I’m constantly looking for new performance opportunities. Sunday a week ago I had two choices. I could go to a Scottish Music Jam Session at the Littlefield Celtic Center in Mount Vernon, or do Shape Note Singing. It looked like there were more opportunities for Celtic music than Shape Note, so I made the trek to Langley that Sunday. This past Sunday I headed up to the Bellingham Folk School to take part in a Celtic session.
I had stumbled on the Bellingham Folk School’s website while searching for other playing opportunities. Their calendar had several interesting offerings. I had already added their “Slug Jam” to my calendar, a slower tune learning session on November 30. I spotted another session entitled “Calling All Strings” and decided that based on its description, it might be something of interest.
Celtic tunes for all! Violin, viola, cello, guitar, mandolin, ukulele. Purchase “Celtic Tunes”by Craig Duncan, a Mel Bay book from Amazon for your instrument then come play with us.
I found a preview of the Mel Bay book online and it looked very straightforward. By the time I’d decided to go it was too late to order the physical book, but I was able to download it to my iPad. I played through most of the the book on the guitar and had no problem. When Sunday came around I loaded up my banjo, guitar, some recording equipment and a music stand and headed up to Bellingham.
The Bellingham Folk School is located in downtown Bellingham. I had a bit of trouble finding it, and even more trouble finding parking. It seems there was quite a bit happening on a Sunday afternoon. I eventually got parked and walked through the rain to the venue, which was tucked on the lower level of a building, kind of underground.
I walked in and saw two cellos and one viola, plus one observer. I introduced myself, grabbed a chair, and got my gear set up. Another violist and one violinist showed up, bringing the total to five bowed string players…plus me.
This was NOT what I was expecting. I was definitely the odd man out. All of the other instrumentalists were orchestral players. I got the feeling that despite the event/group’s description, no guitars, much less a banjo, had ever visited this particular session.
The group was certainly friendly and accepting. After introductions the session got underway. Deidre Kane, one the cellists, served as group leader. Here again things were different from my expectations. I had thought this might be a jam session, but it took on more of a tone of a site-reading session. The group played through the Mel Bay book, each on their own part. I actually had the easiest bit. I just had to strum the chords and make sure I didn’t lose my place.
We took most of the pieces slowly as the group got comfortable with the tunes. Here are two tunes from the session. First up is one of my favorite tunes, “Come Give Me Your Hand.” Laura and I heard the Chieftains perform this live and it was the best piece on their concert. Our rendition wasn’t quite that good. 😉
We also made an attempt at “The Irish Washer Woman.”
After an hour of playing we took a short break and I switched instruments. I was happy just playing the guitar, but the group really wanted to hear the banjo, so I pulled it out. I switched back and forth between the two instruments depending on the key of the piece. I strummed mostly chords, but occasionally tried some flat-picking and finger picking.
At 3:45 Deidre passed out some books of Christmas music. These were all in the key of G and were familiar, so I stuck with the banjo. We wrapped things up at 4:00.
I chatted with Deidre for a bit after the session was over and got a bit more information about the venue. The Bellingham Music School provides space for lessons, classes, and other groups at a very minimal price. We all chipped in a few bucks to cover the afternoon’s rental of the space for today’s session. The Slug Jam session that I put on my calendar for November 30 is run by a completely different group.
The Calling All Strings session may have been unexpected, but it was still a load of fun. This is a monthly group, and despite being the odd man out I may show up again. The one disappointment was that this was yet another group that was progressing at a very, very slow pace. Even if it is run by another group, the Slug Jam is supposed to be just as slow to accommodate learners. I am definitely a beginner, both on guitar and banjo, but I think I’m ready for a challenge. The Littlefield Celtic Center in Mount Vernon may be too advanced for me, but I still want to pay them a visit.
But, I may have an even better opportunity. When I got home I found that the Bellingham Folk School was actually an outgrowth of the Bellingham Folk Festival, a three-day even that takes place every winter. This year it takes place January 19-21. I was able to find workshops and sessions that grabbed my interest, so I decided to attend. I bought my ticket, and I’m ready to go.
Next up on the musical agenda, another Bring Your Own Guitar session this Wednesday, then I finally get to the Littlefield Irish Music Session next Sunday.