs and tunes from U.S. history performned authentically, along with stories about the music's origin.

Martha Wild. Mountain dulcimer, piano, and contra dance calling. The mover and shaker for much of the evening activities.

Tom Sauber and his son Patrick. Tom Sauber's been one of the most influential Old Time musicians in the country. His son may become even more so. Nicest mandolin playing I think I've ever heard live.

Amber and Jim Mueller. Jim and Amber have been major performers and organizers since the seveties and eighties, repectively. Jim's also a math professor at Cal Poly.

At Friday night dinner we met a couple, whom I'll call MA & B, who played hammer dulcimer and fiddle. It turned out B knows a cellist and had written out harmonies for a tune he had learned at a fiddle camp, Josefin's Waltz. He had heard it as recorded by Dervish; I had heard it as performed by Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas at the 2006 New Directions Cello Festival. We agreed that we would get together at some point that weekend and try it out.

On Saturday I had my first strums on a lap dulcimer (aka fretted dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, appalachian dulcimer, hog fiddle, and, no doubt, other names). Martha Wild had a flock of dulcimers for us to try out. Since I was last in the group I got a bass one, tuned an octave lower than the others. Ok, that was fitting. I'm not about to get serious about dulcimer but it was fun to strum up a storm.

I also went to a couple of workshops on whistle conducted by flute, accordian, and whistle player Jill of Banshee in the Kitchen!. I played my "wooden" (actually polymer) keyless flute. Every once in a while I get the urge to pursue wooden flute but I get frustrated after a while. Maybe I'll take off from cello lessons for a few months someday if I can find the right sort of flute teacher. I know of no flutists in my area that would find wooden flute acceptable. Yet, there's something very attractive about an instrument so simple that apparently even Neanderthals made and played. A conical tube (unlike Boehm's cylindrical design), closed on the wide end, with one blow hole and six fingering holes.

I also attended a fiddle modal tune workshop by Jim Mueller. Why do I torture myself like that? I start to get the tune for a while, but as they get up to speed I'm left in the dust. Someday, someday...

My wife led a beach walk. Regrettably, I didn't get out there. I understand those that went were glad they did, but it was rough going in some spots.

I participated in some jams and we both danced. I also enjoyed playing duets on the dining hall patio with a harpist and the other cellist (Hey S, are you out there?). Not until late Sunday afternoon, as the sun was going down and the cold breeze setting in, did I come across MA & B and joined them out on a outdoor walkway to try out Josefin's Waltz. B's arrangement worked out very nicely almost instantly! Despite misgivings about performing in front of so much more skilled musicians, we decided to perform it in the Camper's Concert the next morning. I signed us up quick before we came to our senses. Burn those ships!

One of the workshops consisted of the Banshee in the Kitchen! members discussing how they develop their arrangements and what factors go into their decisions to keep or toss out an idea, along with demonstrations. In future posts I intend to go into the accompaniment and arrangement issue. For now, suffice it to say some folks disapprove of the approach of some groups like Banshee in the Kitchen! while others love it.

The Camper's Concert was the last event of the weekend. Folks were free to sign up for it through the weekend for a maximum of two tunes/songs and 5 minutes. One performance that was a particularly pleasant surprise was by a Scandinavian native (I don't know which country) on a keyed fiddle named "Christine." Christine likes certain songs, and what Christine likes, Christine does. Christine has four main strings tuned similar to a viola, C-G-C-A, with, I think I counted, 16 sympathetic strings. It's much like a hurdy-gurdy except it's bowed like a fiddle giving the player more manual control and options for expression and phrasing than a wheel, but with that big bright hurdy-gurdy style sympathetic resonance.

We played our Josefin's Waltz to a very encouraging group. While I think we did better in practice sometimes, we certainly did worse sometimes, so I'm satisfied with how it came out. We played the tune 3 times. We start out in unision, then split to fiddle on harmony with cello and HD remaining on the melody the first time. Then HD and fiddle on melody while I strum. Then fiddle and HD on melody and myself on a bowed harmony. I left my mindisc recorder on by my cello case to record it: Josefin's Waltz. I've retained the audience applause and Clark's commnent to show the really nice and enthusiastic response we received (Ok, vanity too).

Also of special interest to me were a wooden flutist and guitarist duo whose association went "way back to Friday." I had had an interesting discussion with the flutist the day before. He prefaced his performance with a few comments that were especially well-spoken. He thanked the late Elaine Weissman, a principal force in developing CTMS, for providing us with so many friends that we otherwise would not have.

The last and funnest (funnest is a word!) Camper's Concert participant was Leo on fretted dulcimer. He first played a splendidly clean rendition of Kesh Jig. Then he described his personal interest in the recent passing of James Brown and how he had once covered Brown's visit to Ireland for a dulcimer newsletter. Right away the laughter started; something was up -- a James Brown concert written up in a dulcimer newsletter?). He then launched into a rhythm and blues song, complete with blues chords and funky vocal stylings (Well, as funky as a middle-aged balding white man can get). The audience soon recognized the words despite the disguised rendition: Whiskey in the Jar, a well-known Irish pub song. He pulled chords out of that dulicmer that are seemingly impossible on the instrument. It turns out his dulicimer has a some strategically placed extra frets so he can get the major 3rd, minor 7th, and augmented 9th of the major chords at the same time. As my daughter would say, "Sweet!" The performance was hysterical and received a richly deseverved standing ovation.

That closed it; all that remained was the packup and good-byes. We hope to be back next year, and we hope all of them can be back next year, as well.


Erin said...

I inherited a lap dulcimer, still haven't figured out quite how to tune it yet! I managed to tune it to something and taught myself Amazing Grace, but I still don't have the hang of the strumming at all.

PinkFluffySlippers said...

Wow, sounds like you were thoroughly in your element there. So how many cellists were there? More than 2?

I know Martha W as a dance caller & piano player.

Enjoyed your recording.

Terry said...

Erin, I guess you know, but just in case or for others, the heavier strings are to the outside so one typically strums downbeats inward. Pretty strange at first. It's the reverse of something like guitar. A strap helps a lot, otherwise a lap dulcimer theatens to become a floor dulcimer.

PFS, just 2. I was trying to say that we both would have expected just one, ourself. Yep, Martha's a fine lady and did a good job up there.