[caption id="attachment_12103" align="aligncenter" width="602"] The Brasstown Morris Teams in England. (Carl and his red trombone are on the far right.)[/caption]
There are all sorts of traditions that are alive and well at the Folk School. The Brasstown Fire Department always brings the firetruck to spray down all the children during Little/Middle Folk School, we always dance the Salty Dog Rag during the evening break at Saturday night dances, and the Brasstown Brigade always helps us bring in the New Year with their black powder muskets. One of my favorite Folk School traditions is the Brasstown Follies, the talent show that happens each Winter Dance Week the night before New Years Eve. For as long as I've been coming to Winter Dance Week, the Follies have been organized and MC'ed by Carl Dreher - dancer, musician, magician, and all around Brasstown enthusiast. So enthusiastic, in fact, that he and his wife Charlotte Bristow recently retired and decided to move here from Texas. Let's meet Carl...
[caption id="attachment_12107" align="alignright" width="253"] Carl & Charlotte at Kenilworth Castle. Photo by Julie B. Hearne.[/caption]
CC:When did you first start coming to the Folk School? Was it for Winter Dance Week, or to take another class?CD: I believe it was 1993. I saw an ad for Winter Dance Week in the Country Dance & Song Society (CDSS) newsletter, and saw that Bob Dalsemer (the Music and Dance Coordinator at the Folk School at the time) was in charge. I knew Bob from serving on the Board of CDSS, and that was all the recommendation I needed to know that it would be a fun week. So I loaded up my truck and drove out. Except for one year when my wife Charlotte and I decided to stay home for Christmas (a big mistake, I SO missed everyone!) and one year when I was sick, we've been coming continuously since then.
CC:Tell us about your interest in music and dance? What musical instruments do you play and what kinds of dance have you done?CD: I've always had music in my life, with my parent's encouragement. Neither of them played any instruments that I can remember, although I still have my dad's harmonica. My parents loved German music and bought my brother an accordion...is that child abuse?...but he didn't take to it, so I picked it up. (Not easy...it was a full 120-bass "Billy Baldwin" Har-har.)
I started the trombone in 7th grade. (My parent's reaction was "What? The trombone?! But you have an accordion!") I continued playing it all the way through college and then grad school at the University of Virginia. There was a very fine concertina player at U.Va., which inspired me later to buy an instrument and some books and learn it. The melodeon came next out of necessity, since I wanted to start a Cotswold Morris side and I was the only musician (that's being self-flattering) in the group. Next on the list are the banjo and the ukelele, which are hiding in a closet, waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting world. I intend to make use of Folk School classes to get started on those. Wow, accordion, trombone and banjo. The Big Three of social-pariah instruments.
I stopped by the Yarn Circle to speak with Charlotte Crittenden to talk about calling and dancing. Charlotte, a Brasstown local, is a regular caller at the Folk School on Tuesday and Saturday night dances. She is a popular regional caller who has recently called at Old Farmer's Ball, River Falls, Grey Eagle, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Charleston, Charlotte, Sautee and more! Enjoy our interview...
[caption id="attachment_11663" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Charlotte calls a contra dance in the Community Room.[/caption]
CP:How long have you been calling at the Folk School?CC: I came to the Folk School as a Work/Study in the winter of 2006 and I took Bob Dalsemer’s Dance Callers' Workshop that summer. So technically I’ve been calling since 2006, but I wasn’t calling regularly 'till a little time after that.
CP:Why did you get into dance calling? CC: I’d been a contra dancer for a long time. When I was in elementary, high school and college I was involved in other kinds of dance, so I’ve always had a history of being interested in dancing. I wanted to be a provider of the activity as opposed to just a consumer. Recognizing that my skills as a musician might be a little lacking (laughs), I embraced calling as the next fun way I could be able to do that.
[caption id="attachment_11666" align="alignright" width="340"] Charlotte & Charlie[/caption]
CP:What’s the best thing about calling a dance at the Folk School?CC: What a good question! I’d say the dance community at the Folk School is one of the best for integrating all kinds of different folks. People who have been dancing for years and years and years are dancing on the same floor as those who have never ever done it before. Little kids all the way up to folks in their 70s and 80s - all on the same dance floor and everyone’s having a great time, enjoying each other's company. That’s the best part!
CP:Do you have a favorite tune?CC: I really like the old time tune called Growling & Grumbling, which I love as a dance tune. It got this great low, mumbly beginning and then it busts into this fun, upbeat tune.
CP:Is that the same tune as Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman?CC: Yep! That’s the one! It a great tune.
CP:Where do you get your dances from?
CC: Oh goodness! Lots of sources. Primarily (and I’d say traditionally) from other callers, but also from going to other dances. I’ll go to a dance and enjoy something that I just danced, run over to the side and write it down real quick.
