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NGI Recipient: Cate Clifford

Session Attended: Folk Music Society of New York and others - TradMaD (2017)

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Joy, Heather, and Pinewoods, for making it possible for me to experience TradMaD this August, via the New Generation Initiative Scholarship.

I’ve been enamored of Irish traditional music since I was small, but only recently discovered folk’s other faces. Particularly since moving to Providence last year, I’ve had a wild, wonderful crash course in the pillars, cornerstones, community, and other wonders of English folk, social singing, and other styles, thanks in large part to Benedict Gagliardi and Armand Aromin, which they continued by generously recommending me for this scholarship. Because my introduction to the wider folk world happened so recently, my excitement on arrival at Pinewoods was tempered with nerves. What if I didn’t recognize a musician everyone else knew? What if I asked technique question that was evident to everyone else in my workshops? Essentially, various flavors of What if I didn’t live up to Ben and Armand’s recommendation, and made a fool of myself?

I spent the first few days singing choruses, listening, and learning beside the friends I already knew, as I gathered the courage to strike up conversations with the musicians I admired and wanted to get to know, and maybe lead a song. I heard songs from my home state and tunes from the part where I grew up from Jeff Davis and Dave Ruch. I soaked up Reverend Jones’ encyclopedic knowledge of and stories around gospel singers, songs, and the resistance anthems they paved the way for. I attended Bennett Konesni and Edith Gawler’s applied knowledge about work songs and how they can be used in our modern lives, and Saro Lynch-Thomason’s resistance songs and hollering styles from North Carolina.

Looking back, all of the most important moments of my TradMaD experience, and the things about it that helped me relax into the week, go back to this community and the joy in sharing that defines us. Hearing tunes or voices lifted in song at least four times along the way from Point A to Point B at any time of day, singing in line at the dining hall, or in front of the Camp House before a concert, or in line for the bathroom. (Did you know there’s a round about waiting for the bathroom? I didn’t!) Sitting on the camp house porch learning a friend’s song, teaching one in return, and deciding to combine them for the Camper Concert. Approaching a staff member whose workshops I would miss to say how much I wished I could learn from him, and walking away with an inaugural dulcimer lesson planned, even though I didn’t have a dulcimer to play. A new friend lending me the dulcimer that was made for his wedding, on which to learn. Gathering in the Program Office to sing Disney songs until 4 AM, two nights in a row. Learning “The Ballad of Frankie Silver” from Saro Lynch-Thomason, which a cousin told me about because it comes from the county in North Carolina where he was born and because the Silver family is connected (though not through blood) to that branch of mine. There were so many – but one moment sticks out for me as quintessential camp.

It was late at night during a party at the camp house. Armand was singing “Pleasant and Delightful”, trusty concertina in hand. When he began an instrumental break, Ben jumped up, crossed the room to grab his own concertina, and joined in. Then someone else grabbed theirs, and another camper fetched her accordion. In the span of a few minutes, six or seven people had grabbed their own concertinas or accordions, and were playing boisterously (and with great musicality) while we all laughed through the sound. We finished the song in a raucous, joyful pile of harmony. Amidst the applause, someone called out that interestingly enough, the first time Lou Killen ever played “Pleasant and Delightful” in the United States was in that very room.

Even then, the moment’s blend of fun, collaboration, spontaneity, musicality, tradition, and profound but unknown history shared against a backdrop of shared joy struck me as TradMaD, personified.

Through the NGI Scholarship, you brought me to kindred souls I never would have met otherwise (blasted geographical borders!), an interest in the mountain dulcimer (which I’d never heard before) and mountain dulcimer blues (which I never would have imagined as a type of music) and the opportunity to explore it one-on-one with a master, an interest in Appalachian music, practical examples of how to apply work songs to my current lifestyle, the opportunity to connect with musicians I’ve been hearing about for ages, food for thought about how to respectfully sing gospel and blues as a white person, sources and source singers I’d never heard of, a closer connection to my family’s history and my home state of New York, and some of the best food I’ve ever had.

None of that would have been possible at a shorter festival or camp experience. None of that would have been possible without the community that TradMaD attracts. And none of it would have been accessible to me without this scholarship. I have so much to learn yet – about singing styles and dance and how to move past self-consciousness enough to connect to people I admire through and beyond the music that connects us, and more. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to do some of that learning among the pine-scented woods in Plymouth.

Still singing choruses (Disney and otherwise) …