Contemporary Folk Week Classes – July 28-Aug. 3, 2019

(Unless otherwise indicated, all classes have a limit of 15)

Songwriting

SONGWRITING 101: STORYTELLING (Nora Jane Struthers)
Stories help us understand and process the world we live in. A story set to music possesses an added power to penetrate hearts and minds. In this class for all levels we will work on honing the craft of telling a story though song. Whether you seek to write a modern-day folk-hero classic, magnify a fragment of forgotten history, paint a picture of your hometown, or immortalize a series of events from your family history or your own life, this class will give you the tools to craft something memorable and meaningful.

DISTILLATION (Nora Jane Struthers)
As writers, we all attempt to find and convey truths. When we sit down to work on a song, the first question we should ask ourselves is ‘What am I trying to say?” The second question is “How can I best say it?” In this class we will work first on distilling our intentions down to their essence and then on our delivery of those intentions, through lyrics, melody, and performance. Bring a song or a piece of a song that you feel has promise but lacks focus. We will create a safe space to generate, hone, and share our work together.

SONG CRITIQUES (Jon Vezner)
Songs chosen for critique each day will be drawn from ‘a hat.’ Attendees will be encouraged to attend all sessions, for it will be beneficial to be a part of the process whether your song has been chosen or not. Critiques will be very in-depth, and we’ll hope to cover two to three songs per 75 minute session. We will address song form and structure, prosody, storyline, melody, arrangement and last but not least, commercial potential.

CO-WRITING (Jon Vezner)
The class will explore the benefits and advantages of co-writing, how to choose a co-writer, discussion of the co-writing process, and the division of copyright. Students will be paired up with someone in the first class session to be their co-writer for the week. Co-writers will then work on their songs on their own time. Class time will be set aside each day to discuss progress, problems etc., and the songs (complete or incomplete) will be performed during the last day of class.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM PETE & WOODY (Tom Paxton)
This class will include songs by Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others and how they shaped Tom’s songwriting. We will write songs right from the news of the day. Bring 15 copies of anything of this kind you have written.

WRITING A TRADITIONAL SONG (Tom Paxton)
This is a songwriting class on traditional styles. Come explore what traditional songs have to teach us in the 21st century. We will write new verses for traditional songs, which will give us a new appreciation for this priceless heritage.

WHAT WRITER’S BLOCK? LET’S GET UNSTUCK (Amy Speace)
When I feel I’ve got writer’s block or I’m in that place where I feel like I’ve either got no new ideas or I’m just plain “stuck” – either stuck plagiarizing my last three songs, stuck in a groove rut, a lyric or a musical rut, that’s when it’s time for the Amusement Park of Songwriting. In this class, we’ll be writing songs from Games to Get You Unstuck. Some of the fun we’ll have: the 20 minute song (yes, you can write a fully-formed song in 20 minutes, I know you can, and you’d be surprised at how deep you go when you’re not thinking so hard about it); The 20 Word-Limit Song; the ‘everyone gets the same hook line’ song; Songs from Improvisation; partnering and swapping stories for songs, etc. We’ll also talk about techniques for writing exercises to try when you’re already writing a song and are stuck, how to access deeper writing and the story to bring to that lyric, and we’ll look at your own songs where you may be stuck and try to unstick them.

WORKS IN PROGRESS (John Gorka)
My favorite place to be is in the middle of a song. I hope this class will find us all in the middle of a new one. Our purpose will be to write new songs and to a lesser degree, complete promising, unfinished pieces. The first day I will talk a little bit about what has worked for me as a performing songwriter. Then we will quickly shift the focus to the individual student’s areas of interest or concern. Most of the week will be spent on actually cultivating new songs. I hope to create a positive atmosphere where writing a new song is not only possible but inevitable.

EVERYBODY HAS A STORY (John Gorka)
The purpose of this course is to develop new songs and provide tips on how to perform them. We will start new songs from scratch or work on songs newly begun in other classes or at home. Then we will focus on ways for you to connect with audiences in a live performance setting. You can benefit from my experience and decades of mistakes to find ways of crafting a set, telling your story, presenting you and your songs. Providing lyric sheets printed or with neat handwriting is encouraged! I don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach as a song coach but I will adapt to the individual needs and interests of the attending songwriters.

