Contemporary Folk Week Classes – July 22-28, 2018


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


Stories help us understand and process the world we live in. A story set to music possesses an added power to penetrate hearts and minds. In this class for all levels we will work on honing the craft of telling a story though song. Whether you seek to write a modern-day folk-hero classic, magnify a fragment of forgotten history, paint a picture of your hometown, or immortalize a series of events from your family history or your own life, this class will give you the tools to craft something memorable and meaningful.

DISTILLATION (Nora Jane Struthers)
As writers, we all attempt to find and convey truths. When we sit down to work on a song, the first question we should ask ourselves is ‘What am I trying to say?” The second question is “How can I best say it?” In this class we will work first on distilling our intentions down to their essence and then on our delivery of those intentions, through lyrics, melody, and performance. Bring a song or a piece of a song that you feel has promise but lacks focus. We will create a safe space to generate, hone, and share our work together.

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.

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 this 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.

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 plagiarizing 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.

My favorite place to be is in the middle of a song. I hope this class will find us all in the middle of a new one. Our purpose will be to write new songs and to a lesser degree, complete promising, unfinished pieces. The first day I will talk a little bit about what has worked for me as a performing songwriter. Then we will quickly shift the focus to the individual student’s areas of interest or concern. Most of the week will be spent on actually cultivating new songs. I hope to create a positive atmosphere where writing a new song is not only possible but inevitable.

The purpose of this course is to develop new songs and provide tips on how to perform them. We will start new songs from scratch or work on songs newly begun in other classes or at home. Then we will focus on ways for you to connect with audiences in a live performance setting. You can benefit from my experience and decades of mistakes to find ways of crafting a set, telling your story, presenting you and your songs. Providing lyric sheets printed or with neat handwriting is encouraged!

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!

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.

RELATABLE SONGS (Cliff Eberhardt)
This class is about making your song more accessible to more people. We all want to share our feelings in song with the world. Most want to hear a song that we can identify with. I want everyone to bring in a song (with lyrics) and we will explore the message of your song and discuss different ways to approach redirecting your message so that everyone can relate to your story. We will consider irony and juxtaposition to make your work more interesting and concise.




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 the next step for prior students of the Vocal Clinic class, and is intended for anyone with prior vocal experience seeking to interpret songs (your own or others). It’s ok to contact Siobhan to discuss before registration. We’ll spend the first day on instrumental basics covered in Vocal Clinic. We will get everyone on the same page, then focus promptly on instrumental and interpretive tools to capture your absolute best performance in full songs of your choice. There will be individual work/performance and interactive vocal work 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. Please do a light warm-up before the class each day so we can get to work quickly as a group and individually.

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 and body; 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 during the week. Michael Bowers often assists and will provide additional nuggets of instrumental and interpretive wisdom. 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 cappella 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. In the second half of the week we’ll learn how to translate the emotional intention of a song effectively.

This course will cover lots of introductory ground on all things Voice. We will begin each class with specific vocal warm ups. We will learn the physiology of the vocal chords (vocal fold muscles) and the surrounding tissues so that we can understand how to use the voice, honoring its structure & function, learn to care for your voice throughout any age, sickness, over-use or just being ready for the “2 hour gig 3 nights in a row”, recovery tools & techniques, and most importantly how to honor, love and embrace the unique voice that only you have. We will learn what each voice is: chest, head, falsetto, what I call “the mix” and how to make transitions between these voices. We will use basic songs sung as a group, as tools to see a before-and-after experience of how the exercises are transforming, strengthening and relaxing your voice. Be prepared to bring 16-32 measures of a song to sing the first day in the group, that we will come back to at the last class to see the difference. It can be a cappella or with your instrument of choice. Camela creates a gentle, ‘no-judgement’ zone and permission to make mistakes, because how else do we truly learn? Bring water to drink during class. Bring a notebook if you like to take notes. Students are welcome to record audio of the class warm-ups.

This class is for those who have a good grasp on their voice and feel confident doing advanced exercises but may still have more they want to learn or specific struggles they would like to address. We will briefly review much of the Beginner/Experienced Vocal Mastery class to get on the same page. We’ll do exercises to understand how you are using your voice: are you in some vocal patterns that you need to break free from, has tension set in along your vocal range, are you stretching past your comfort zone during your exercises, are you stuck using only chest voice, head voice, do you work in “the mix”? We will introduce advanced vocal techniques that are more challenging, including isolating exercises for each voice (head, chest, mix, falsetto) and talk about the importance of head voice to balance the tone of your voice. Bring a song to share that we will return to at the end of the week. Bring water to drink during class and a notebook if you like to take notes. Students are welcome to record audio of the class warm-ups and specific exercises.




