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NGI Recipient: Benedict Gagliardi

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

Session attended: TradMaD August-September 2016

I owe a great deal of thanks for this scholarship which allowed me to attend TradMaD at Pinewoods Camp and especially to Heather Wood and Joy Bennett for selecting me as a recipient. In short, I had a phenomenal experience that I will fondly reflect on for years to come and I am eager to return!

I’ve been ‘TradMaD’ for about 10 years and, as such, I’ve been to numerous weekend-long folk festivals in New England. I’ve attending most as a listener and in more recent years I’ve had the privilege of attending some as a performer. As a result, I previously met some of the staff that taught at TradMaD this year, but I have never had the opportunity to get to know them at the level that a week at Pinewoods allows. The ability to casually discuss music, singers, sources, songs, and techniques (as well as non-musical topics) on the camphouse deck or over a meal with musicians who have been major influences on me was an incomparably delightful and valuable experience. Staff musicians who I knew previously as well as those I met for the first time were all approachable and happy to chat. Conversations with many of them have already begun to shape my playing and singing, broaden my scope of interest, and alter my approach to researching and learning music. For example, Scott Ainslie was happy to toy with my tenor guitar and guide me through a few different finger-picking patterns to use on the seldom played instrument. Likewise, I had an extremely encouraging and insightful discussion with John Roberts, Bob Walser and Chris Koldeway about different ways to accompany songs on anglo concertina. This is a conversation that I’ve longed to have with them for years but never found the time at weekend festivals to deeply delve into the subject.

Time is always the factor that limits interactions with musicians at most other opportunities. When I saw Martin and Eliza Carthy at a fantastic concert in Rhode Island last year, I was able to say hello and ‘great show!’, but not much more. At TradMaD, there was time to play tunes one-on-one, lilt marches and hornpipes to each other on the way to dinner, hear stories about collectors, singers and song sources who have passed on and discuss the rarity of the lydian mode in ballad melodies. I couldn’t ask for a more meaningful interaction. These and many other personal exchanges of knowledge and tacit learning were made possible by the casual, comfortable, egoless atmosphere of Pinewoods and the wonderful attendees of TradMaD. Of course, the best way to bond with other musicians is by singing bawdy songs at 3AM and laughing until you cry then resorting to French Canadian drinking games, and thanks to that happening at TradMaD I got to know Benoit and Antoine Bourque, Brigitte and Katell Kloareg, and Yuna Léon in a most unforgettable way.

Not only was I able to learn and develop skills that I had aimed to at Pinewoods, but I also took home music, influences, and insights that I never expected to. Cajun fiddle tunes were never high on my musical priority list, and I would never have known how to start learning them, but a casual tune swap with Gina Forsyth changed that. Who would have thought Cajun concertina could work? In a similar sense, I’ve never branched out very far into the thriving world of blues, but Scott’s blues techniques workshop was eye-opening (ear-opening?). His masterful teaching style, thoughtful comments, recommendations, and constructive critiques encouraged me to think about singing and the emotional potential of songs in a new way. Likewise, Sparky and Rhoda Rucker inspired me to learn and sing songs of the civil rights movement and equally importantly to understand and appreciate the powerful stories behind them at something deeper than a grade school level.

Pinewoods proved to be a productive and powerful musical meeting ground where folk traditions are celebrated, shared, performed and imparted to an active and appreciative community. The opportunity to learn from master musicians was incredible, and yet the equalizing factor that we were all campers together on a musical vacation allowed for more cross pollination of styles and casual transfer of ideas, information and stories. I was impressed by the variety of musical styles and expertise present at camp, but also the genuine interest of campers to learn songs, tunes, and dances outside their realm of interest.

The attendees of TradMaD form a supportive community, eager to learn and share.  When Armand and I asked for songs about Rhode Island for our research project, a number of people responded with interesting thoughts and ideas that we hadn’t thought of. George Ward informed us of a song about Adriaen Block’s ship Onrust. Another camper offered an Irish emigration song and even supplied a sheet of lyrics! No one was stuffy or protective of the songs they sing, every avidly shared and made recommendations.

I appreciated the friendliness and generosity of other campers in sharing their songs and the background information they had researched. I recorded many songs that I want to learn, some directly from the singer in a one-on-one song swap. I was also thoroughly flattered by the kind and genuine compliments of my own singing and playing. I dared to share a song that I wrote about the Linnaean hierarchical system and it met great praise. I was amazed at how many people wanted to learn it and everyone’s comments encouraged me to continue writing quirky biological folk songs.

My interactions with traditional music have always been as a singer or tunes-player, and one descriptor I am loathe to self-administer is ‘dancer’. Although I have been unwillingly cast onto the dance floor before, I have always maintained a steadfast aversion to dancing (chorophobia, you might say). This, of course, is rather hypocritical since I play traditional DANCE music and admittedly encourage others to dance while I play. At all previous opportunities to dance, I have been overwhelmed with discomfort, but thanks to the help and encouragement (and persuasive arm-pulling) from new and old friends at Pinewoods, I temporarily thwarted my reluctance to dance for one of the first times in my life. I took part in contra and Breton dancing, and although some dances were challenging (and hilarious to onlookers), there were moments of fun. I believe I’ll be more willing to dance (or at least less unwilling) in the future thanks to TradMaD.

TradMaD reinvigorated my appreciation for why we all (folk musicians) do what we do. Why we devote hours and hours to seeking out, listening to and memorizing songs and tunes. Why we practice our art at every solitary moment, and continue to hum and tap subconsciously the rest of the time. It’s simply for these wonderful moments when we encounter others who have done the same and who enjoy reveling in the fact that we can sing songs into the wee hours. The music can be beautiful, moving and complex and the stories can be ancient, tragic, meaningful, but when it comes down to it, the greatest payoff for all our time spent memorizing is just purely a bit fun. We love the music itself, but we also love the community and conviviality that form around singing. Armand and I are doing our best to build a similar singing community at home in Providence.

TradMaD was not only an exciting and productive week of learning and interacting with other musicians, but also a relaxing week away from the woes and worries of life. This was my first time to Pinewoods camp, and now I understand why so many friends hold it in such high regard. The woods, ponds and sunsets were a peaceful, beautiful and pertinent setting for a week of old songs, roots music, and the like. The momentary escape from the interminable and crippling sting of the electronic world was HEAVENLY! I cannot remember the last time I was without my phone for more than a day–a realization that disturbs me. Pinewoods was a sanctuary from copious and often trifling emails and other electronic communications that plague everyday life. The cabins were cozy, the facilities and other buildings were well maintained, and the staff were thoughtful and interactive. I am already looking forward to putting up an automatic away message when I attend TradMaD next year.

An unanticipated bonus of attending TradMaD, was the food. Often when leaving a camp-type environment, the food is remembered with something much less that fondness. Pinewoods is a shining exception to that stereotype. The food at every meal was phenomenal, especially the homemade bread!

I left Pinewoods toting a new song bag full of potential, a renewed inspiration to work on a wider variety of songs, tunes and techniques, a lessened fear of dancing, and a greater sense of connection with the traditional music community at large. I am grateful to TradMaD for the lasting bonds that I formed and strengthened with folkies near and far, and the abundant memories that I will fondly reflect on for years to come.

Thank you again to Joy and Heather for selecting me as a scholarship recipient. I honestly doubt I would have made it to camp without that assistance, but now that I am completely hooked I hope to Pinewoods as regularly as I can.