So I collect dances from dancing. I collect dances from other callers. And in our modern day & age, the internet is a wonderful place, not only to collect dances right off the web, but also to find literature from different places. I use the Country Dance & Song Society which is an organization up in Massachusetts that promotes folk dance and music. I peruse their bookstore pretty frequently. They are a great resource for all things dance.
[caption id="attachment_8274" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Shape Note Singers with Richard Moss in the Keith House at the Folk School, 1978[/caption]
For anyone who loves to belt it out in the shower, was moved by the church scene in Cold Mountain with everyone belting it out together, or is simply a fan of “belting it out” in life, Shape Note singing is for you!
Every time I have participated in a sing, I have been overcome with the sort of pure emotion that stems from being truly “in the moment” without even realizing it. It is incredibly refreshing and I whole-heartedly recommend it as a great way to spend a summer-time Saturday.
My top 10 favorite things about Shape Note singing (in no particular order):#1. You don’t have to know how to read music or find harmonies. You can just relax and follow the singing leaders and shapes that resemble each note on the page.
#2. Sitting next to a seasoned singer helps you sound like a seasoned singer (It’s the same theory as a lead biker “breaking the wind” for the riders behind them).
#3. The more raw, gutsy and untrained your way of singing, the better it sounds.
#4. You are not alone! This is true togetherness through song. It is basically a room full of 4 part harmonies happening simultaneously. A perfect opportunity to melt into the crowd.
#5. The harmonies are so different from what you typically hear. They sound so old and heart wrenching… SO beautiful.
#6. Singing increases oxygen to the brain, releases endorphins and reduces stress. All good things, right?
#7. It is a different way to meet folks from our region. At the Folk School sing North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and even Alabama are often represented.
#8. It is a safe space for people of all different beliefs and is simply intended as a mode to celebrate joyful living.
#9. The Saturday sing doesn’t drain your go-out-and-have-fun budget. It’s free!
…and last, but not least
[caption id="attachment_10612" align="aligncenter" width="425"] Folk Harp Class with instructor Lorinda Jones[/caption]
The four f's of why I continue to teach at John C Campbell Folk School.
I can teach music lessons on a weekly basis, twenty minutes from my house, so why would I drive 6.5 hours, sleep in a different bed, and not have continual access to internet for a week?! Because when I pull in the drive to the Keith House Community Room, I get the feeling one gets when they have returned home after a long absence. When I open the door in the mornings to the music studio and see the light streaming through the doors, highlighting the wood of the instruments, and I look out at the beautiful view of the mountains, it is like nothing else I can describe. And after just a couple of days with my students, it is like being reunited with family, even though we may have only just met on Sunday.
This year was no different. Well, it is always different, but I experienced those same feelings of being home, being united, and being inspired.
[caption id="attachment_10345" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Dance Musicians Week students serenade folks as they enter the Dining Hall for lunch.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_10346" align="alignright" width="256"] Student learn to play together as a dance band.[/caption]
In 2001, I received a message from Bob Dalsemer asking if I would join the instructor team for Dance Musicians Week at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Lifelong mentor, fiddler, caller and instructor extraordinaire David Kaynor had thrown my name out to Bob, the music and dance coordinator at the school at the time. At that point I was living in Western Massachusetts playing with David and the Greenfield Dance Band and had been devoting much of my time to being a touring singer songwriter. I had been in the contra dance scene picking tunes for about a decade. My musical influences were a woven patchwork of the folks that had surrounded me growing up in New York—Jay Unger, Lyn Hardy, Molly Mason, Sonny Ochs, Pete Seeger. Being born into a family of activists and labor organizers, community was most important and music was (and is) the vehicle and the glue that tied it all together. We were raised to believe that music and dance for music and dance’s sake is not enough. Community first.
[caption id="attachment_10347" align="alignleft" width="195"] A band of DMW students takes the stage for one of the nightly contra dances.[/caption]
“Sing behind the plow!” is one of the great mottos of the John C. Campbell Folk School. Upon first look into the Folk School it seemed to be a kind of Brigadoon, a place stuck in time. Of course, I mean that in the best way. At that point in my life I was lamenting the waning of “community” in “community dance” and was excited to see a place nestled in the far west mountains of North Carolina, founded in the 1920s by the grandmother of the twentieth-century folk music revival, Olive Dame Campbell. Mrs. Campbell based the philosophy of the Folk School on the Danish tradition of folkenhojskolen which aims to foster culture and tradition through noncompetitive adult education—metalwork, quilting, woodwork, photography, cooking—happening alongside a rich tradition of music and dance, with folks from the surrounding Brasstown community invited to weekly concerts and dances and given special admittance into classes. I heard a student once comment “This place is like a kind of Whoville!” referencing the idealistic village from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is exemplified best by the very fact that each dance ends with a short goodnight song, sung with hands joined in a circle. The facilities are surrounded by hills, rivers, lush gardens, outdoor folky sculptures and paths through the woods. Best of all, the dancers are not contra “dancers”—they are mostly just folks from the community. Their gauge of a great experience is more based on who they got to see that night, not how slick the floor was or what tempo the band had played. I had found my place, or maybe the place found me!
