Playing and Singing Appalachian Style with Aubrey Atwater

Join Aubrey Atwater for a delightful journey into Appalachian culture!  Learn to sing traditional songs, play instruments like the dulcimer, banjo, and mandolin, and try Appalachian dance steps and games.

Read more about Aubrey and her class in our interview below. Interested? Register here.

JCCFS: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your background in your medium? How did you get started?

AA: I’m an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, writer, public radio commentator, and dancer from Warren, Rhode Island. Self-taught, I perform folk music, dance, and spoken word, playing instruments like the dulcimer, banjo, guitar, and more. With decades of experience, I share historical and cultural stories with humor and passion. Since 2015, I have hosted Ozark Highlands Radio. As part of the duo Atwater-Donnelly, my husband Elwood Donnelly and I have fourteen recordings and nine books.

JCCFS: Tell us more about your upcoming class, ” Playing and Singing Appalachian Style”, does your class have a specific technique or process?

AA: This class is a modern field trip, a time of folk song collection, singing, dancing, and playing together, learning a new instrument or expanding on instruments students already play; discussing songs, instruments, tunes, dances, culture, history, society, etc.; visiting with elders in the community; making new friends and having a lot of laughs and lively conversations.

JCCFS: What tips would you give a student or aspiring craftsperson? Anything you wish you had known earlier in your career?

AA: That is takes a great deal of time and dedication to achieve mastery; that it helps to love your craft so much that you pretty much eat, sleep and breath your cherished work. Take the time you can to discern what it is you really want to do, what calls you. Examine whatever obstacles (logistical, psychological, etc.) might be in your path to see how/if they can be tackled. Know that there can be many difficult moments along the way but stick with it. Be organized, manage your time well. Enjoy the work and talents of others and be happy.

Aubrey performing

Students dancing during Appalachian Dance Week

Students in class at Open House

A student performing lunch time jam during Dance Musicians Week

JCCFS: What can students expect to leave you class with?

AA: A wealth of knowledge, new songs to work on and add to their repertoires, a variety of fascinating ideas about the songs and their histories; laughs and maybe even some tears because the songs are so beautiful and moving; making new friends; singing, dancing, playing together.

JCCFS: What is your favorite aspect or part of the Folk School? What do you most look forward to when coming back to teach on our campus?

AA: The beautiful ethos of non-competitive learning and work, gracious kindness, beauty all around us, interesting and inspiring content, friendships made, community meals, hikes and walks and nature around the stunning campus. A time of reflection and retreat. I have been working at the Folk School about once a year for almost 30 years and it is a very important and meaningful part of my life.

JCCFS: Where do you draw inspiration from for your work?

AA: The many, many folk singers, musicians and dancers that I have learned my songs and tunes and steps from via oral tradition such as, especially, the life and work of folk singer and mountain dulcimer player Jean Ritchie who I knew for many years and who had a connection to the Folk School. The archives, histories and stories of American folk music that I delve into and read on a regular basis. Our fans and students and musical colleagues and all our fascinating discussions and exchanges and encouraging remarks. My work with children and the adolescents and young adults I mentor. The Folk School is very inspiring and important to me–I feel very lit up and well-understood when I am there and can explore many aspects of folk music with my students who are as interested and excited about it as I am. Although I teach at the Folk School just once a year, it is often in my thoughts and has shaped how I conduct my creative life.

JCCFS: What’s one piece or craft object you’ve made recently that you are proud of, and why?

AA: I just finished ten new scripts for a public radio show called Ozark Highlands Radio that has hired me as a guest host for 10 years. These are deeply curated and researched, 6-8 minute pieces on aspects of folk music and dance. I adapted one of the pieces, a clogging (dance) demo, for a live stage performance at the Ozark Folk Center which was captured on video and it has gotten over half a million views on FaceBook. Watch it here.

JCCFS: Where can folks find you if they want to stay up to date on your work?

AA: On my website.  or you can find me on Facebook, aubreyfolk

Check out Aubrey’s video

Upcoming Class with Aubrey

Playing and Singing Appalachian Style

October 13-19, 2024

In this delightful class, sing traditional songs, play instruments, and perhaps try a few Appalachian dance steps and games. Explore cultural history and archives, go on short field trips, and have a special guest or two visit the class. Instruments available to borrow, including mountain dulcimer, banjo, mandolin, guitar, limberjacks, and more. Part of the magic of this class is group chemistry and many joyful surprises! All levels welcome.

About Aubrey Atwater

Aubrey Atwater from Warren, RI, is an award-winning musician, vocalist, writer, public radio commentator, and dancer. She presents captivating programs of folk music, dance, and spoken word. Aubrey is in great demand for performances and classes and has performed throughout the United States as well as England, Ireland, and Canada. She sings and plays the mountain dulcimer, old-time banjo, guitar, mandolin, and Irish tin whistle, and thrills audiences with her highly percussive flatfoot clogging. Part of the acclaimed duo Atwater-Donnelly, Aubrey and her husband Elwood Donnelly perform and have thirteen recordings and eight books to their credit.

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