Contemporary Folk Week - July 30-August 5, 2017

(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.

MAKING YOUR OWN WAY A & B (Tift Merritt)
(NOTE: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material)
Writing requires you to be your own best editor lyrically, and songwriting offers a powerful additional palette of musical storytelling devices. This class aims to better develop voice through intimate workshopping of works in progress, keeping in mind both lyrical and musical structures. It will also serve as a sounding board for personal process. I will begin with my own work and process as an example, as well as explore how some of my favorite artists made their mark making their own way with their work and their process.

Songs are built from brief moments of inspiration and long hours of hard work. This workshop will take a close look at this yin and yang of songwriting. We’ll examine the differences and similarities of these processes, learn how they can work together and search for tools that will help with each (and many times both) of these skills. From finding beauty in the ordinary and chasing the muse, to editing, arranging and performing, we’ll find the power in the process. Bring 15 copies of an unfinished work, or some ideas for one.

I love a song that tells a story. Whether it’s plain as day or told in between the lines, a song just resonates with me more if I can feel a story arc, get a sense for the characters and put myself inside the landscape. In this workshop, we’ll take a look at why storytelling in this way can be so powerful and work on tools to bring our stories to life in song. We’ll focus on the essential questions (who? what? when? where? why?), originality and creative flexibility, and how to avoid cliché and abstraction. Come with an open mind and a personal story to share!

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 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.


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 cordsand 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 in the week-long workshop. Siobhán is an encouraging teacher who will help you to bring out the best parts of your voice within each song you sing. Michael Bowers often assists and is likely to be tapped to 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. We’ll work toward songs in the second half of the week, and 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 is a gentle, humorous teacher who creates a “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 course 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 will 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. Be prepared to bring a song to share at the first class that we will return to at the end. Bring water to drink during class. Bring a notebook if you l like to take notes. Students are welcome to record audio of the class warm-ups and specific exercises.


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.

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. This is all terrific fun too, cause he is both supportive and very entertaining. 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 bit little deeper. 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 perform songs to connect to each other, to have a direct relationship with our audience, to move them in some way as well as to entertain. I look at performance from the angle of getting to that deeper layer, the stillness at the center of your song, asking a few questions of the song and of you, the performer to help get you more and more connected and give you tools so that you continue to connect to your song each time you perform it. Of course, this is “show business” but there’s a difference between shallow entertainment and profoundly meaningful performance. This class helps you to reach your best, most authentic performance. Along the way, we’ll look at everything it takes to create a show, from song choices to banter to putting a set list together and even 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 (be able to play the song as if you’re performing it without lyrics in front of you). Bring your instruments and a copy of your lyrics for me to see.

(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 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. If you haven’t received the short stories three weeks before classes begin, please email me at for copies of these. (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 65, 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.