Stringalong – Changing the world one weekend at a time

November 2, 2012

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.

That’s me in the blue shirt and black vest.

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:

Ann Schmid

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.



Dayle Quigley
Author: Pig and Toad Best Friends Forever
Exec. Director: NorthWoods Strings

On Wisconsin Spirit

March 19, 2012

“When I came [to Wisconsin] I just thought, ‘There is something different about this place, there is something very special about this place.’ And you can feel it … this place is extremely special, and it was no accident that it became so special.”

So says Gwen Drury, a PhD student in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW-Madison, who since coming to town has gained the reputation as our resident Wisconsin Idea expert.

If she had been talking about anywhere else, I might have dismissed the statement as parochial or self-involved. But we’re in Wisconsin. Like others I’ve met, my family came here for the UW, moved away for a time, missed Wisconsin and returned; we’ve since had opportunities to leave but choose to stay. From our perspective, a little Wisconsin exceptionalism is in order.

UW President John Bascom gave campus lectures each Sunday on his students’ moral obligation to serve the state. Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society (Image ID 33717).

Recently on Wisconsin Public Radio, I listened to Drury explain how the Wisconsin Idea sets our state apart from the rest. Now at least 100 years strong, the Wisconsin Idea is the philosophy that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state–or in a 21st century wired Wisconsin, the university really has no boundaries. In other words, the UW has an obligation to serve all people, not just its own academic community. Other states tried similar approaches to public service, with less impressive or enduring results, maintains Drury.

Or as she and WPR host Larry Meiller adorably point out in the broadcast, it’s not the Wisconsin IDEA, it’s the WISCONSIN Idea.

The philosophy has roots in the UW’s earliest days, when John Bascom served as its president. Each Sunday, he lectured students at length  on their moral obligation to the state, which had made their academic opportunities possible.  His teachings powerfully impacted the students of his day, including all-star Wisconsin Idea proponents such as Robert M. La Follette, Charles Van Hise and Charles McCarthy.

Notably, around this time, Carl Beck wrote the original lyrics to the UW fight song, “On Wisconsin.” (With modified lyrics, “On Wisconsin” also became our official state song in 1959.) Beck himself was surely affected by the Wisconsin Idea. In 1912–the same year McCarthy published his book “The Wisconsin Idea”–Beck wrote an article titled “Wisconsin spirit–a discussion.” In it, he calls for rehabilitating the Wisconsin spirit on campus, “temporarily strangled [by] … first, a rapidly expanding university, and second, a larger inflow of the leisure class.” What made me seek out his article, though (with thanks again to Gwen Drury for steering me to it), was his assertion about Wisconsin’s specialness: there’s “spirit,” and then there’s “Wisconsin spirit.”

I couldn’t resist reproducing a table from Beck’s article, below.

Beck, Carl (Feb. 1912). Wisconsin spirit–a discussion. Wisconsin Alumni magazine, 13 (5).  Retrieved from

Spirit “Wisconsin Spirit”
1. self-activity initiative
2. peculiar ability efficiency
3. ardor enthusiasm
4. pervading influence progressiveness
5. animating principle democracy
6. state of mind open-mindedness
Sum Total ______________
7. peculiar quality service

Beck believed that, while these six somewhat vague characteristics of “spirit” combine to create a “peculiar quality,” “Wisconsin spirit” is embodied in six specific, positive attributes that all add up to “service.”  Moreover, without all six working together, there’s no “Wisconsin spirit.”

From now on when I hear our state song, I’ll think about these deeply ingrained values that continue to make our state a special place.


As the Badger men’s basketball team heads into the NCAA Sweet 16 tournament, here’s a postscript about ‘On Wisconsin,’ which Wisconsin Public Television originally broadcast to commemorate the song’s 100th anniversary.

–Tammy Kempfert

A different kind of economic development

April 20, 2009

It wasn’t long ago that conversations about economic development were not about artists, small farms, micro-enterprises and independent people like me who make our living from home because we have the good fortune to have Internet service. (Note to my city friends – in the countryside broadband availability is a crapshoot. It depends heavily on whether you live on a ridge or in a valley or which utility serves your area. I’m one of the chosen few: I live on a ridge.)

Oftentimes the emphasis of business assistance programs seemed more of a trickle-down kind of thing: Give a big incentive to a large concern and they’ll build a factory or something and provide jobs. That’s not a bad thing in the eyes of many but to some it was the only way to do it.

My “Aha Moment” came a day after our regional economic development conference, when I realized that I had watched almost an entire slate of economic development awards go to small business entrepreneurs and those who help them be successful in their ventures. Times are changin’.

Small business is the bedrock of many local economies. Over a quarter of the workers in Iowa County where I live are self-employed and there is a much greater incidence in neighboring areas. My neighbors run their own businesses and I am self employed, too.

But a new job here or a new job there is not newsworthy and, in terms of what’s hot, we weren’t. At best we were ignored but for the most part we did not exist in the eyes of policy folks (self-employed folks are not included in unemployment rates and other commonly-used indicators).

I’ve worked in community development most of my career, and I realize paradigm shifts can develop slowly. But after the awards ceremony I started to think that much of what I had promoted for many years had arrived. The spotlight was on the little guy.

We’re seeing more and more economic development programs aiming to assist the entrepreneur. A good example is ArtsBuild – an economic development program of UW-Platteville intended to utilize the arts to foster economic development and grow the economy of the reab1gion by expanding existing and developing new art-related businesses. For this to happen, the university had to recognize that the arts were an untapped resource in the local economy – one worth investment.

When ArtsBuild started in 2004 the hope was that as many as 60 artists might be reached and some would participate. In a matter of weeks there were over 200 involved. The program now provides opportunities for education, marketing, partnerships and networking– the latter being critical for new businesspeople.

