First Fiddle Camp

By Tim Stephenson

Silver Apple Scottish Fiddle School

I haven't been playing fiddle for too long. I'm just a late bloomer I guess. I've always loved music, played trombone, and guitar when I was young, and had rediscovered my guitar playing Bluegrass with some friends. I was very curious about violin and decided to give it a try too. I learned tons from YouTube, and had started taking some lessons. I joined the local orchestra, and started playing traditional music with friends. During my online learning, I found Hanneke Cassel's online lessons and had been learning and getting excited about Scottish tunes.

In one of her email news letters, Hanneke said, "Some other things I'd like to persuade you to do are #1: Go to a fiddle camp this summer. If you've never done it, it will change your life." Well, I had never done it. I didn't really even know there was such a thing. So, in the summer of 2015, I started looking to see where I could go. I heard about the Silver Apple Scottish Fiddle School through my friend Leslie, and we both decided to go.

I didn't know what to expect. I wasn't very confident playing in front of people, hardly knew any tunes, and even fewer Scottish tunes. I had only really played in Bluegrass sessions, which, for me, were quite intimidating. Wait ten minutes for my turn to come around, then play the part solo. Which usually meant waiting 10 minutes for my turn and chickening out.

The first night after getting oriented, still not knowing what to expect, I sat in with everyone in the session. It was great to hear Colyn and others play and get a feel for how the tunes should sound. I was amazed, and in heaven. So much great music, and we get to be right in the middle. Even better, everyone was very welcoming and didn't make me feel intimidated at all. Playing along quietly and picking out bits of the tunes I could was welcomed. 

The school is structured with group sessions reading and reviewing lots of great Scottish music. Really digging in to get an idea of how things should be played. Hearing examples to understand how it should sound and playing along. Playing a tune as a reel, and then as a strathspey. Trying different rhythms and ornamentations. Each of the instructors participate and provide their insights  and specialties to the whole group. 

Also, as a whole group, there are sessions by ear. Reviewing and learning new tunes in each session. Again the different instructors provide insights and instruction on how the tune might be played differently in different regions, or how you might arrange it into a set. 

In the afternoons we got one-on-one instruction from each of the instructors. Instruction on how to play tunes. How to perform, arrange and even compose them. Such a great opportunity to learn from amazing players and patient teachers.

Each evening, sessions! More learning from the instructors and everyone else. And if you like whiskey, as I do, there was a great whiskey tasting with whiskeys from different regions of Scotland. The bottom line is Hanneke was right. It did change my life. I'm no longer afraid to play in sessions. I've become friends with an amazing group of musicians. And I feel like when I have the music, I'll always be amongst friends. 

I went back for another amazing camp in 2016, and now I'm counting the days until the camp in Redwood Glen in 2017. I can't wait.