THE MUSE LOVES TO SEE YOU AT WORK (Don Henry)
It’s a beautiful moment when a wave of inspiration hits you. However, if you’re like most of us, it can be a long time between those moments. Fortunately, the Muse is kind to those who are busy at work! Inspiration never travels without the companion of craftsmanship, and we’re going to use the whole toolbox: hard and soft rhymes, cadences and chord changes, cut and paste, puns and juxtapositions. In the process we’ll conquer three challenges during the week: assignment writing, writing lyrics without an instrument, and putting music to a co-writer’s lyrics. Come explore how creativity can blossom from boundaries.

DONT DROP THE BALL, TEAR DOWN THE WALL (Don Henry)
Tired of writing yourself into a corner? How often have you found yourself up against the wall of writer’s block? Have no fear, there’s always a way through, and we’re gonna find it together. In the process, you’ll acquire some tools that can help you overcome future writer’s block. Bring a problem song, 16 copies of the lyrics, and together we’ll tame that sucker!

SONGS ARE MADE OF EVERYTHING YOU ARE (Peter Mulvey)
In this course, Peter will delve into every thread that goes into the whole cloth of songwriting. The first part of every class will involve his own sources and methods: deconstructing his own songs, cannibalizing covers, putting yourself on the hook, writing from prompts, and even a dash through his epic “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Tom Waits.” The rest of each class will involve immediate feedback on each of the students’ work, in light of what has come up that day. As John Cage said, “Everything we come across is to the point.”

DIGGING DEEPER (David Wilcox)
Bring your unfinished songs to class – maybe just a piece of something – and we will imagine that there’s more to uncover, like fragments of dinosaur bone from an archaeology site. Unearthing a song requires asking the kinds of questions that will help you imagine it complete. It’s a step-by-step process. Let’s start by closely examining the existing evidence. You have just a piece of a song, but not the whole story. What character might speak these lines? What’s the situation? What trace of intent or feeling is in the music? Who might be speaking to whom, and why? There are so many possibilities, but once you can fully imagine the life that this fragment came from – how it walked – you can fill in the missing pieces and bring the song to life.

SIMPLE SKILLS (David Wilcox)
I still love practicing the simple skills that make up the craft of songwriting. When we do them together, we can make them fun. It’s a confidence builder to remember that our complex craft is made up of simple skills that can be practiced one at a time. For example, we will all take 15 minutes to write our own little melody to the 2 lines of lyrics up there on the blackboard, and then we will all be welcome to share and talk about how we did it. What clues did the words give us? How did we discern the rhythm? All the different possibilities open our imaginations. Then, for the next exercise, I give everyone the same short piece of melody on your phone and we each take 15 minutes to write words that fit it. The rise and fall of the melody determines what syllables are accented, so it’s really just a word puzzle. We don’t feel self-conscious because this isn’t a song, it’s just a game of finding words that have a particular pattern of accent and rhythm. You could start with some nonsense combinations of words. There are no wrong answers. The momentum and freedom we feel from simple exercises gives us confidence to be more playful with our writing.

 

 

Vocal

VOCAL MASTER CLASS (Kathy Mattea)
In this class we’ll do individual singing in front of the group, and play with techniques including phrasing, presence in the lyric, technical tips for breathing, relaxing, and getting out of our own way. This class is for anyone who wants to inhabit their own songs more comfortably. We work to create a safe environment to explore and take risks. Really fun!

WILD, WILD VOICE (Moira Smiley)
The human voice has astonishing range, and, like our lungs & our brains, we may not use it to its full glory! Here’s a class to explore the far reaches of our vocal color palettes. We’ll spend some time listening to and discussing recordings of truly wild singing that ‘wow’ us, from many genres. We’ll break down and try out elements of singing that define ‘style’ and our relation to it. We’ll write mini-songs to explore this in ourselves. We’ll learn about the contexts for singing that bring unique, expressive singing forward. We’ll learn a few unusual traditional folk songs primarily from Eastern European and Appalachian traditions to enjoy different vocal colors together. Moira playfully draws out techniques, timbres, ornaments, laments and laughter you always knew were in you as a singer or writer of songs, but maybe hadn’t felt you could bring out!