A newer UW-Platteville effort – Local Fare – works with small agricultural producers to expand the Local Foods market and build a local/regional food system.

The awards were part of the Building Economic Strength Together conference, the annual economic development spark plug of southwest Wisconsin. Accolades went to an Extension Agent who gets Crawford County entrepreneurs together, a dairy supply company from Darlington, a new regional bicycle roadmap with tons of tour loops, and a young graduate of UW-Platteville who loves robotics and built a great little company around his dream.

The Woman in Business award went to an angel who has dedicated her life to helping rural folks with handicaps obtain productive work. The City of Benton, an entrepreneurial hotbed of 975 still euphoric over a first state basketball championship, won the Cool Community award. It was a wise choice – it IS a cool community!

A big treat for me was being in the room when the folks who run Driftless Market (Portal Wisconsin Blogs – March 22, 2009) received the award for Regional New Entrepreneur.

Emphasizing the economic value of the local artist or entrepreneur recognizes that economies can be grown one step at a time. And besides that, most local artists, farmers or the home office worker will not leave for the next tax or cash incentive. We’re where we are for other reasons. Besides, many of us lucky enough to have adequate telecommunications tools can market our products and services anywhere.

Clearly small business is the economic backbone of Wisconsin and most of the Midwest. Cool communities and neighborhoods can grow many of their own jobs, and when economic developers recognize and support this we all benefit.

There is some great information on the economic impact of the arts and creative industries on the Arts Wisconsin website.  They’ll be the first to tell you that art is not a frill!

Rick Rolfsmeyer

Wisconsin Rural Partners, Hollandale, WI (pop. 283)

Football Under Cover (and Uncovered)

April 2, 2009

In a given nation, is gender equity in women’s sports a good measure of women’s status in general?

On Monday, Here on Earth‘s Jean Feraca interviewed brother and sister David and Marlene Assmann, who together created the film Football Under Cover (Marlene produced, and David co-directed with his filmmaking partner Ayat Najafi). The film documents their efforts to arrange a soccer game between Marlene’s German team and the Iranian National Women’s Team, as well as all the stumbling blocks they encountered along the way.

Jean Feraca hosts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders on WPR

Jean Feraca hosts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders on WPR

The historic meet-up finally took place in April 2006–about a year after planning began–on Iranian turf and under Iranian terms. In part, that meant both teams were clothed from head to toe, and no males were allowed to observe the game. (David Assmann and Ayat Najafi had to wait outside.) Also, the filmmakers had to agree not to screen the film in Iran.

Through the process, David Assmann observed: “I have the feeling that [Iranian] men kind of tend to settle for their little private freedom that they are granted–but the women are actually very strong and pushing their boundaries non-stop. So that’s where the change in Iran is coming from.”

Brother and sister alike voiced their admiration for the strength of the Iranian athletes–and Marlene Assmann added that soccer has been an empowering force in her life, too: “It can give you respect from other players and also, for example, from men because you can prove easily you can do something and also … try to be more brave on the football field and then put it in your social life …”

American women enjoy enormous freedoms that have been denied to Iranian women, but as some Here on Earth listeners who called in Monday pointed out, we still have a ways to go. While listening to the program, I couldn’t help musing that in the U.S., such an expose might be called American Football Uncovered–in reference to the women allowed closest to our football fields, cheerleaders.

This Inside Islam broadcast, along with others, is a collaboration between UW-Madison and Wisconsin Public Radio. Inside Islam is a new media initiative that challenges preconceptions about Muslims and Islamic faith around the world. The series regularly runs on WPR’s Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders program, hosted weekday afternoons by Jean Feraca. You can listen to broadcasts you missed online or see what Jean has lined up for the coming week at

This year, the Wisconsin Film Festival will host a companion series of Inside Islam films. Football Under Cover is on the roster (Friday at 5:00 p.m. at Madison’s Orpheum Theatre), and David Assmann is slated to appear. The 2009 Wisconsin Film Festival will screen 199 films around Madison, April 2 (today!) through April 5.

A Strong Support Group of Peers

March 1, 2009

The Artist’s Magazine published in its April issue Christine Sharp’s interesting article “Surviving Tough Economic Times.” Sharp offers 12 suggestions on how to survive the recent economic downturn. Starting a supporting group is listed as the first of her advices. She writes: “… a supportive group of artist friends can really help boost your mood, your sales, and your creativity.”

My artist friends agree that being surrounded by creative people who share same interests, hopes, and frustrations is inspiring, helpful and extremely important not just during recession, but also during prosperous economic times.

Wisconsin artists have been cooperating and forming different supporting groups for years. They are organized around local art centers, art cooperatives, artist critique groups, art alliances, studio groups, etc.

In order to help the local artists to not just share creative support, but improve their business skills, and to strengthen the western Wisconsin economy, UW-La Crosse Continuing Education and Extension and SBDC jointly developed two professional development programs: Learning Communities of Artists: Best Business Practices, and Artists Planning for Profit to provide education and management support to visual artists and art organizations. Two ten month programs were designed to strengthen artist’s professional and business capacity to build sustainable art businesses and to achieve financial success without sacrificing creativity. The participating artists learn in a learning community environment. Many of the learning outcomes are self-selected and self-directed, respectful of scheduling and learning style preferences. The participating artists have been successfully introduced to the tools of general business management and a strong network of peers. They recognized the need to adapt and embrace the new ways of conducting and marketing their art businesses in order to gain or maintain the competitive edge.

They will celebrate their participation in the programs by showcasing their new artworks during one-day CABIN FEVER ART SHOW & SALE.”

The show will be held Saturday, March 14, 2009, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Cleary Alumni and Friends Center, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Campus. For more information please see: