Monday, May 06, 2013

Prairieland Strings May 7: Getting ready for Clayville Spring Festival

Here's how plans are shaping up so far for the Clayville Spring Festival Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19. Our Prairieland Strings group in Springfield and the Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music folks will play on the porch of Broadwell Tavern ... that may sound like a lot of people, but it isn't since a lot of the same people are in both groups. I've committed us to be there both afternoons, and left the details to be worked out later ... so we'll need at least two or three people there all the time. The more the merrier, though! Please let me know when you can come.

If you haven't played a festival before, here are a couple of thoughts based on our Prairieland Strings experience at Clayville and the New Salem bluegrass festival:

  • It isn't a concert performance. We'll have a card table set up (or an instrument case) with a flier about the Clayville beginners' jams, and festival-goers will typically come up and listen for a minute or two. If they like what they're hearing, they'll stop and chat us up for a minute or two. I like to tell them how easy it is to get started playing the dulcimer, and how much fun it is.
  • Bring chairs.
  • Festivals are the very best way for newbies to get experience playing music in public. Most of the festival-goers aren't paying a bit of attention to you, but they like hearing music off in the distance. So we can recycle the same tunes through the day. I know people who have survived entire festivals playing "Bile 'Em Cabbage Down" and "Go Tell Aunt Rhody."
  • Bring chairs.
  • Since it's a festival, there will be distractions. We're sharing our space with the 10th Illinois Cavalry, a Civil War reenactors' group who have a nice skit with lots of shoot-'em-up, damsels to rescue and villains to rescue them from. And I'll do an impression of an old-time shape-note singing master.
  • But since it's a festival, you should feel free to get up and walk around. There's lots to see ... click on this link for some ideas:

  • Bring chairs.
Since we'll have beginners from the Clayville sessions and grizzled veterans (read "intermediate") from the Prairieland Strings together, here are some thoughts about playing with people who have different skill levels from the Small Circle Tune Learning Session in Colorado's Denver-Boulder metro area. They're a "friendly and supportive group of musicians," and they "welcome all skill levels to play at a moderate and steady pace." They're able to bring the beginners up to speed by stressing "aural learning" -- learning by ear. Kind of like us.

Especially for newbies --

A couple of tips from the Small Circle folks on how to "pick up tunes in a session, with everyone roaring away but you." There's more at

  • "Well, first of all, remember that listening IS practicing in Irish traditional music. It's not unheard of to spend 75% or more of your time in a session listening rather than playing, and it's generally considered a good thing, because when you're playing, it's much harder to listen, and listening and paying attention to what's going on musically (and otherwise) is key to becoming a good session player."
  • If everybody else is playing up to speed, start to join in softly, one or two notes at a time, "... try to pick up just one phrase in the part, or even just a piece of a phrase. Every time that piece comes around, play it. Once you have it solid, try adding a note or two to that each time it comes round. After a while, you'll have the entire tune."
  • "Never, ever, feel uncomfortable about putting your instrument in your lap and just listening to the tune everyone else is playing. Nor should you ever feel uncomfortable about humming the tune along with them until you know it. (Don't sing so loud that you put off anyone, though.) In actual fact, many players will respect your evident ability to respect the music and learn the tune ..."
  • "Most importantly, remember -- this is supposed to be fun! Relax, give yourself a break and some time to get used to this. It'll pay off big in the future!
Some tab we may want to consider --

These are just a couple of songs I like. You'll have others. Bring your suggestions to Tuesday's Prairieland Strings session:

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