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NGI Recipient: Jeremy Blanchard

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - Harmony of Song and Dance (2017)

Thank you for the privilege of attending Harmony Week on scholarship. It was truly a transformational experience. As I was saying my goodbyes to my fellow campers, I began reflecting on my experience at the camp, and I’m grateful to have a chance to share my reflections with you here.

First, some background: I have been doing contra once every couple months for the last year and a half. I fell in love with it the very first time I attended. I also had a realization about six months ago that I’ve been loving singing more and more, and that I had been putting off getting better at it because I had been thinking of it as something I needed to start learning when I was young. I signed up for a group beginner singing class this Spring and really loved everything I learned. Tresne (who was on staff this year) is my housemate and dear friend and she encouraged me many times to join her at Harmony Week. She knew I would love it. And she was right!

Before attending, I felt like I had been *introduced* to contra dancing. As I leave the week at Pinewoods, I feel fully *initiated* into the contra community. I have certainly become a much more skillful and confident dancer. And more importantly, I feel like a part of the community. I get the “feel” of the culture of the folk dance community. I know a bit more of the history and origins. I met some experienced contra dancers in the Bay Area who will be my dance buddies for a long time to come for our local dances. I have participated in so many dances that I have a good sense now for the structure, and range of possibilities within contra, and I feel like I have some “street cred” because I went to this week. I feel like I can go back to my home contra community and fully be a part of it, rather than someone who just comes by occasionally. And I learned a lot of fun flourishes. 🙂

I also danced squares and English for the first time. I love both and I’m excited to seek out opportunities to explore those more.

As far as the workshops/classes went: I attended Mia’s duos and trios class, Tresne’s partner connection class, Alex’s into to Morris dance class, and I attended the Shape Note sings during the open session. Tresne’s partner connection class drastically improved how I dance contra. My swings are so much more intentional and engaged and FUN than they were before. I can feel it (and I imagine my partners can too!). I took one session of the Morris dance class because I wanted to expose myself to new traditions. Even though I didn’t go to all the sessions, I enjoyed it and I’m glad to have been introduced.

I kept asking around to see if anyone was going to do a shape note sing, because I had done it once in the Bay Area and I was really looking forward to getting to do some at Pinewoods. After enough “poking” I found out that it was happening and I really enjoyed them! I had been preparing to go further into shape note by listening to recordings for the last couple months. It was really special to get to call out songs by number for the first time because I knew the format well enough.

The highlight of the week for me was definitely Mia’s class on harmonies for duos and trios. If it weren’t for the encouragement of a fellow camper, I definitely wouldn’t have gone to this class because it felt like a big stretch from my current skill level at singing. I’m so glad I went for it though! I’ve done just a little bit of harmony singing (like at shape note sings) but I almost always rely on the other voices in my section near me to figure out my part. Doing a duo required a whole new skillset! I could literally feel the new neural pathways in my brain forming as I had to invent a mental model for how to hold a harmony in my mind/body when I was the only person singing it!! I was so proud of myself for figuring it out. I don’t think I ever sang the whole harmony perfectly or perfectly on pitch, but I kept practicing it inside of class and after class with my buddies and learned more and more and more each time. I’m so grateful for this class and for Mia’s brilliant teaching! I know I still have a lot to learn, but I feel a lot more confident to throw myself into new singing situations. I’m considering looking for a choir to join in the Bay Area!

I want to highlight that I wouldn’t have done this class if there wasn’t another camper (who happens to be my age) encouraging me to join her for the class despite my hesitation. I think that’s the beauty of a camp like this: the community experience creates so much richness!

I really look forward to attending Harmony Week next year! I have a work commitment scheduled on top of it currently, but I’m already talking with my team about rescheduling that event (and my plane hasn’t even landed back in the Bay yet!).

Thank you once again, with a song in my heart.