Trying Something Different!

What is old-time music? My husband and I recently learned that it is a special genre of music, centering on a combination of fiddle and plucked string instruments and there

Jamming was an activity enjoyed by all.

Jamming was an activity enjoyed by all.

are summer camps devoted to teaching this music. “ Aw haw,” my husband thought. “Maybe there’s help for me in learning to play the fiddle.” It was his Christmas gift, and it was proving to be not as simple to learn as the dulcimer, ukulele, accordion, harmonica and other instruments he already plays. A little more research and we turned up an old-time music camp to be held in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina at Mars Hill University. We enrolled for a week’s training at the school. Yes, me, too!.

I think you are already aware that over twenty years ago, my husband built me a

A stop of one of look outs.

A stop of one of look outs.

dulcimer. It was time for me to learn to play it. Burl was set for fiddle classes and I enrolled in dulcimer classes. The first week in June, we packed up our bedding and clothes, put the instruments in the car, and headed for Mars Hill, North Carolina. We loved traveling through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and appreciated their beauty and the town of Mars Hill captured our hearts. If it weren’t for the college, the town probably wouldn’t be there. There was only a short Main Street and the college book store claimed much of the retail space.

Mars Hill University, a liberal-arts college, was founded in 1856. During the American Civil War it closed for two years. It started as the French Broad Baptist Institute, sharing

Beautiful campus at Mars Hill Univresity.

Beautiful campus at Mars Hill Univresity.

a name with the nearby French Broad River. In 1859, however, it changed its name to Mars Hill, in honor of the hill in ancient Athens on which the Apostle Paul debated Christianity with the city’s leading philosophers. Through the years, the college has struggled with financial and physical growth, but that is not so now. The campus boasts of a new dormitory, science building, upgraded athletic facilities and a school of nursing is under construction. It was these beautiful facilities at which Blue Ridge Old-Time Week would be held and we would be there, staying in a dormitory.

We were assigned our room which held two single beds, a desk and a closet.

Burl and I at dinner

Burl and I at dinner

We expected to share the bath facilities, just outside our room’s door, but this dormitory building was set up as suites. Each suite had bedrooms at each end, with kitchen, living facilities between. Only one bedroom at each end was assigned students, meaning the bath facilities were our own. The first thing we did, was make a trip to Wal-Mart to buy a foam top for each bed. We slept like “bugs in a rug.” The dorm was air conditioned, too, another surprise. And yet another, was the delicious food we were served in the cafeteria.

Each morning we’d say goodbye as my husband headed to his class and I to mine.

Here I'm getting a private lesson from teacher, Lloyd Wright.

Here I’m getting a private lesson from teacher, Lloyd Wright. He is a national winner as a dulcimer player.

Classes were held in the college classrooms and each student walked through well-cared-for grounds to reach his class. Lunch time and we’d meet again, then on to harmony singing class, in which we both participated. Night time featured jamming sessions which were our choice. Some of the world’s best musicians served as teachers here, and were featured at evening concerts.

So here we were in an environment rather new to us. We are seniors, but so were many of the others. Camaraderie was enjoyed by everyone and it was so much fun. Old-time music represents perhaps the oldest form of North American traditional music, other than Native American music. It centered around the fiddle and banjo and these instruments were prominent at the event.

Did we return home accomplished musicians? No, it takes years to play any instrument well. We did learn new tunes. Such songs ( such as “Soldier’s Joy”) is found in most old time repertoires and sure enough I found it among my dulcimer music. Both of us were beginners at our instruments but we do believe our skills have improved.

Playing by ear or rote were the methods of learning promoted here, the very way the old

Burl, left, is pictured with his fiddle class.His teach, Michael Ismerio sits next to him, Donna Turner and Scott.

Burl, left, is pictured with his fiddle class.His teacher, Michael Ismerio sits next to him, Donna Turner and Scott Whitney,  are to the right.

time musicians played. This requires much repetition, better known as practice. At fiddle class end, Burl’s arm was about ready to drop off, or so it felt. He still hears his teacher saying “saw, stroke, saw, stroke, up and down and saw stroke,” over and over again and an admonition that went like this, “Burl look at me, you’re not looking at me.” We may not have quite developed a passion for old time music. But, this may come before this summer ends. We have scheduled another trip, in August, to a music camp in Maine. This time, accommodations are more primitive, in bunk houses with no running water, heat or lights. (we’ll be in our camper). Maybe this time, “we’ve bite off more than we can chew.” I’ll let you know! In the meantime, I encourage you to try something new, this summer.

Donna Turner and I at one of the evenings entertainment.

Donna Turner and I at one of the evenings entertainment.

Another class in session.

Another class in session at the harmony singers.

Here I am, to the left in dulcimer class.

Here I am, to the left, at a jamming session.

16 thoughts on “Trying Something Different!

  1. So neat that you are both taking music lessons. Yes, learning to play an instrument can take years; and it sounds like you both had a great time!! You are Burl truly continue to explore as you continue on the path of life!! 🙂


  2. Shirl, you did a fantastic job of capturing our week at Blue Ridge Old Time Music Week. Most of all thanks for spreading the word about this wonderful camp. You and Burl are absolutely amazing. I decided to learn to play fiddle at 57 years old because I knew it was good for my brain but you guys were even a few years older and never missed a beat all week!! I feel honored to be part of your blog! Looking forward to seeing you in Florida next winter. FIDDLE ON!!


    • Thanks,Donna. Is it possible we may have been the oldest participants? I love hearing from you.The friendships made at the camp are precious to us. Delighted you’ll see us in Florida.


    • Thanks, Cindy. Maybe you’d better hear me play, then determine if you are proud. 🙂 A daughter-in-law like you gives me something to be proud of. What a great family we have.


  3. So, can I assume you’ and your dulcimer will be joining them under the Entertainment tent at the Yard Sale next year? You’ll have a whole year to practice. I love the fact that you did this. Cudos to you & Burl! Have fun in Maine.


    • Now that the word is out, I’d better start playing outside my livingroom. This is difficult for me to do, especially when the hands start shaking. Thanks for writing, Kathleen.


  4. Missed you so much…glad to hear you and Burl are having great adventures. Nice that the two of you took music lessons together…even if you were in separate classes. The whole purpose of life is to praise and honor God and this is an amazing way to do just that. The youngsters in the video you posted are an amazing talent as well.


  5. I answered this post yesterday…but it looks like you didn’t receive it. So here it is much different. I’ve always loved folk and bluegrass music. It’s wonderful that you and Burl have such great adventures together. Our purpose is to bring glory to God and what better way than through music that we create. Practice does make perfect. I pray you both enjoy making beautiful music together.


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