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NGI Recipient: Daniel Ley

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - Harmony of Song and Dance (2016)

This summer I was grateful to attend Harmony of Song and Dance Week through the generosity of PCI and CDSS, and I was able to partake of their mission to bring up the next generation in such an incredible community and tradition.  This week was filled with memories, accomplishments, and friendships that will continue to resonate with me for a long time to come.

As someone who is fairly active in my local dance and song community, I knew a bit of what to expect going into this week, and I had a clear vision of what I wanted to get out of it to bring back to my own dances and song circles.  That said, all expectations were promptly blown out of the water and I ended up coming away with so much more than I anticipated.

One of the most valuable lessons was from Lisa Greenleaf in her dance workshops where she taught us all about how to communicate with our dance partners before, during, and after dances using both verbal and body language.  This paved the way for the rest of the week, because I felt like I had more tools for interacting meaningfully with everyone I danced with.

The camp mentor program was an excellent addition as well.  I was provided with a mentor that must have been chosen by divine inspiration, because we shared a lot of the same passion for eccentric music theory, and I got to geek out about things that I have found literally no one else to talk about with.  We ended up organizing a band together for campers night, one of my main goals for the week, and this might not have happened otherwise.

Overcoming the fear of failure was another important theme of my week.  I was able to be a lot more social than I am under normal circumstances where I usually have a fair amount of social anxiety.  However, being surrounded by so many people who share the same passions allowed me to power through my fear of people.  In a similar vein, I often get paralyzed when trying to make music with others in unstructured settings where I don’t have a chance to practice ahead of time.  During this week though, I not only learned how to work out complex tunes by ear (thanks to Pascal Gemme’s Quebecois session), but I got to experience being the only rhythm player surrounded by musicians who were lightyears ahead of me in skill-level.  And it went marvelously!  No mental breakdowns mid-performance, no self-loathing for missing a chord, and a lot of people were curious about my weird instrument (cittern) and wanted to play together.

Endurance was another quality I improved upon.  I made it to at least one session of every class and dance that was offered.  After needing a break from playing music, I explored the vocal and choral classes, and after my voice was hoarse by the end of the week, I made it to the drum ensemble because that was the most I could do by that point.  This was really a credit to the organizers who put together such a diverse and well-balanced selection of classes – there was something for everyone.

My week at Pinewoods also happened to be while I was amidst the process of a career change and a complete restructuring of my life.  It allowed me the time and open space to take a long step back, empty my mind of career and life stresses and doubts, and just listen.  Listen to the stories of the people surrounding me.  Listen to the voices, the strings, the reeds, the lapping of the water on the shore of Long Pond, and hear where my own voice fits into the grand harmony.

If I had the capacity, I would be filled with this much love, music, and movement every minute of every day, but the highest point of my harmony week involved none of these things.  On the last day of camp, I woke up at 5:00 in the morning, mind bursting at the seams and unable to fall back asleep – so before the sun came up, I went down to Round Pond to swim across it for the first time.  Just me and the hundreds of tiny water striders flitting through the fog that skimmed the unbroken surface of the lake.  Since I had already answered the call to adventure, I then made my way to Long Pond and took out a solitary kayak to plunge into the grey all-encompassing monolith of fog.

Floating in the shapeless grey, breathing sweet dew-laden air, to say that this was like a dream would be backwards – I wish my dreams were like this. Having this sacred time for myself provided balance for the rest of the week’s experiences and allowed me to get in tune with the music inside myself.  I became a more whole person by attending Harmony Week, and I know I will bring its spirit with me to my own community, to help its members overcome their own personal fears blocking them from participating, to make them feel more included, and to inspire them to listen.