Some people go to a fiddle camp every year and there is no mystery about it.
But for many people, the whole idea is an abstract concept: are people sitting on tree stumps playing fiddle? Do they shoot squirrels for their lunch? Is everyone already paired up musically? Do I need to bring a friend? Will I be isolated and alone? Will I be musically lost?
Let me try to paint the picture for you. What can you expect from a fiddle camp such as Wallow Fiddle Tunes camp, and what can you do to prepare?
Wallowa is in northeastern Oregon. It’s a charming small town, near the gorgeous Wallowa mountains (the Tetons of Oregon). This 5 day camp has very affordable tuition and excellent instructors. Dates for 2016 are July 10-15. Classes are available for basic guitar, swing guitar, bluegrass fiddle, swing fiddle, Southern fiddle, clawhammer banjo, dancing, and singing.
Am I ready for a fiddle camp?
Musically, many people worry that they are not prepared or at the level they should be to participate in camp. At Wallowa, the musical expectations are clearly described for each class, so you will know if you are good fit, or stretching.
If you are stretching, that’s okay too, as long as you don’t expect the class to change its pace just for you. Some instructors (myself included) will post sheet music and reference recordings for the class several months in advance to help students get prepared if they are nervous.
In my class, I always have a few people who struggle, and a few people for whom my class is mostly review. For the vast majority of the class, the material is fresh and the information is new to them. This is normal, and you will likely fall into this majority group. If you find you are struggling or bored, you can switch classes for a better fit if you like. But hey, even the people who struggled in my class learned a ton, and none of them regretted sticking it out.
How should I prepare myself?
The best thing you could do to prepare yourself musically for fiddle camp is to closely read the “playing level description” for the class you want to register for, and make sure you fit the description, or work toward that goal by the date of camp.
My class (Basic Adult Fiddle) requires that you already know how to hold the fiddle and bow, understand the very basics of playing fiddle, and have a minimum of 5-10 fiddle tunes under your belt. MANY of my students will show up WAY above that level, and some will show up barely at that level. If the class has preparatory materials, make sure you do some homework and study up, unless you are a hot shot who can wing it.
What is the social environment?
Socially, fiddle camps are a mixed bag, and your comfort level will depend on how outgoing you are and whether or not you know anyone else attending the camp.
Personally, I am a shy introvert. When I attended the Swannanoa camp in North Carolina, I was honestly just a wee bit lonely, but the musical experience more than made up for it.
Swannanoa is a huge camp, and I was able to wander around without anyone really noticing that I was alone. Wallowa camp is smaller and more intimate. The class sizes are small, and you will get to know every member of every class you take. People reach out to individuals who are “on their own”, and you will have people to hang out with if you want to.
What’s the deal with jamming?
The jamming scene is similar to the social scene: it’s easier to jam if you already have friends or know people. At Swannanoa, I just sat in the “slow jam” tent, because it seemed the most welcoming, and I had a GREAT TIME, and also learned a lot about how to participate in a jam.
At Wallowa, as you wander around the property, people will recognize you and call you over. If they don’t, I guarantee you will be welcomed with enthusiasm if you walk up and introduce yourself. People there are SO friendly and welcoming in the jam sessions. If you don’t know how to jam, it’s fine! Just show up! Your new friends will show you all the ropes with gusto.
What about food and lodging?
Some “fiddle camps” are not camps at all. Many are held indoors, lodging is in dormitories, and food is in a cafeteria. But some camps are indeed camps. People sleep in tents or campers, or a lucky few in cabins. Food is prepared at campsites, or obtained daily from local markets.
Wallowa is a happy medium. Participants either stay in tents and campers on the school grounds, or they stay in a hotel 18 miles out of town and commute for class each day. People who are camping prepare their food at campsites. Others buy each meal day by day. Lunch is served in a cafeteria, and can be purchased with your tuition.
Tuition is really low, as far as camps go. $175 for the whole week. Camping on the school grounds is free. Lunches are $62 for 5 days, and they are VERY gourmet. Students are on their own for breakfast and dinner. Oatmeal bar can be purchased daily for around $5 for breakfast.
That’s about it. The main thing you need to know about the Wallowa Fiddle Tunes Camp is: Just get your booty registered and show up!
The rest will be an intensely fun but challenging learning experience, and one of the best ways I know of to “cut your eye teeth” on the world of fiddle camps, fiddle tunes, and fiddle jams.