SONGS, MOVEMENT & IMPROVISATION (Moira Smiley)
Body percussion, vocal & theatrical improvisation, gesture work, breath work… these will form our playful exercises, discussions and musical games. We’ll break into pairs to learn to create with and support each other. We’ll learn and create body percussion as a way of making your singing and songwriting more embodied and free. Moira is unfailingly gentle and playful when teaching movement, so ‘non-movers’ are encouraged and welcome to come. Group vocal improvisation (circle songs and other structures) will alternate with more personal/solo songwriting and performance exercises. Explore fresh, physical ways into songwriting while at the same time strengthening your confidence, clarity and presence.

BASIC VOCAL MASTERY (Camela Widad)
This course covers foundation-level work on all elements voice-related. Each class begins with vocal warm ups specifically selected for each student. We will discuss the physiology of the vocal chords (vocal fold muscles) and the surrounding tissues so that we can understand how to use the voice, honoring its structure and function. Learn to care for your voice throughout any age, sickness, over-use or just being ready for the “2 hour gig 3 nights in a row.” Learn recovery tools & techniques, and most importantly how to honor, love and embrace the unique NATURAL voice that only you have. We will learn what each voice is: chest, head, falsetto, what is called “the mix” and how to make transitions between these voices. We will use basic songs sung as a group as tools to see a before-and-after experience of how the exercises are transforming, strengthening, and relaxing your voice. Be prepared to bring 16-32 measures of a song to sing the first day in the group, and we will revisit it at the last class to see the difference. It can be a cappella or with your instrument of choice. Camela creates a gentle, ‘no-judgement’ zone with permission to make mistakes, because that is how we truly learn. Bring water to drink during class and a notebook if you like to take notes. Students are welcome to record audio of the class warm-ups.

ADVANCED VOCAL MASTERY (Camela Widad)
This class is for those who have a good understanding of their voice and confidence doing advanced exercises, but may still have more they want to learn or specific struggles they would like to address. We will briefly review much of the Basic Vocal Mastery class to establish our starting point. We’ll do exercises to understand how you are using your voice. Are you in some vocal patterns that you need to break free from? Has tension set in along your vocal range? Are you stretching past your comfort zone during your exercises? Are you stuck using only chest voice? Head voice? Do you work in “the mix?” We will introduce advanced vocal techniques that are more challenging, including isolating exercises for each voice (head, chest, mix, falsetto) and talk about the importance of head voice to balance the tone of your voice. This will be a faster moving class that is both strengthening and tension relieving. Bring a song to share that we will return to at the end of the week. Bring water to drink during class and a notebook if you like to take notes. Students are welcome to record audio of the class warm-ups and specific exercises.

 

 

Performance

PERFORMANCE & SONGWRITING (Vance Gilbert)
Vance’s dicta is that songwriting and performance are inextricable entities, so his classes will focus more on one or the other aspect, depending on individual need. All of this is done in a supportive atmosphere as if it were an ‘instructive open mike,’ – Vance working with one student as the others watch. Then it’s YOUR turn! In these practical classes Vance gets ‘under the hood’ of what you do and want to do in a supportive and very entertaining way. This stage/song bootcamp is a class you don’t want to miss.

ADVANCED VANCE (Vance Gilbert)
This offering is for any of you ‘graduates’ who want to go further in performance and songwriting with one of the best. Got the basics? Then here’s an opportunity to dig into the performance/songwriting connection a little bit deeper. It’s a great opportunity to tweak and hone skills previously acquired in a ‘Vance’ class, or heck, sure, if you missed the first one, c’mon in – there’s plenty for you to do here too.