Vance’s dicta is that songwriting and performance are inextricable entities, so his classes will focus more on one or the other aspect, depending on individual need. All of this is done in a supportive atmosphere as if it were an ‘instructive open mike,’ – Vance working with one student as the others watch. Then it’s YOUR turn! In these practical classes Vance gets ‘under the hood’ of what you do and want to do in a supportive and very entertaining way. This stage/song bootcamp is a class you don’t want to miss.

ADVANCED VANCE (Vance Gilbert)
This offering is for any of you ‘graduates’ who want to go further in performance and songwriting with one of the best. Got the basics? Then here’s an opportunity to dig into the performance/songwriting connection a little bit deeper. It’s a great opportunity to tweak and hone skills previously acquired in a ‘Vance’ class, or heck, sure, if you missed the first one, c’mon in – there’s plenty for you to do here too.

A comprehensive look at Performance as its own art of Truth-telling. We write to connect to our own Truth. We sing and perform for others to connect our experience with theirs. To move them, shake them, make them feel. To say, ‘You are not alone.’ That is the deepest form of performance. It is a calling and deeply spiritual. We heal ourselves by writing our songs. We heal the audience by sharing them, and we can all heal the world by experiencing this together. We’ll look at performance from the stillness at the center of your song, asking a few questions of the song and of you, the performer, to get you more connected and give you tools to connect to your song each time you perform it. Of course, this is ‘show business,’ but there’s a difference between simple entertainment and profoundly meaningful performance. This class helps you to reach your best, most authentic performance. We’ll look at everything it takes to create a show, from song choices to banter to putting a set list together and even just getting up the nerve to get out there. This is a fun, active, on-your-feet week, so be prepared with a song (your own or another’s) that you know by heart. Bring your instrument, a copy of your lyrics and an open, curious mind. There are no right’ or ‘wrong’ moves in this class, only that which rings true. You will be moved and surprised by your own power. There’s definitely a money back guarantee to this class (or at least I’ll scoop you some ice cream at dinner if you hate it)!!!

(NOTE: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material)
Would it be surprising to find out that 90 percent of the impact of a communication was visual? Your clothing, hair, posture, poise impacts the story you tell through your songs. We will address the visual aspect of performing as well as the dynamics of the presentation sonically as well – a checklist of what you are bringing on stage, stories, songs, and the visual – as well as what the venue provides – lights, sound environment. This class will teach you how to get the most out of your performances, find the soul of your songs, and make the most out of the venues you play!



Guitar & Creativity

This is a class to share experiences, struggles and victories around the place that music sits in our lives. I realized a few years ago that there were some pivotal moments in my own journey with music, and when I looked closer at those moments, I discovered that there were some iconic questions that led me to the right answer in that moment. I have come to believe that we all have our own answers, floating around inside us, about life, music, and the conversation that art opens up between us, and the communities it creates. But, for me, there is a skill in hanging out with the question, and sitting in the uncomfortable open-ended-ness of it long enough so that the answer reveals itself. I’m interested in supporting each other as we ask these deeper questions, and explore where music is leading each of us in our lives, and what it has to teach us about ourselves, being human, and creating community. And about the larger conversation with ourselves, with that quiet voice within that guides us, and with each other. My experience is that the group is a rich place to learn from each other, and it’s enlightening and inspiring to spend five days immersed in this conversation with others who are also finding their way.

Explore the value of twisting, tweaking, building up and stripping down content and how it enhances and flexes intention in musical stories. Mix & match musical styles to a composition. See how packaging changes the way we connect to the content of a song or tune – yours or other people’s. Bring material you’d like to explore. Joe will provide song examples as well. We’ll all be surprised at the results. From detailing with tiny paint brushes to bold strokes with a paint roller – with or without a drop-cloth – it’s all about fearless possibility in creativity. Re-framing words, rhythms and melodies reminds us of the long, historical love affair between tradition and innovation. Everyone has a place and space to create anew from the old, the borrowed and the blue. Let’s liberate ourselves from the tyranny of common sense while exploring our Home on the (Free) Range of Contemporary Folk.

Joe will introduce frameworks for ‘intuitive improvisation’ in music based on what you already do, show you different ways to look at and interpret existing tunes or songs and how to fearlessly jam with others. There is no jazz theory requiring advanced mental or technical prerequisites. We’ll connect movement and sound to working with what you already know (which is more than you think), including awareness/focus, sending/receiving, the value of losing control, making mistakes and mimicry. These exercises will help you play with others in new ways and with greater confidence.

(NOTE: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material)
This course will have an emphasis on the guitar as a machine to be put into service supporting songs. Beginning with his own works, Peter will demonstrate various guitar mechanics by taking the compositions apart, and then delve into students’ work. Single-string theory, the fundamentals of rhythm, alternate tunings, and simplicity will be explored in the context of performing a song. Intermediate to advanced guitar players will benefit the most from this class, and Guitar Week students are especially welcome.