Trad Camp: Teaching community through music

Summer vacation brings a halt to the responsibilities of classes, homework, and extracurricular activities and the prospect of warm, sunny days with no mandatory obligations for students.

But for some kids, not being in school means missing out on the cohesiveness of a community, the guidance of a mentor, and the feeling of being part of something bigger.

At Trad Camp in Shelburne, kids learn to be stewards of their own community through songs, dances, and tunes played in a variety of traditional styles. Kids ages 8 to 17 learn to sustain old musical traditions that have been passed down through generations and are alive and thriving in Vermont’s traditional music scene.

At this weeklong day camp in July, students enjoy workshops with some of Vermont’s greatest fiddlers, singers, dancers, guitar, mandolin, ukulele and even harp players. They get to see daily concerts by local musicians, and they get a taste of what the world of traditional music has to offer.

As a teenager, I attended Trad Camp in Burlington’s old Memorial Auditorium building on Main Street where it was held from its founding in 2011 until it moved in 2013. Each morning would start with a group song and announcements. Then we would traipse down into the musty basement room where we would unpack our fiddle cases in a circle of folding chairs and learn tune after tune from local fiddle-playing greats like Pete Sutherland, Joanne Garton, Peter McFarland, and Katie Trautz.

At lunchtime, we would gather together on the creaking bleachers upstairs and watch live performances by local bands like Americana old-time duo Mayfly, and the “radical street band” Brass Balagan, while we ate our bag lunches.

In the afternoon, we learned West African dance with artists from the Jeh Kulu Dance and Drum Theater.

The memories that I have from that week involve a lot of laughter, a lot of joy and a lot of song.

Trad Camp moved to its current location, the Lake Champlain Waldorf High School on Bostwick Road, in 2016.

Trad Camp is a project of Young Tradition Vermont, a nonprofit organization that gives children and young adults the opportunity to learn and perform traditional music and dance, and to use that traditional music and dance to serve and sustain their communities, according to their website.

I first got involved in Young Tradition Vermont when I was a seventh grader at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School, eager to get to know other young people who played fiddle music.

As a member of Fiddleheads, YTV’s performance group, I learned not only to increase my musical ability but also how to play as a member of a band, how to navigate the world of performing, and how to be a part of the community. I continued to be a part of Young Tradition Vermont until I graduated from high school, and it was through that organization that I got the opportunity to do workshops with big-name musicians like Eileen Ivers, Mairéad ni Mhaonhaigh, Liz Carroll, Regina Carter, and Andy Leftwich, and to perform at dances, festivals and concerts all over New England.

Trad Camp and Young Tradition Vermont gave me a strong foundation for musicianship and an understanding of the importance of carrying on the musical traditions that tie our communities together, and I will carry these skills with me for the rest of my life.

Trad Camp 2018 is July 23-27 at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Shelburne. Information: youngtraditionvermont.org.

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