Contemporary Folk Week - July 24-30, 2016


(Unless otherwise indicated, all classes have a limit of 15)


It’s a beautiful moment when a wave of inspiration hits you. However, if you’re like most of us, it can be a long time between those moments. Fortunately, the Muse is kind to those who are busy at work! Inspiration never travels without the companion of craftsmanship, and we’re going to use the whole toolbox: hard and soft rhymes, cadences and chord changes, cut and paste, puns and juxtapositions. In the process we’ll conquer three challenges during the week: assignment writing, writing lyrics without an instrument, and putting music to a co-writer’s lyrics. Come explore how creativity can blossom from boundaries.

Tired of writing yourself into a corner? How often have you found yourself up against the wall of writer’s block? Have no fear, there’s always a way through, and we’re gonna find it together. In the process, you’ll acquire some tools that can help you overcome future writer’s block. Bring a problem song, 16 copies of the lyrics, and together we’ll tame that sucker!

This class will include songs by Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others and how they shaped Tom’s songwriting. We will write songs right from the news of the day. Bring 15 copies of anything of the kind you have written.

This is a songwriting class on traditional styles. Come explore what traditional songs have to teach us in the 21st century. We will write new verses for traditional songs, which will give us a new appreciation for this priceless heritage.

In this class we will explore how to arrange songs to put them in a concise form ready for performance and or recording. As a group, we will look at every part of the song from lyrics to melody, including solos, intros and endings. We will discuss production values, what instruments we hear that will enhance the overall sound of the song. We will work on the arrangement of the instrument that you play with your song. Please bring at least two printed copies of your lyrics and bring a song that you are willing to work on – not one that has already been recorded.

WRITING MELODIES (Cliff Eberhardt)
We’ll start with a brief history of melodic writing and then show how to incorporate a melodic vocabulary into your songs, including what to look for to get out of melodic repetition. Bring in songs that are incomplete or songs that you feel need improvement, not songs that you are married to or have already recorded. You’ll be asked to start with just a verse and a chorus to work on, no complete songs until later in the week. We’ll talk about how to insert different chords and use different intervals of your existing songs to improve your melodies, how to make the songs have more memorable melodies, and how to insert intros, bridges and endings. By the end of the week we will try to reconstruct your work into a complete beautiful song. Usually during the week most students start to get it and add their own suggestions. That’s when I get to take cat naps. The point is, I’ve never taught this class where the students didn’t have a great time.

THE WRITER’S VOICE A & B (Mary Gauthier)
(NOTE: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material)
In this class songwriters will be encouraged to dig deep into their inner selves to find and use their own unique voice in their songs. Songwriters often have to push through firewalls of fear, confusion and self-doubt to effectively articulate their truths in their songs, but the beauty of this challenging work is the discovery that the deeply personal is universal. Digging into our heart of hearts, we discover the whole world there. The universe lives inside each of us. Once we understand this, our work can connect us to ourselves, to other beings, and to the world in ways we never could have imagined. These new connections inevitably bring us joy. We are returned to our own hearts through the sharing of our humanity with others. We go from feeling narrated, into narrating. We go from being written on, to writing. We experience our own story in powerful new ways when we write it and sing it. We become a witness, take a step back and observe. The space created in this act offers an opportunity to discover, name, and release self-defeating patterns. The uncovering and revealing of oneself is a primary source of transformative beauty, the creation of art. This class will teach students to listen for their own unique “Writer’s Voice,” access new levels of awareness in their songwriting, learn to truly listen to their lyric, explore the relationships between melody, chord choices, song structure and lyrics, break fear-based writing patterns and take risks.

Songs chosen for critique each day will be drawn from “a hat.” Attendees will be encouraged to attend all sessions for it will be beneficial to be a part of the process whether your song has been chosen or not. Critiques will be very in-depth, and we’ll hope to cover two to three songs per 75 minute session. We will address song form and structure, prosody, storyline, melody, arrangement and last but not least, commercial potential.

