Folk Music At

Weatherbury Farm

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        Folk Music Jam:  Saturday October 20 2012   &   Saturday June 8 2013 

Rick in MD/ as posted to the cyberpluckers list.

I attended the Advanced Beginner weeklong autoharp workshop at Weatherbury Farm Bed and Breakfast from Sunday to Friday of last week, and just wanted to offer my report on how it went.

One other student (hi Tammy!) and I were lucky enough to be the inaugural class at Weatherbury Farm.  Additional classes will be offered periodically throughout the year in other acoustic instruments.  Check out the schedule and get more information on the milieu at this site:

Indeed, they've nailed some top-name instructors.  I hear that none other than Bryan Bowers is lined up to teach an autoharp class there next season.  But regardless of the teacher or the instrument, the student is likely to come away with expectations exceeded, as was the case with me.

For this city slicker, the setting itself was worth the expense. Marcy and Dale Tudor, with able assistance from their metalsmithing son, Nigel, have done an impeccable job renovating three buildings on their farm in Avella, Pennsylvania (about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh) and turned them into luxury accommodations befitting the most demanding traveler. 

I inspected three of the seven well-appointed guest rooms (all with fireplaces!), and I can't think of a better rural environment to get away from it all, revitalize the senses and gather inspiration to practice one's instrument.  You can't beat relaxing on the balcony overlooking a hilly pasture and a variety of wildlife (or is it "livestock") as a way to absorb all that valuable classroom information.  And don't be afraid to get up close and personal.  For me, petting the goats and sheep was a novel experience and added immeasurably to the overall allure of the surroundings.

The irrepressible Bill Schilling was our instructor.  For those of you who know Bill, you'll know what I mean when I say Bill's feeling for the music is infectious.  His love of the folk genre and of the autoharp was immediately apparent and made it that much easier to learn.  Anyone who can name the song Joni Mitchell wrote about a town in West Virginia is OK in my book.  And that he did when I quizzed him as we crossed the state line enroute to a jam session in Salem, Ohio, which was included in the package.  Bill really raised the roof at the venue for the bi-monthly jam session of his "Dulci-More" group. 

On Wednesday night, Bill also gave a concert at a local tourist attraction, which was likewise included in the package, and we got a chance to hear Bill on a wide variety of instruments.  He's quite a talented musician and instructor, and he exudes the love for his work whether he's accompanying his singing on "jug", or explaining the circle of fifths.  Weatherbury Farm is lucky to have him.  (Or he's lucky to have Weatherbury Farm, considering he's the coordinator of the folk school!)  

As for the instruction...I went in not expecting (or really wanting) to learn to play melody.  I came out able to pick out (albeit quite slowly) the melody to just about any of the songs in Bill's book of hundreds of folk songs, and more---by ear, OR by "paper training," as Bill calls it.  Bill completed the arduous task of printing the chord that contains each note of all the songs in his book.  So his method wins half the battle.  More than half.  From there, the player has only to find the appropriate string (or approximate it) among the ones that are not damped.  I'm not sure I've seen this method before, but it's working out great for me.  It does encourage some dependence on sheet music, but at the same time, it trains the ear to identify the tone of each string for eventual playing by ear. 

And that's only a fraction of what we learned.  Bill prepared a two-page syllabus, and he made it a point to cover every item on it! And we had plenty of time for that because Bill will never be accused of being a clockwatcher.  Our classroom time far exceeded the prescribed 20 hours for the week.  And I never got tired of playing. Probably a testimony to our repertoire and the company we kept. 

Speaking of repertoire, Bill's songbook(s) includes a variety of "old-time" songs as well as more current folk music in that vein. If you ever get a chance to hear, or better yet play, Bob Coltman's "Before They Close The Minstrel Show" or Bill Staines' "River," do yourself that favor.  We played both of them many times and our collective fondness for those songs led me to dub them "Weatherbury Farm's Greatest Hits, so far."

Bill's teaching was a thorough combination of lecture, demonstration, and hands-on playing.  We covered theory.  We covered different strumming patterns (including Travis style which I haven't noticed other autoharp teachers cover in their strumming lessons).  We learned what chords we could substitute for chords not on our 'harps.

We learned tips for changing chords smoothly and for transposing. All the nuts and bolts stuff, too, such as tuning, refelting and improving action.  Information on picks, straps, miking, autoharp media resources, you name it.  For me, left hand and right hand techniques, as well as melody playing, were probably the most valuable, but I particularly enjoyed learning "decorations" such as trills and arpeggios and substituting color chords to enhance our playing.    

I couldn't have imagined a more comprehensive class or a better setting in which to hold it.   The next autoharp workshop will be an Intermediate class taught by Les Gustafson-Zook May 1 to May 6. There will also be classes coming up for you mountain and hammered dulcimer players.  You really don't want to miss them.


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        Folk Music Jam:  Saturday October 20 2012   &   Saturday June 8 2013 

Weatherbury Farm Vacation
1061 Sugar Run Road
Avella, Pennsylvania 15312

Autoharp, Mountain Dulcimer, Hammered Dulcimer, Clawhammer Banjo, Bowed Psaltry  Workshops and Concerts. 
Mountain Dulcimer is also known as an Appalachian dulcimer, lap dulcimer or fretted dulcimer.
Some folks call Hammered Dulcimers Hammer Dulcimers
(724) 587-3763 (Dale or Marcy Tudor; location questions)
(330) 332-4420 (Bill Schilling, music questions)

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Weatherbury Farm is a non-smoking farm vacation.
Revised: January 02, 2017 has been on-line since November 12, 2004