PERFORMING FEARLESSLY (Amy Speace)
A comprehensive look at Performance as its own art of Truth-telling. We write to connect to our own Truth. We sing and perform for others to connect our experience with theirs. To move them, shake them, make them feel. To say, ‘You are not alone.’ That is the deepest form of performance. It is a calling and deeply spiritual. We heal ourselves by writing our songs. We heal the audience by sharing them, and we can all heal the world by experiencing this together. We’ll look at performance from the stillness at the center of your song, asking a few questions of the song and of you, the performer, to get you more connected and give you tools to connect to your song each time you perform it. Of course, this is ‘show business,’ but there’s a difference between simple entertainment and profoundly meaningful performance. This class helps you to reach your best, most authentic performance. We’ll look at everything it takes to create a show, from song choices to banter to putting a set list together and even just getting up the nerve to get out there. This is a fun, active, on-your-feet week, so be prepared with a song (your own or another’s) that you know by heart. Bring your instrument, a copy of your lyrics and an open, curious mind. There are no right’ or ‘wrong’ moves in this class, only that which rings true. You will be moved and surprised by your own power. There’s definitely a money back guarantee to this class (or at least I’ll scoop you some ice cream at dinner if you hate it)!!!

INTRODUCING THE BEST YOU ON STAGE A & B (Ellis Paul)
(NOTE: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material)
Would it be surprising to find out that 90 percent of the impact of a communication was visual? Your clothing, hair, posture, poise impacts the story you tell through your songs. We will address the visual aspect of performing as well as the dynamics of the presentation sonically as well – a checklist of what you are bringing on stage, stories, songs, and the visual – as well as what the venue provides – lights, sound, environment. This class will teach you how to get the most out of your performances, find the soul of your songs, and make the most out of the venues you play!

 

 

Guitar & Creativity

FINDING YOUR PATH (Kathy Mattea)
This is a class to share experiences, struggles and victories around the place that music sits in our lives. I realized a few years ago that there were some pivotal moments in my own journey with music, and when I looked closer at those moments, I discovered that there were some iconic questions that led me to the right answer in that moment. I have come to believe that we all have our own answers, floating around inside us, about life, music, and the conversation that art opens up between us, and the communities it creates. But, for me, there is a skill in hanging out with the question, and sitting in the uncomfortable open-ended-ness of it long enough so that the answer reveals itself. I’m interested in supporting each other as we ask these deeper questions, and explore where music is leading each of us in our lives, and what it has to teach us about ourselves, being human, and creating community. And about the larger conversation with ourselves, with that quiet voice within that guides us, and with each other. My experience is that the group is a rich place to learn from each other, and it’s enlightening and inspiring to spend five days immersed in this conversation with others who are also finding their way.

BE YOUR OWN ARTISTIC PRODUCER (Joe Craven)
Explore the value of twisting, tweaking, building up and stripping down content and how it enhances and flexes intention in musical stories. Mix & match musical styles to a composition. See how packaging changes the way we connect to the content of a song or tune – yours or other people’s. Bring material you’d like to explore. Joe will provide song examples as well. We’ll all be surprised at the results. From detailing with tiny paint brushes to bold strokes with a paint roller – with or without a drop-cloth – it’s all about fearless possibility in creativity. Re-framing words, rhythms and melodies reminds us of the long, historical love affair between tradition and innovation. Everyone has a place and space to create anew from the old, the borrowed and the blue. Let’s liberate ourselves from the tyranny of common sense while exploring our Home on the (Free) Range of Contemporary Folk.

IMPROV, WORD SALAD & THE SOUND CATCHER (Joe Craven)
Joe will introduce frameworks for ‘intuitive improvisation’ in music based on what you already do, show you different ways to look at and interpret existing tunes or songs and how to fearlessly jam with others. There is no jazz theory requiring advanced mental or technical prerequisites. We’ll connect movement and sound to working with what you already know (which is more than you think), including awareness/focus, sending/receiving, the value of losing control, making mistakes and mimicry. These exercises will help you play with others in new ways and with greater confidence.

THE SINGER/SONGWRITER AS GUITARIST (Peter Mulvey)
This course will have an emphasis on the guitar as a machine to be put into service supporting songs. Beginning with his own works, Peter will demonstrate various guitar mechanics by taking the compositions apart, and then delve into students’ work. Single-string theory, the fundamentals of rhythm, alternate tunings, and simplicity will be explored in the context of performing a song. Intermediate to advanced guitar players will benefit the most from this class, and Guitar Week students are especially welcome.