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This post is a summary of my week at Summersongs East. After some hesitation, I signed up in June for a full week at Summersongs East. I had heard many good things about Summersongs East from the website, from the Songwriting Scene blog by Sharon Goldman, and several online songwriters like Kathy, and Susan. The recommendation with the most weight for me came from my creativity coach and friend Lauren Lapointe. The hesitation was more about whether to travel and commit a full week to just music in the midst of all of the activity in my life, less about the camp itself or the money. I felt the fee was worth it for the room and board alone. 

 
My only creative Summersongs goal was to write or finish a song a day. Two classes of interest focused on improving songs. Classes for singing and performing skills were not my highest priority. My other hopes were to enjoy nature, eat healthy food, get some exercise, and not drive a car during the travels in New York state. I also wanted to play a variety of my songs at camp shows and song circles with no repeats.
Saturday August 1, 2015 aka Day 1
The trip from home takes ten hours of travel by plane, buses and automobile. I didn't think about taking the train from Sebring, Florida, until after I had bought airplane tickets. Through e-mail correspondence I met up with three other campers at the Trailways bus terminal in Manhattan and three other campers en route, including Siuberto Socarras, Anja Elena Viken and Tim Platt. I arrived at Summersongs East 2015 to a pleasant afternoon in the Catskills at the Ashokan Center around 3 pm. I check in and meet the camp leaders Penny Nichols and Chris Kunstadler. I am referred to as a "newbie", in a friendly way, and unload my bags in the bunkhouse. I pick out the top bunk nearest the hall door and bathroom.
I store my guitar in a secure room near the classrooms. Dinner and orientation begin at 6 pm. I have a couple of hours to take a stroll around. A  room-size flat rock looks like a good place to sit and breathe it all in. I start to write a song about being a newbie. Sharon walks by with her husband Shannon. I introduce myself.
Dinner and each following meal have gluten-free,vegetarian, and (Yes!) vegan options. I make an effort to talk to different people each meal. Orientation covers the basics and is followed by a show including music performances from Summersongs East 2015 teachers Penny Nichols, Sloan Wainwright, Kate Campbell, Freebo, Glen Roethel, and one-on-one coaches Julie Snow and Amy Soucy. Julie plays a song called It's A Beautiful, Beautiful World, which had similar imagery to my song Beautiful Day' Its The Best Day Ever Today.
After the music performance students count off one through five to be randomly assigned to a song circle. My number is one. I am assigned to Siuberto's circle. In the song circle are several fellow campers that will soon become my classmates and friends. The only rules in the song circle were the leader plays first, then the next player is counterclockwise from the leader, everyone is asked to stay in the circle for the full round, and no feedback is given or musical accompaniment occurs unless the writer asks for it. Any feedback during Summersongs is to be positive and constructive.
One camper, Dan, plays a song that starts with "It's a beautiful day, the sun in shining". After hearing his song, just before my turn came up to play, Julie joined the circle. I felt the need to play my song, Its A Beautiful Day, before someone thinks I borrowed the idea. The whole song circle joins in the chorus. For my second song I play the very rough song about being a newbie. At midnight the circle breaks up and I go to bed. Upon advice of fellow campers, I put in earplugs. 
Sunday Day 2 
I am awakened by daylight and before the first period class I rough out a song based on the universe inspiring to get me to Summersongs. Classes begin. I go for a late morning walk on the trail to the covered bridge and to the wiggly bridge. I go to Kate Campbell's classes Just One Song and Fixing and Finishing for four reasons. 1) When I signed up for Summersongs, the songwriting class description for Fixing and Finishing is closest to what I was looking for. 2) Will Kimbrough is one of my musical heroes and has been both her co-writer and producer. 3) The songs Kate plays, including Greensboro and Crazy in Alabama, have the deep meaning I am striving for in my writing. 4) I go to the first day of the beginning songwriting class Just One Song out of curiosity figuring I could learn a few things from her. The other two classes in first period are Wake Up Signing and Harmony. I didn't go to camp for a singing class.
 The Just One Song class is oriented to beginning songwriters with a goal to write a song during camp. Most of the students in class have written a song. Kate has funny stories and gives many good tips to start songwriting. My favorite is the analogy to a painter sketching out a painting first and then developing the artwork. 
In the afternoon Fixing and Finishing class introduction, Kate talks about song structure, rhyming, and craft. She wants the weekenders to go first on Day 3. After class I get out my capos and find a melody and stream of consciousness words for another song idea based on the felling of the musical arpeggio.
The newbie/silent coffeehouse concert spanned days 2 and 3. When asked, and I am not used to being asked, I expressed no preference and am assigned the number four slot on day 2. The newcomers go first with returning students and then teachers playing one song. We play unplugged, except for keyboard players using built in speakers. I follow a couple of animal related songs with my song Just Let It Rain.
After the concert there are two song circles instead of the five on day 1. I join the song circle upstairs led by Anji Kat and I play the untitled multiple capo song. The second time around another newbie plays a song about a recent death in the family and is unable to finish it due to overwhelming emotion. n that round, several of us play our own catharsis songs to provide support. The circle breaks up, my new friends Dan, Karen and I share a song each with in-depth discussion  until 1 am.
Monday Day 3 
The final full day for the weekenders. Amy Souci, who also a yoga teacher, leads an outdoor gentle standing yoga class at 7:30 am. Some of us stand on the grass in our bare feet. That sensation of bare feet on the earth, without urban background noise or multi-legged creatures joining in, was one of the best yoga classes I have taken. I chat a bit long at breakfast and notice through the performance hall glass door that Sloan Wainwright is leading stretching exercises like a yoga Sun Salutation in the Wake Up Singing class. Some of my new friends are in the class. Curious, I wander in and start stretching. Thinking maybe I'll hang out in this class today and go back to songwriting tomorrow. Then the class does some vocal exercises that are kinda fun. After a few minutes of vocal stretching we side down and Sloan begins to talk about the importance of a vocal practice for singing. This is a new concept for me. A few weekenders do a minute or so of acapella singing and get feedback and suggestions. Again the feedback is all positive, constructive, and supportive. For some this is the first time singing in front of others without an instrument. This was an entirely new experience for me.
 
Immediately after the Wake Up Singing class is the Step Up To The Stage class taught by David Roth. Most of the class members had some performance experience. The class discussed various aspects of performance and we get an assignment for Day 4 to prepare to present a song introduction.
After lunch I went to the Pewter House for a Guitar Care and Check session with bass player extraordinaire and recording wizard Mark Dann. My guitar checked out okay. In Fixing and Finishing, the weekenders presented songs for feedback. More discussion. After four class sessions in the day I go back to the bunkroom for a rest. Instead, one of the young students was playing an electric guitar. I wander over, we try playing a few things and after a few minutes I hear what sounds like the Neil Young song Cowgirl In The Sand in a riff. I remembered the chords and strummed while the young man played a blistering lead.
Next I said "the only other rock song I know by heart is Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix."
"Yeah"
We played that for a few minutes then I headed back to the dining hall.
The second night of the newbie silent coffeehouse included another 32 participants for a total of 65 people performing in the two nights. I was impressed by the level of talent in both students and teachers. Instead of song circles a lot of socializing with weekenders on their last night. I was very tired and went to bed.
Tuesday Day 4
The hottest day of the week with a forecast high near 90. I woke up with a realization that in music, my strength is songwriting. My biggest weaknesses are singing and stage performance. I continue in Wake Up Singing and Step Up To The Stage with more of an open mind for learning. I hear the importance of ease and relaxation in singing, and preparation for performance. I am in the queue to sing acapella in Wake Up Singing. In Step Up To Stage we sign up for when we want to play. I hang back and watch everyone sign in numerical order. I am left with the last slot on Thursday. Most weekenders leave camp in the morning lunchtime. A few decide to stay.
In the afternoon, I sit in an open session with Mark Dann on the basics of the new version of GarageBand. I picked up a few pointers. It is a beautiful sunny cool afternoon and instead of spending 3rd period inside I go outside to the gazebo for a prompt writing session called Swimming In The River Of Song led by Sloan. There were a dozen of us there and most everybody came up with a beautiful poem or prose. I did not feel like sharing my first two writings. The third became the start of a song that I finished after dinner.  I get an idea for a revision of an old song about my uncle Bobby and Elvis Presley. It ends up as a rewrite in surgery.
After finishing the rough song draft, I grabbed my guitar and walked down to the firepit by the reservoir where Fred Arceolo had a pile of wood ready to start the fire. Fred was playing some of his songs and soon started the fire. The other Andy in camp played a cover song, Joe played banjo on a song. Next it was my turn. As I played U2 I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, more people arrived and the fire jam was on. I sat back and watched the teachers and other students taking turns at playing. The jam lasted until 11 pm, I went back to the dining hall. Sharon, David and I were talking and suddenly an acapella duet of Simon and Garfunkel song America broke out. I got my guitar out of the bag, put the capo on fret five and started the instrumental introduction to The Sounds Of Silence and the Simon and Garfunkel jam was on. Soon Toby joined in. After we ran out of Simon and Garfunkel the tunes turned towards Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and Carole King. My voice was fading. Each of us improvised a verse of Goodnight Ashokan to the tune of Goodnight Irene. The jam closed out after midnight.
Wednesday Day 5
The weather turns cooler. I wake up with more ideas for the Bobby and Elvis song. I also wake up a bit hoarse. The vocal warm ups in Wake Up Singing are really helpful. After the warmup I can talk a little better. I began to ask Sloan questions and really start thinking about how to integrate a singing practice with riding my bike, taking a shower and other tasks. In David's class we give feedback to the first group including Susan, Emily, and Karen.
In the afternoon I went to Fixing and Finishing late. My Bobby and Elvis rewrite is not ready.
The next two nights were the student performance show. I am assigned to Thursday. I watch my friends in Step Up To The Stage apply the lessons learned and give an improved performance compared to the class exercise earlier in the day. Everyone does well. Sloan and I talk about kids and grandkids. I tell her about Live In A Lego Castle and promise to sing it in class the next day. A few minutes later I have an "oh crap" moment remembering that this is not my warm-up song. After the student show is over, I am very tired. I hear the voice of my new, at least for the week, vocal coach Sloan words telling the class about voice care and the importance of rest and hydration. "When your voice is tired lay down and rest."
Thursday Day 6
The last full day of camp, the last day of classes, concerts and dinner. I woke up well rested. It was my turn to sing acapella on the last day of Wake Up Singing. Except for "this is how it goes" or singing along to music' I had not sang alone before. I sang the first chorus and verse of Live In A Lego Castle, tapping my foot to keep time, focusing on my breathing, remembering to move my legs and torso and make eye contact. All the other students who had sang in the week before were asked to sing it again with varying emphasis. Sloan said I have a naturally closed mouth and suggested I sing the melody with E (not he) sounds. Then to sing it again working on opening my mouth wider to increase resonance. I sang the second verse, bridge and chorus focusing on enunciating each syllable. After I finished Sloan asked "Did you notice a difference this time?" I noticed resonance in my forehead where I had not felt it before from singing.
In Step Up To The Stage, Carole, Bill and Steven all did very well. I could only offer praise and a very minor suggestion. For my turn I played Marry A Sister, Marry The Family. I received very helpful feedback about the vocal and guitar dynamics, as well as the introduction. At the end of lunch we were assigned to write a Summersongs related verse to the tune of You Are My Sunshine.
I went for a walk to the gazebo to write my verse. After some edits I arrived at:
Under the covered bridge,
Over the wiggly bridge,
All roads lead to Summersongs,
And as I'm leaving from Ashokan, 
II'll miss you all year long
 
For my last class I felt I needed to be creative rather than rush to figure out music to present Bobby & Elvis in its raw state for dissection. I walk the covered bridge path for about a mile or so. I end up at a gate and return to the gazebo for the last session of Swimming In The River Of Song. Sloan presented two optional prompts for a half hour session. The first was to make something from found objects. The second to write about making something from nothing. I walk back down the path gathering short sticks and peeled sycamore bark. The sycamore bark had round holes that the sticks could fit through. The bark also curled like a wrap. On the walk back I find two interesting angular sticks that look like serpents. Those angular sticks become the organizing point and I create the completely fictional legendary "Ashokan Reservoir Monster. It has three heads and a tail. This one is just a baby, spawned at a high point in the tributaries." There were assemblages from rocks, sticks, crabapples, and other found objects. Some students wrote instead of searching for found objects. A few did both. A very creative group.
Before dinner I run through It's A Good Day (There Is No Food In My Bowl) using the suggestions from earlier in the day for a more effective song introduction, controlled singing and guitar playing. After dinner, in preparation of her introductions as emcee, Sloane asks me how I found about Summersongs and my view of the Summersong experience. I tell her "I found out through the Songwriting Scene blog by Sharon Goldman and from my friend Lauren Lapointe. I agree with a lot of the other comments. My take is the health focus with food, the environment and the support here. It is uplifting mentally, emotionally and spiritually." Sloan smiles.
It was time for the second night of the student concert. My Step Up To The Stage performance class is number 10 and I follow at number 11 in the posted lineup. David leads the song on guitar and orchestrates when we each sing our verse. I go third after Tim and Susan. David opens it up to any one to make up a verse. Fred and Teri add a verse. I stay onstage for my introduction by Sloan. I tell the story of the original song inspiration. Facebook posted picture. Orange Tabby cat standing erect. With a banjo. Caption: Let me play you a little song called there is no food in my bowl. I play and by the end of the first set of refrains my friends are singing along. More socializing afterward.
Friday Day 7
One last walk on the circular road around the Ashokan Center. I walk down to the wiggly bridge and walk halfway out for one last look. That view may not be available next time. Goodbyes before, during, and after brunch and disoirientation. My week at Summersongs draws to a close. I did not drive a car the entire week, I wrote a song every day and had a memorable time.
Reflections from the other world
I play my greenmarket gig to an otherwise occupied crowd strlling though the market. I remember the past week and look forward to my next trip to Summersongs and the company of my newfound musical friends.
 

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