Report from 1999
by Jean Mills
It's been over a week since I got home from the Woods, and I've unpacked all my suitcases but one: the little blue bag that contains my Woods treasures. My tape recorder is still tucked in there, complete with the tape of Jean and Christina singing, playing and talking about Newfoundland Christmas traditions, Jeff (recorded under a tree near the dining hall) singing one of his traditional western songs, and Jim performing a ballad from Appalachia (and just how DO you pronounce that word, Jim?). There are sheets of up-the-neck chord progressions from Jean, a collection of whistles and harmonicas wrapped in a receiving blanket, and lyrics and melody lines from various sources scribbled on papers of all description. I have a feeling that I may find some forgotten bits and pieces hidden there among the books and papers. But still I don't want to unpack that bag, because when I do, it will mean this year's Woods will really be over.
It's strange to think you can try to pack five days of music - constantly heard, performed, danced to and discussed music - into a suitcase. And although it's a treasure trove of memories I can look at and listen too, it doesn't come close to capturing the actual Woods experience.
Looking back at the week's schedule, it's hard to believe I experienced so much when there were so many things I had to miss! Newfoundland Traditions with Christina Smith and Jean Hewson taught us a new vocabulary and a whole new appreciation for the pleasures of "tea" (wink, wink!). Christina taught us fiddle techniques and helped me achieve my personal goal of learning some tunes by Newfoundland legend Rufus Guinchard.
I attended workshops that included Jeff Davis and his cowboy songs, a slow jam with Jim Morrison in the Log Cabin, and some tips on accompaniment from Jean. My schedule was full - and yet I kept hearing about all the other classes and workshops I was missing. Banjo, dulcimer and guitar techniques with Arnie Naiman, Kathy Reid-Naiman, Bob Franke and Eve Goldberg; singing with Jeff Davis and Jean Hewson; clogging with Jim Morrison; and Bob's songwriting class (which turned at least one friend of mine into a zombie!) Then there were workshops that touched on a variety of subjects including performing tips, music for young children, singing harmony, playing banjos and mandolins, guitar building - no wonder the dining room was always buzzing as we shared our experiences across the table.
Community Time gave us the chance to experience together music and stories, sometimes serious, sometimes not. The performance circle at the Log Cabin was a constant source of inspiration, songs and opportunities for paralysing performance anxiety, all in an encouraging, supportive atmosphere.
Free time was, of course, a misnomer. How can there be free time when I had to practise what I had learned that day in fiddle class, plus rehearse with Jack and James for the performance circle, plus learn some accordion from Ellen, Barb and Jane and harmonica from Dave during separate "give-and-gets"? And what about a quick dulcimer jam with Debbie in front of the dining hall? Or a brief but meaningful encounter with the lapping waves of Lake Rosseau and some sun-worshipping on the dock?
And why was it that the sleeping hours just kept getting shorter and shorter? The evening activities seemed to stretch as the week went on: performance circle, concerts by the staff, dancing (in my case, learning to dance) as Jim patiently called and taught the steps. Then late night song circles, instrumental jams, or just hanging out under the stars talking music and many other things (Chaucer comes to mind....)
Sigh. That blue bag is still sitting there. I'm looking at it and thinking not only of what it contains, but also what it doesn't - highlights that may never be matched. Who will ever forget that magical moment involving Christina, Grit and the capricious mike stand? Or Scott, missing in action? Or Ruth Goldberg's 12-step program for boutique shopaholics? Or the Mummer's Play, complete with Tony's Fiery Dragon and Jane's Old Bull? Or being so moved by someone's musical offering at community time, or performance circle, or campers' concert, that the goose bumps rose on your skin? These are Woods treasures too, but they're not packed in my little blue bag.
I've decided to tackle the final unpacking tomorrow - or the next day, or perhaps not at all. Maybe I'll just dip into my treasures whenever I need a Woods fix. Better yet, I'll leave it packed and ready for next year.
Jean Mills (aka The "Other" Jean)