CO-WRITING (Jon Vezner)
The class will explore the benefits and advantages of co-writing, how to choose a co-writer, discussion of the co-writing process, and the division of copyright. Students will be paired up with someone in the first class session to be their co-writer for the week. Co-writers will then work on their songs on their own time. Class time will be set aside each day to discuss progress, problems etc., and the songs (complete or incomplete) will be performed during the last day of class.

When I feel I’ve got writer’s block or I’m in that place where I feel like I’ve either got no new ideas or I’m just plain “stuck” – either stuck plagarizing my last 3 songs, stuck in a groove rut, a lyric or a musical rut, that’s when it’s time for the Amusement Park of Songwriting. In this class, we’ll be writing songs from Games to Get You Unstuck. Some of the fun we’ll have: the 20 minute song (yes, you can write a fully-formed song in 20 minutes, I know you can, and you’d be surprised at how deep you go when you’re not thinking so hard about it); The 20 Word-Limit Song; the ‘everyone gets the same hook line’ song; Songs from Improvisation; partnering and swapping stories for songs, etc. We’ll also talk about techniques for writing exercises to try when you’re already writing a song and are stuck, how to access deeper writing and the story to bring to that lyric, and we’ll look at your own songs where you may be stuck and try to unstick them.


In this class we’ll do individual singing in front of the group, and play with techniques including phrasing, presence in the lyric, technical tips for breathing, relaxing, and getting out of our own way. This class is for anyone who wants to inhabit their own songs more comfortably. We work to create a safe environment to explore and take risks. Really fun!

This is intended as a next step for prior students of the Vocal Clinic class, but also available to those with a bit of vocal experience. We’ll spend the first day on basics, getting everyone on the same page, then immediately focusing on tools to capture your best performance in songs of your choice. There will be individual work/performance and interactive vocal warm-ups each day. Everyone will learn crucial vocal and performance skills for translating technical singing skills into excellent vocal performance of songs – whether humorous, sensitive, deep, dark songs, or the wailing blues. Siobhán may even use video to record and show you exactly what’s happening when you sing.

VOCAL CLINIC (Siobhán Quinn)
This class is for road-weary, occasional and even “never before” singers, especially guitarists! Everyone has a unique sound from the physical make-up of their vocal cords/resonance chambers; learning vocal technique will help you claim your songs with your voice! Siobhán uses classical/modern technique as a foundation for vocal flexibility while helping you to maintain individual vocal personality. We’ll work individually to explore and enhance your voice and you will develop a personal basic regimen to maintain skills you learn in the workshop. Siobhán is an encouraging teacher who will help you to bring out the best parts of your voice within each song you sing. Be prepared to work on two songs – one you love to sing, and one you really want to sing. They do not have to be your own and a capella is just fine. We will cover 1) vocal/breath warm-ups leading up to advanced workouts, 2) physiology of the voice, how to use each part – knowledge crucial to getting the most out of your instrument, including vocal health issues, 3) specific issues and exercises for songwriters/guitarists, such as posture with instrument, lack of breath, singing flexibly within your range, positioning and strengthening exercises to shake out the unsteady parts of your voice. We’ll work toward songs in the second half of the week, and how to translate the emotional intention of a song effectively.

THE SOUND OF YOU A & B (Danny Ellis)
(NOTE: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material.)
Finding your Authentic Voice by Deep Listening. The key to authenticity is deep, active listening. This intentional listening is extremely transformative. Almost entirely by itself, the natural intelligence of this feedback, between mind and ear, brings about effortless change. Unfortunately, many of us don’t really listen because we’re so busy trying to impersonate. And because we fail at that, we feel like failures ourselves. In this class we’ll learn to stop emulating and trust our voice to find its own unique contours. It’s then we make the most awesome discovery: It’s so liberating – and hilarious – to finally realize that what you’re disliking in your voice is not you, it’s your failure to imitate another. We may still, of course, need to make some changes to our technique. But when we learn deep, intelligent listening, we realize that, without this calm sobriety, any technique is just another source of stress. Deep listening changes the whole focus from gross efforting to allowing, and from there, technique can serve rather than burden. Then we’ll explore other traditional tools to set your voice free; breath, posture, placement, resonance and register blending, and some cool anchoring techniques to dispel anxiety and doubt. We’ll do a lot of fun vocalizing and some song/performance critique for those who want it. For beginners and pros alike.


