Long, long ago back in 1998 my fiddle teacher suggested I go to the “Stringalong” at Camp Edwards where he was teaching a workshop and I could experience another side of music. My life has never been the same. I was new to music in 1998 having just started to learn the fiddle in 1996. I played “Book 1”, held my fiddle in “a war pose” (his words not mine), and couldn’t play anything without the music sitting in front of me. Memorize a piece – impossible, learn by ear – not even in the realm of possibilities.
Stringalongs, started and maintained by Ann and Will Schmid from the UW Milwaukee Folk Center, were a whole new ballgame. These were family events although most attendees were like me, adult learners, musician wannabees. There was no written music at the workshops, everything was taught by ear. People sat around in the evenings and late into the night “jamming”. If you didn’t know the music, you played quietly in the background hoping to catch a few notes each time they went through the tune. If that wasn’t working you could sing along or sit back and just enjoy the strands wafting in air and hope by osmosis it would all sink in. Believe it or not, it does sink in. The tunes sink deep into your soul and although you don’t know the name or the key, you can hum the melody years later.
I met a whole new set of friends at the Stringalongs at Camp Edwards. When you eatfamily style and sleep in cabins with 12 strangers, and dance with whomever is standing alone, you bond and bond fast. I would be lying if I said I could remember all the names. I can’t. But I remember the faces and the stories and their words of encouragement.
Stringalongs were set up in such a way that professional musicians would come in and teach a work shop or two for the weekend each one meeting 3 times between Saturday morning and Sunday at noon. As an attendee you could select up to three different workshops to attend or you could hang out and walk the trails or jam on the porch with your new best friend. Between Friday evening and Sunday at noon you also got to listen to a short concert by each of the presenters. There were people who never attended a workshop, they just came to hear the “professionals” play. I don’t know how Ann did it but she brought in big names – Pat Donohue, Mike Dowling, Joel Mabus, Pigs Eye Landing, Bill Staines, Second Opinion, Crystal Ploughman, Ken Kolodner, Randy Sabien.
A lot has changed since 1998. My life has changed. Music and my experiences at the Stringalongs introduced me to life long friends and gave me the confidence to not only join a band but to start NorthWoods Strings a non-profit organization to provide string instrument instruction to children in Hayward. Stringalongs let me see the world as it ought to be even if only for a weekend. They reminded me that any thing is possible. That although our world may rapidly change somethings stay the same – you can’t make music with someone and argue at the same time, that joy comes from peace deep within, that dreams are not foolish unless you forget to follow them.
Beginning tonight at Camp Edwards, the Stringalongs come to an end. For one last weekend the world will stop turning if only for two days. With any luck the first snow fall will come and the outside world will mirror what’s happening on the inside. I wish that I would be there but the outside world has different plans for me. In my own way,I suppose that I will be there. My heart will be there. Tonight I will think of my friends and the memories we made. On Sunday when the final songs are sung, I will be singing along and I will imagine the notes floating all the way to East Troy and mingling with the voices there.
To Ann Schmid who dreamed up this wonderful experience and made it happen:
There are those in the world who never dream, those who dream but think them foolish, and those who dream and turn those dreams into reality. You, my friend, are obviously in that final group and the world is a better place because of it. Have a wonderful weekend. I will be thinking of you all and wishing with all my heart that I was there.