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The Need for an Active, Creative Musical Community

A few weeks ago, I took part in one of my touchstone rituals for the year: attending the New England Folk Festival. I’ve been going yearly since 1989, and have been there every year (one year I had just gotten out of the hospital and attended one day in a wheelchair, but I had to be there!)

This was something that I looked forward to, and I got to perform a few times (twice with the Festival Orchestra playing ukulele, and once with Lynn Noel doing our Power Harmonies workshop for a full room of about 60 singers.) What really struck me was that I was in a very different spot in my life, and really experienced it in a new way. I’ve been to many folk events, conventions, festivals, retreats, and camps, but for the first time I really saw this as a place of trying out new things and experimentation. I went to events where people had been working on repertoire and this was an opportunity to present it. I could see where people had met others and wanted to do collaboration as they had some interesting ideas and wanted to develop them to see where they could take them. It was the workshop that the Vox Hunters and Anayis Wright gave on the Seven Deadly Sins (songs that all had one of the sins represented) that really turned my brain.

This might seem obvious to most people, but this was a real revelation to me. I realize now that my anxiety about being safe and not being attacked has kept me in the “be technically good” part of making art, but not allowed me to branch out into the “artistic expression” part of creativity. I’ve been so scared of not “getting it right” that I haven’t allowed myself to be curious about things and what I can develop. This may seem incongruous to people who know me, but I’ve been fighting being creative my entire life, because in my childhood experience, people tease, make fun of, and beat you up if you show anything of yourself. I have stuffed any expressive tendencies of myself all my life, and I’m just now starting to be able to consciously consider being creative. Before, I did all I could to hold it in and had panic attacks when anything seeped out.

The big things that really hit me at NEFFA were the communities and the collaborations that happened all around me, that I could now see for what they are: Playing. I’ve kept myself from playing and letting my ideas out and interacting with others for a very long time. It’s time to change that.

Given that, here are some action steps that I’d like to start adding to my life:

  • Surrounding Myself with Others: I’ve slacked off in the past few years from being involved with a lot of creative activities. While I have started with the ukulele gatherings and took part in Christmas Revels, I haven’t been playing my hammered dulcimer in jams, dancing contras and other types of dance, and haven’t been singing in groups as often. I need to get myself into more participatory activities so hopefully I will start seeing more opportunities.
  • Collaborating with Others: I need to find some other people who I can start working on some more interesting musical activities to see what else I can develop. I wrote about my wanting to get a ukulele/vocal ensemble together, but I want to see what else I can do. Singing is easy for me, but I also want to try out other combinations to see how I can stretch.
  • Developing a musical project on my own: As some of you know, I’ve found a whole bunch of songs listed in my great-uncle’s journal, most of them from the late 1800’s up to 1950. While I know some of the songs, there are many of them that I have never heard from. I’m doing some research to find the music and recordings, and I’d like to see if I can come up with a program on my own to deliver. If you’re intrigued by songs like “That Dear Old Wad of Gum We Used to Chew” and “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party”, you might want to join me on this. I have about 60 songs to choose from, and I’ll be looking to see what I can some up with, and will probably want to make this a solo show on the ukulele and me singing, but we’ll see where this goes.

So, if you are one of my dear friends that I interacted with at NEFFA, or have done music and dance things with me in the past, please keep inviting me to join you in things!

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