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NGI Recipient: Jules Peiperl

Session Attended: Folk Music Society of New York and others - TradMaD (2019)

Pinewoods is a fairy land. I genuinely haven’t other words to describe it. I have had my TradMaD name badge on my dresser and my Pinewoods map in my backpack since I attended camp, like talismans, to remind me of what has surely been one of the most impactful weeks of my entire life.

My feelings about TradMaD are almost too strong to put into words, but I could go on at length about the sense memories that follow me from it, little embers to help me get through the grit and asphalt back in the city. Walking through the dappled sunlight on forest paths, with banjo music rising through the trees like a well-kept secret. Sitting in a screened porch in a far corner of camp, watching the light on the lake, with a chorus of harmonizing voices wafting over from a nearby cabin. Biting into a warm loaf of bread on the deck of the dining hall, surrounded by new and old friends. Singing shanties together while setting out silverware. Five of us playing mountain dulcimers in a covered dance hall while rain poured down outside. An open hall full of music and swirling skirts, bright against the darkness of the forest. Nature. Calm. Community. New friends. And so much beautiful music.

I spent much of TradMaD weaving crowns for campers out of rushes and leaves, gifting five or seven a day to friends and strangers to wear like nymphs in the woods. Sycamore and holly, oak and maple and ivy leaves. I felt like I had to contribute something, had to give back for the incredible gift I had been given and the gifts I was continuing to receive. Campers were greeting me, giving me directions, making me food and tea, teaching me new instruments and old tricks, and taking the time to show me old songs that I never would have learned otherwise. I never would have been able to experience any of this without the NGI scholarship. So I made a piece of embroidery for the silent auction, and I made crown after crown after crown so everyone could feel like fairies. And it wasn’t nearly enough. I am, and will continue to be, profoundly grateful.

I am a recent folk convert and I have never felt so welcomed into the world of traditional music and dance as I did at TradMaD. I was surrounded by talented people who were more than willing to take the time to teach me the mountain dulcimer, or the mandolin, or the digeridoo, or how to swing your partner properly in contra. They taught me slow, somber, beautiful ballads and raucous drinking songs and driving shanties. I taught them to make crowns and we made up songs and in-jokes and brand new arrangements. They became my friends. And the opportunity to spend time with them, both campers and the profoundly talented and experienced musicians who graced us with their time and music, was life-changing.

I’ve become a better musician from my time at TradMaD. Not just because singing shanties and work songs and trying Appalachian ballad singing helped me to let go of my overly prim singing sensibilities and strengthen my voice. And not just because I learned a new instrument and improved two more. But because I understand now the difference between performing music and sharing it. The people at TradMaD, campers and guest artists alike, were there to share music with each other. Not to show off their considerable abilities, but to make music together, and keep these traditional songs alive. I’m so lucky to be another person who knows Four Maries or West Virginia Mine Disaster or The Reeds They Do Grow High. I’m so lucky to have spent a week learning in this fairy land, and I am so profoundly grateful.