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NGI Recipient: Armand Aromin

Session Attended: Folk Music Society of New York and others - TradMaD (2016)

Thank you a million times over to Heather Wood, Joy Bennett, and to Pinewoods Camp for the NGI scholarship to attend this year’s TradMaD week! It was easily the highlight of my year, and one that I will cherish for a good long while. I have many friends who are Pinewoods veterans, and I always knew it as “that camp that people go to every year, but I can never afford”, so I was especially looking forward to attending it for the first time. I went in thinking to myself that I would show up, have a lovely time, then probably not go back again unless I got another scholarship. But by the end of the week, I realized I never want to not go for as long as I can help it. This week was so very special to me, and I wish I could relive it again. I guess I’ll just have to wait another year.

Having had attended other music-related camps and festivals over the years, I was a little worried that the content of the classes might be lacking, but I’m happy to say I was dead wrong about that. Yes, it’s nice to have a workshop where nothing but tunes and songs are taught and we go around in a big circle and by the time you finish the first half of the A part or the first verse the class is over… but what about the techniques that musicians use to give it that je ne sais quoi? What about their philosophies on how the music should be played or sung? Or a little quirky story about that musician from the ‘40s that popularized this jig? I find it’s hard to get that these days, but Heather Wood and Joy Bennett are well-versed in the art of amassing a cornucopia of staff musicians who not only walk the walk, but deeply care about their music and willingly share it, and its history, with others.

A few of the stand-outs for me were Sparky and Rhonda Rucker, and Scott Ainslie. I took Sparky and Rhonda’s “Songs Towards Freedom” class, which mainly revolved around the history and music of Black slaves, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement. Prior to that class, I had usually observed gospel and civil right songs from a neutral standpoint. A string of words set to a melody. As somebody who has not been the recipient of blatant racism, I’m ashamed to say that I would usually experience these songs as just something pleasant to harmonize over. I have a sad suspicion that I’m not the only one. Sparky and Rhonda took these songs that many of us are familiar with and re-injected such powerful meaning, pain, and hope that these songs rightly deserve. I see them in a different light now, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have learned from them.

Scott Ainslie offered a few once-off workshops centering on blues techniques for non-blues singers, which consisted of having people come to the front of the room, and sing a song of their choosing. From there, Scott would interrupt them, advise, and have them sing the isolated verse in question. Lathered, rinsed, and repeated until we could all hear the change, which typically resulted in a strong reaction from the audience. It would do him a great injustice to say that was all that happened, but that was the gist of it. The ultimate goal was to be able to break up the monotony of beautiful consistent notes by varying the articulation, or to bring fullness and life to somebody’s voice, or to sing in such a way that the sentiment of the line was strongly reflected in their dynamics. Simply put, to sing the story! And not in a theatrical sort of way, but in a way that’s honest and engaging. I’ve since found myself caring much more about the words I was singing and milking them for all their worth.

The encouragement to disconnect from the outside world did my body and soul some real, real good. Not once did I feel the need to reach for my phone to check-in. Instead, I was left with the ordeal of having to socialize with other people. In person. (the horror!) Normally, finding a seat in a cafeteria filled with people you only vaguely know or don’t know at all can be intimidating, but I found that it was something I looked forward to at every meal (it also helps that the food was so damn tasty, it nearly made me cry three times a day.) In particular, I loved getting to know fellow traddies who I only ever see in passing. As it turns out, they’re all just as kind, caring, and enthusiastic as I thought they might be. It was a beautiful experience that made me feel like a different, better person by the end of the week. I know this to be true because reconnecting to the digital world reacquainted me with the feelings of bitterness and curmudgeonliness.