We almost didn’t make it back to Fiddle Camp this year. The week prior, Raymond and the kids spent a wonderful week in the Great Smokey Mountains with the Gaddy family while I wrapped up summer school (and had a fantastic visit with my mother in Savannah!) But the week ended with poor Lola sick with strep throat and lice. Ugh. It was a mess. And given Fletcher’s history with strep . . . well, we panicked. We really don’t have the money for the week in Charleston, camp tuition, etc. so the thought of spending that money to wind up with 2 sick children unable to enjoy camp . . . We almost called it off. In the end, we switched our reservation to a much less expensive and far from swanky hotel, and we bit the bullet.
I am SO glad we did.
It was an exhausting week. I barely slept the whole week (did I mention the hotel wasn’t very nice?) And while Lola got better and Fletcher never got sick, Raymond and I both did. Because of Fletcher’s diet and our budget, we spent the week eating microwaved food out of the hotel room mini-fridge. The whole thing was less than picture perfect. And yet, it was magical.
I have written about our camp experiences before (here and here.) This one week in Charleston is so full of music and excitement and energy. It is really hard to put the experience into words.
For Lola, this was the year of making friends and forming bands. She made tons of friends in classes and on the playground, and every day she was forming a new band to perform at the nightly recital. They didn’t always sound great, but sometimes they sounded pretty good! And what’s more, they formed the groups, decided on the music, came up with arrangements and planned their performances all on their own. No adult participation.
Lola also learned to contra dance – and Fletcher played in the band!
And she stood for a solo in every jam session. The girl is brave.
And she participated in producing an old-time radio show! I’ll post the link to that as soon as it is available.
Her group class was a little too advanced for her. When we get to camp each summer we really feel the disadvantage of not having a regular O’Connor Method teacher. The other kids were mostly older than her. They played faster, they had the songs memorized where she needed the music, they were more comfortable with the concept of improvising. But she hung in there like a champ and loved every second of it.
The most fun part was learning fiddle “tricks” as a way to get comfortable and in sync with the instrument. They learned to play Pop Goes the Weasel with their bows held backwards, with the bow between their knees, in pairs where one person played the fingering and the other moved the bow, turning in circles and standing on one foot and bowing under their leg. It was silly and fun but you could also see the kids so invested in learning and practicing and improving.
Fletcher also made friends at camp this year, but for him it is a very different experience. He has never said it in so many words, but I think at camp he feels like he is with his people. They speak music in a way that I can’t even start to follow, and I have no idea where he learned this stuff. He wanted to go to every jam session, and to stick it out to the very end. For him it wasn’t about the spotlight. I have a feeling it is just about pure love of the music, without the need to be formal and perfect and performance ready – just the pure joy of making music and having fun with friends. And really, what more is there? Why on earth do this if not for the joy of it?
He got to work with the amazing Miss Ellen Lee in his master class again this year. Ellen has been his master class teacher every year, and they share an incredible bond. She just gets him. I get choked up every time I think about it. It’s a rare thing to encounter someone who really gets you, isn’t it?
For electives Fletcher took Mandolin again (with much better results this time) and also a How to Jam class that turned into a song writing class.
The final concert was, as always, amazing. Mark O’Connor played several duets from the newly released book 4. The class performances were wonderful, as usual. But my favorite part, always, is the all-camp play down where they go through the songs from hardest to easiest and everyone who knows a song jumps in and plays along. There is something so moving about that communal experience, the shared culture of American music, the excitement of the kids performing on stage along side Mr. O’Connor. For an encore this year, Mark played Amazing Grace, first as a solo and then joined by the kids. What impressed me most was that they played the song in a different octave than the way it is written in book 1, and even though all those kids had learned the song one way they were able to hear the change and switch octaves with very little prompting. It was a beautiful thing to see.
But the most moving thing for me, by far, was seeing Fletcher say goodbye to his teachers. He cried. In one week they had so much of an impact on him that he cried when it was over. That says it all. That makes it all worthwhile.
So now we are home, and I’ll admit I’m having some fiddle camp withdrawals. We are going to do our best to start a jam session here for a few kids so we can keep up some of that energy from camp. And if we can work out the budget we want to get Fletcher into improvisation lessons with an amazing local violin player. And hopefully, we will be back in Charleston in less than a year to continue the experience. There has been talk of changing the camp schedule to later in August, and we are all worried that will mean it conflicts with the start of school next year. Keeping our fingers crossed that things work out.
Thank you, Mark O’Connor, for bringing this music into our lives. What an amazing gift.