PERFORMANCE (Kathy Mattea)
The intention of this class is to explore all aspects of performance, from the arc of a set, to being present with the audience and ourselves while we’re singing a particular song. We will explore the differences in the way a performance “feels” from the inside, for the performer, and how it comes across to an audience. We’ll also talk about pacing, “mini-sets” within a performance, what I call “Gozinta’s and gozouta’s” (which is, how do we prepare for the next song mentally, even when we’re still finishing up the previous song), and how do we have all the pieces in place so we can have choices in the moment based on what we’re experiencing from the audience and within ourselves. The goal is to have fun, and to create a safe space as a group, to experiment and get more information about what works and what doesn’t.

Performance isn’t easy. It’s hard enough to write a song. It can be really painful to think about getting up in front of people to sing it. How do you do that, do it truthfully, do it honestly night after night? How do you get over stage fright? This is a comprehensive performance workshop, looking at your songs, your performances and finding your way into a strong, connected performance without overacting. Along the way, we’ll look at everything it takes to create a meaningful performance, from song choices to banter to set lists and back to the basics of just getting up the nerve backstage to get out there. This is a fun, active, on-your-feet week, so be prepared with a few songs you’re ready to workshop. Even if you’ve never sung a song to anyone outside of the shower, this workshop will help you. And if you’re a seasoned performer, I guarantee this workshop will take your show to the next level.

(NOTE: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material)
This class will examine simple stage techniques that bring out the best dynamics from you and your show. We will break down a stage show and auditorium into their individual parts and show the artist how to fill the void of each them with music, presence and dynamics.

Guitar & Creativity

This will be a traditional master class, normally offered on the university level and to colleagues in the arts, focusing on the role of and history of the artist through the ages and up to the modern world. We will be covering history – telling as it spread from the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal to the ancient Greeks and those ugly Romans, the Dark Ages, the medieval troubadours and their role in spreading the news, the Renaissance, and why syphilis gave rise to the “artist as lunatic” perception. We’ll pay attention to fear and its effect on us as creative persons, the poetry and consciousness of wood, what to do when the well runs dry, the importance of both craft and talent, and the impossibility of living up to your ideals. There will be quotes and song illustrations as well. Students will be asked to read 3-4 short stories about artists before class begins. Contact me at for copies of these. Please bring a kazoo. (No class limit)

There are things in “the arts” that no one talks about – bring them here! My “Master Class” will have a very defined fourth wall; it is an instruction class, not a discussion. Conversely, the afternoon class will be a guided free-for-all. Participants are encouraged to bring any and all questions and thoughts about art and business; discussions are expected. There may be a few guest interviews of select instructors and students, conducted by me and covering everything from “How political are the Grammys?” to “What do performers do when there’s no bathroom available?” to “How can I age gracefully in a youth-skewed market” and “Why do I even bother?!” and “How can I convince my family to give me my college money and let me spend it making a CD instead?” Both classes will take advantage of the fact that I’ve been doing this since I was twelve years old. I am 64, so I must have learned something by now. Chiefly, I no longer have anything to lose by telling the unvarnished truth. Bring questions you don’t think anyone else will answer. Bring your doubts, bring your confusions, bring your anger and pain. We will sort through as much of it as we can, and become stronger in the making. (No class limit)

(NOTE: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material)
Ray breaks it all down then ties it all together. Be it your own personal style, your songwriting, blues, bluegrass, new age, Celtic, pop, jazz; the one thing that they all have in common is THEORY. This fun and involving course will explore melody (scales) and harmony (chords) in understandable terms and with simple concepts. The insightful, practical instruction will enable the student to easily apply the concepts to the guitar. This has been a popular course for several years now, and, of course, Ray has some new tricks up his sleeve. This year we will be spending more time on chords, chord progressions and deconstructing classic songs. Clear, helpful handouts will allow the student to bring this information home for continued study. Repeat offenders always welcome.