Using clogging, music and storytelling to charm Folk School audiences since 1996, Aubrey exudes a talent, grace, and humor unique to only the most tenured and talented of performers. Aubrey returns to the Folk School this September to teach two dynamite classes: Singing with Clawhammer Banjo (Sept. 8-13) and Clogging (Sept. 13-15 - Weekend). She is also scheduled to perform in special Thursday night concert, Sept. 12, 7 p.m. Don't miss out on this opportunity to learn to play, laugh, sing, and dance with Aubrey this fall!
I recently checked in with Aubrey to talk to her about her upcoming classes, the Folk School, tunes, heroes, dance moves, folk music, the Phoebe, and more! Here's what we talked about:CP:You teach quite regularly at the Folk School. How did you find the Folk School? When did you teach your first class? AA: I got the idea to apply to the folk school in the mid-90s when I saw that one of my dulcimer player mentors, Lorraine Hammond, from Boston, was working there. I got in touch, sent materials, and was invited to teach my first class in 1996. I thought I had died and gone to heaven-what a unique, beautiful, nurturing, and exciting place! Teaching a 30+ hour dulcimer class felt daunting back then for my younger self. I was nearly quivering on the plane as I travelled to the Folk School. I have learned a lot over the years teaching at the Folk School. The luxury of time in the week-long class has been a great opportunity to refine and expand my teaching.
CP:Do you think anyone can learn to sing? Do you have to know how sing well to take your classes?AA: YES to first question - I think anyone can learn to sing. Absolutely NO to second question - you do not need to know how to sing well to take my classes. This question reminds me of college when I took a few drawing classes at the Rhode Island School of Design. I realized that maybe I didn't have a deeply inherent gift, but I learned the skill quite well. Some people can easily SING and it is beautiful, like when they are three years old. Some people don't have the gift quite as well, but I have never ever denied someone who wanted to sing or learn to control the pitch of their voice better. I think of two students in particular over the years who considered themselves "tone deaf" and we worked together, trained, and over time, I heard each of them sing on pitch. There were tears. It was quite a moment, very moving!
[caption id="attachment_8338" align="alignleft" width="234"] Aubrey charms audiences of all ages![/caption]
CP:What came first for you, playing music or dancing? How did you learn clawhammer banjo? How did you learn to clog?AA: I started playing piano by ear at about 5 years old, then my parents started me on piano lessons. I quit at 13 and then picked up the guitar at age 15. I had a defining moment that summer in 1979. I figured out how to play two simple chords to a Beatles song and then I sang along and voila! I could play a song and then I was off and running and have never looked back. It was a major turning point in my life.
From there I learned to play the tin whistle, mountain dulcimer and in my late 20's, I went to Eastern Kentucky and started to learn clawhammer banjo and to dance. My friend Cari Norris taught me. She is the granddaughter of the legendary Lily May Ledford, leader of the first all-female string band, The Coon Creek Girls, in the early radio days, so I got to learn from a wonderful lineage of women. When I wasn't with Cari in Kentucky, I'd commission her to send instructional recordings (cassettes!), and she walked me through tunes by ear that way. That same time frame, I learned a few clogging steps (aka Flatfooting) and then over time, I learned traditional freestyle clogging by imitating and collecting steps from percussive dancers I would meet on the road. It was a wondrous and quite traditional way to learn. More than ten years later, somewhere in my 40's, I said to my husband Elwood, with some surprise, "I'm a dancer!" I had never taken dance as a child.
CP:Do you have a favorite tune right now?AA: Yes, always. It is often whatever song I am learning at the moment. I am always having some kind of a love affair with a song. Two right now are: "The Jamestown Homeward Bound," a 19th century seafaring song and "Mornin's Come, Mariah's Gone," a Jean Ritchie song. Another song I have sung to myself all year is the beautiful hymn "Resignation" written in 1719 by Isaac Watts.
Pete Seeger is famous for saying a song can change the world and I believe that songs help heal our broken hearts. My father died last year and we lost a bunch of other old friends and family members nearly all at once. That one quiet and beautiful song has rescued me over and over again in the last year.
CP:As a musician who has performed multiple times at the Folk School, do you have a tune you always include in your set? How many times have you performed at the Folk School?
AA: I have performed at the Folk School about every year since 1996. It is one of my absolute utter favorite places in the world to play, teach and visit. When I am on that stage and looking at that roomful of smiling, warm, and, now, many familiar faces, I am in one of my happiest places. I often, but not always, play "The Devil and the Farmer's Wife" at the end of my shows. It's a silly, centuries-old song about the devil who comes up from Hell to talk to a dimwitted farmer about taking one of his family members back with him. The farmer says, "Don't take my son, I need him on the farm. But you can have my wife." Then we see how things turn out for the DEVIL. It's a very funny song, still, to this day! Someone captured in on video last time I was there: