Student reviews

Old Time Fiddle by Janie Darley

The setting is lovely: as you drive through the gates you see a collection of brown stone buildings around the green playing field. It all looks so tranquil. It's hard to believe that this will be the setting for an action-packed six days; that you'll be so busy you'll barely have time to go to the toilet!

After registering you go to find your dormitory. Single rooms are snapped up very quickly but I really enjoy the camaraderie and moral support of the dormitories. Each house has shower rooms, bathrooms, a TV lounge and kitchen as well as bunk bedded rooms for 6 � 8 people. When you find your room and choose your bed, each bed has a copy of the programme of activities for the week on it. This is vital and not to be lost � there's so much going on you need to be in the right place at the right time.

Meals are taken in the school refectory. The food is good with choices of hot meals, salads and vegetarian options. You queue in the refectory, often next to a tutor who can be a very famous person like Danny Thompson or Stuart Duncan! It's hard not to be thrilled at the opportunity to sit eating dinner opposite people you've long admired like Bob Winquist or Kate Lissauer. The atmosphere is so friendly everyone seems to rub along very happily together.

Each day begins, after breakfast, with assembly, which is great for keeping everyone up to speed with changes to the programme. John and Moira Wirtz and Jill Harrison keep things light hearted (extremely funny too) but make sure the messages get across. During the first assembly Jill gives information about scratch bands for the student concert on the penultimate evening of the week. Many join together in groups of people they already know but Jill ensures that newcomers are put in touch with a suitable group. This year each band had to have an Autoharp which was a lovely idea.

Then it's off to morning classes. These are in Old Time and Bluegrass Fiddle, Dobro, Mandolin, Singing, Bass, Guitar, Bluegrass and Old Time Banjo, two Autoharp classes and a Beginners class for all instruments. Classes are held in school classrooms but the last two Easters have been lovely and sunny and my classes were outside on some days, which was a treat. Class numbers are kept low � not more than 20 and many of about 12. This ensures that tutors are aware of everyone's progress and needs. Most teaching is by ear so a tape recorder is very useful to refresh the memory and aid practise between classes and when you get home. Coffee break mid morning is a time to swap notes with other students, and then it's back to class again until lunchtime.

After lunch there is free time when scratch bands can practise for the concert. Those who don't wish to be in a band can join the Slow Jam, which I enjoy very much. After afternoon coffee break classes recommence for another session before dinner.

After dinner there's lots on offer. Some tutors offer students one-to-one sessions, tutors also hold �dip-in' sessions which are a chance to learn about another instrument. I very much enjoyed Mark Schatz's Bass dip-in this year where we learned about the double bass and then tried ham boning (slapping the body for percussive effect as slaves used to when their instruments were confiscated) great fun. This year the tutors gave stunning concerts mid week: 'The Americans' which was Joe Mullins, Kathy Kallick, Stuart Duncan, Mark Schatz, Sally van Meter and Mat Flinner playing an amazing Bluegrass concert. My personal favourite concert was Kate Lissauer, Stuart Duncan, Dave Bing and Joe Mullins playing wonderful Old Time music.

Then it's off to the bar which is very lively. There are very high quality sessions every night: Bluegrass in the bar, Old Time in the refectory and Autoharp in the art room. Musicians often move between these groups. As the week progresses there are scratch band groups in every corner, inside and outside, practising for the student concert. There's music everywhere � it's wonderful. As you walk about the school everyone you pass smiles a greeting.

The student concert on the penultimate evening has a great atmosphere. There are some very confident people who are used to performing and some extremely nervous people determined to have a go. Every band gets great audience support and tumultuous applause.

Time really flies and the last night of the week is the tutor concert. This, with the high quality of the tutors, is a very special event indeed.

All too soon it's the last morning's breakfast and back home to reality. It's quite a shock to realise that in real life not everyone acknowledges you with a smile and there's not enough good music around.

Sore Fingers is a wonderful week, which can be appreciated by Bluegrass lovers of all musical capabilities from beginners to extremely accomplished musicians and all stages in between. I'm not a good musician but enjoy it so much and learn a great deal every year.3.The week is hugely successful thanks to the hard work of John and Moira Wirtz, Jill Harrison and the staff of the school. Andrea Waters had the original brilliant idea for Sore Fingers. She retired from doing the administrative side of the organisation this year. I think she should receive some kind of special award for thinking of such a brilliant idea from which so very many people benefit.

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