Festival Review

The Chattanooga Dulcimer Festival this weekend was great!

The schedule is great!

There are six classes, three on Friday and three on Saturday. They’re all an hour and a half long, which is a nice length. An hour is too short to do more than lecture or learn a tune. Longer can be nice for some things, but there was only one class I thought really needed more than ninety minutes.

There is plenty of time to rest and recover from things. The lunch break is nice and long, with a mini-concert in the middle. Everyone eats together in the cafeteria, where the festival store is also set up. Angie took lunch orders during the morning class and so lunch was just a matter of picking out your sandwich and sitting down to eat it. Very relaxed and easy — for the participants if not for Angie!

There’s also a nice long break between the afternoon class and the evening concert. A jam happens in the cafeteria, or you can duck into one of the classrooms to practice something you learned or talk to a teacher or whatever else you need to do. It’s so nice to have jamming happen in the afternoon while folks are still awake, and not have to wait until after a long evening concert and battle the sleepies. Makes the concert more enjoyable, too, since you know you can go right to bed afterwards if you so desire.

The approach is great!

This festival is focused on technique. My other favorite festival, the Upper Potomac, also has lots of classes that focus on building skills, but apparently this is not the typical festival fare. I think it’s great — why go to a festival just to learn tunes? If you learn technique, you’ll be that much better equipped to learn — and arrange and compose and perform and improvise — tunes.

The classes are all team-taught. That means more help for the students — when there’s time to try something just taught, teacher and helper can both go around answering questions and making suggestions. Or if some folks are particularly struggling, the helper can stand near them and quietly advise without interrupting or slowing down the rest of the class. Helpers also may have a different way of explaining or demonstrating something. It’s also great from a teacher’s perspective — I got to see how three other teachers approach things, which can help me become a better and more effective teacher.

The classes were great!

I taught two classes, one introducing chords and one introducing some separated hands techniques. I had the help of Christie Burns in the one and Stephen Humphries in the other. The students in the classes were great, enjoyable to teach, willing to try new things, patient, etc.

Christie taught a class on bringing new life to old tunes — a new beginner and I spent the class out in the hall working on stuff more at her level, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the team-teaching approach. I’ll have to remember to ask Christie to send me her notes!

Mark Wade taught a class on adding accompaniment to melodies. I’ve talked to students before about “filler notes” or “arpeggios,” but Mark broke it down into very specific kinds of arpeggios — descending, down and up, ascending, with bass notes, and so on.

Saturday, Dan Landrum taught a class on modes. When I teach about modes, I focus on the four most commonly found in Celtic and Old Time music — Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, and Aeolian — and what tunes in these modes sound like. Dan’s approach is jazz-influenced: He taught how to find all seven modal scales, talked about chords from a jazz perspective (which led into a long discussion trying to clarify the different types of seventh chords), and went on to talk a little about improvising or composing based on modal scale and chord patterns. This is a class I would have enjoyed for another hour or so; ninety minutes was just enough time to introduce the topic and answer questions that had to be addressed before getting into the meat of it.

That afternoon Mark, Christie, and I talked about practicing. Mark had a great handout full of different drills you can do with two-octave scales and arpeggios, practicing shifting accents, evening out both hands, and so on. At the end we had a short question-and-answer / sharing time to discuss other practice tips and ideas.

There were also other classes going on — two or three at a time just for hammered dulcimer, plus some classes for mountain dulcimer.

What else was great?

I confess I skipped most of Friday’s concert, but the bit of Lee Rowe’s mountain dulcimer performance I caught was great. Saturday’s mini-concert by Stephen Humphries was really cool – it broke out into some discussion in the middle, and brought everyone to their feet at the end. Saturday’s evening concert was also a lot of fun, with various combinations of the instructors in the first half, and Dan’s new jazz group in the second half. I especially liked Christie and Butch’s two songs, one about getting married which was sweet, and one about being a folk musician which was funny.

I didn’t get to the pasta or Chinese places, but the Mexican place was great and so was the barbecue.

I think the festival store was pretty great, too. Jerry and Doug brought not only Jerry’s dulcimers, but also some made by Dusty Strings and MasterWorks and I think some others, plus bowed psalteries, mountain dulcimers, hammers, and other accessories. Plus there was a great selection of performers’ and teachers’ CDs, t-shirts, and more.

The downtown jam at the aquarium was a lot of fun — started out with a group of students and some of the teachers just jamming as usual, and morphed into Dan, Stephen, Christie, Mark, Randy Clepper, and others doing improv and other wild and unusual things.

You know what else was great? The people and the atmosphere. I got to know some of the other teachers better than I had before, partly because of the team-teaching thing, and just enjoyed hanging out with folks in general — at meals, at the guest house, at the Landrums’ Sunday after most folks had already gone home, and so on. And the Mountain Arts Community Center was homey and comfortable, and the whole weekend felt relaxed and peaceful.

Sure, I’ll go back if I can. And I’d recommend the festival to anyone, especially anyone who really wants to develop their musicianship and not just increase their repertoire.

2 thoughts on “Festival Review

  1. This year was my first time at the Chattanooga Festival and I have to say that I was impressed by the helpfulness of the instructors and the relaxed atmosphere, unless you were in one of Dan’s classes. (Dan is very energetic and really wants you to learn and think of your instrument differently, not that the other instructors don’t. It’s just that Dan is more agressive in his approach). I enjoyed not being overwhelmed by the paper handouts. I came away from the festival feeling that I had picked up a few things that I could use in my arrangements.

    Finally, I really enjoyed getting to know you, Marcy. I wish you and your about-to-born daughter the very best and look forward to seeing you both at future festivals.


  2. Glad to hear you enjoyed the festival, Allen — and I think you’re right about Dan! It’s cool though to have that balance of some more and some less intense folks.

    Wouldn’t it be cool if the little one eventually learned dulcimer!

    Best to you and yours as well.

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