Reflections on "The Bay"
A few very hectic months have now passed since WOTB 2012 and a dozen YEARS have flown by since the first WOTB in 2000 so maybe it's time for me to spend a few minutes thinking back on the history of the event...
If you have read my bio at any time you would know that my involvement with music (after a very brief but lasting disagreement with the piano) began in the field of American style "Ancient" fife and drum music in the late 1960's. This led me to traditional Irish music in the mid to late 1970's. When our fife and drum corps (the Kentish Guards of East Greenwich R.I.) was formed we didn't have any formal instructors. The big breakthrough for us came when we went to our first "muster" (A gathering of fife and drum corps that features a parade followed by a brief set by each group, followed by a mass jam session). This particular event is called the D.R.A.M. (Deep River Ancient Muster) in Deep River Ct. The muster takes place the third Saturday in July and I still try to go to it every year that I can. It is one of the days of the year I love the most and is a time for me to meet with friends old and new and also to visit with the spirits of friends who have passed that I had walked that very field with.
I was kind of in the same situation when it came to learning about trad Irish music. No instructors and nowhere to go hear the tunes other than on records. I bought my first wooden flute ( a pretty funny story itself but that's another blog...) and went in search of every trad record I could find. After burning through many sets of Koss headphones (and many bags of inspirational herbs shall we say, it WAS the 70's after all!) I started to get a handle on the instrument and the music. That led to going to sessions (mainly in Ct at first then graduating to New York and Boston) which led to more tunes and meeting more musicians which led to more travel and meeting more musicians etc.
The common theme here is that I never had the benefit of learning from people who knew what the music was about when I was getting started and I learned the great benefits that could be realized by associating with skilled players as time went on. It was during the 1980's that I began my career as a travelling teacher, first creating and then spreading my own personal gospel of the two musical forms that have been the very essence of my life. This led me to travel across the U.S. and eventually to Europe where I spent many years living in Basel, Switzerland teaching fife and drum music and then helping a tradition of trad Irish music to take root there.
By now (the late 80's / early 90's) trad music camps and schools were gaining popularity across the U.S. and Ireland itself. I had (and still do ) hoped that these schools would bring me into their programs but for whatever reason that has not happened as frequently as I hoped. I then started thinking that I should try my own hand at organizing my own event with my own ideas about how to run one.
I spent a couple of years thinking of the things that made learning an enjoyable process for me and came to a couple of simple conclusions;
1) The ATTITUDE of the instructor is a very important thing; I have been around the block a few times at this point and have seen many teaching styles and processes. The "teacher as wrathful God that you can never approach" thing has always turned me off. I have seen more players destroyed than helped by this small minded approach.
2) The COMMUNICATION SKILLS of the instructor are vital; Many people have massive skills in their chosen fields but only a very small percentage of them can get their ideas across in a clear and concise manner. Knowing how to fish doesn't always make you a great teacher of fishing. Any great teacher of any skill set that I have met has been an excepitional listener and observer. In order to help your student, you to have to be able to hear and really see their problems.
3) The CONFIDENCE of the teacher is the cornerstone; The teachers I have always respected the most are always the ones I have learned the most from. These men and women have always had a very humane touch in their lessons and teaching styles. They bring humor into the lesson and are NOT just about intimidating their students. A wonderful motto I heard once was "teach the student, not the subject" and I believe this is a very truthful and helpful approach.
These are the grounding points that I try to bring into my teaching style and they are the qualities I have looked for in the people I bring into my event as instructors. If you come to my event I want you to be greeted with equal portions of knowledge of the field, clear answers, and no attitudes with the feeling of a great fife and drum muster.
Maybe I'll see you at WOTB 2013!
Thanks for checking out the blog...
All the best,