Virtual Festivals--what's your experience, or your thoughts?

ocean-daughter
@ocean-daughter
3 weeks ago
19 posts

I'm popping in to agree to the time zone comments.  I've attended a few workshops at 7:30 am (I'm on the west coast), but when I was registering for  Quarantune 3.0 I basically decided that for the most part I wasn't going to consider the first and second sessions, the earliest of which started at 5:30 am for me.  I did do one super early one that presented Scottish melodies, which my husband approved of (I warned him beforehand) sunLaugh

There were some folk from the U.K. attending in the wee small hours, and I applaud them!

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
one month ago
1,417 posts

A link to a time conversion site is probably safer and more practical than demanding that festival organizers list every possible time.  After all, even in the U.S. things are pretty complicated with some states not doing daylight savings time and other states being split between time zones. I was once an hour early for an online dulcimer concert from British Columbia because the time listed was Pacific Daylight Time when they meant Pacific Standard Time.  I think it best if organizers just list the local times and then suggest that everyone to use the link to a time conversion site to determine their own times.

But I do hope organizers of online festivals realize that people outside their time zone might be interested in attending.  When a festival on the east coast runs workshops on Fridays and Saturdays, those of us who work are already unable to attend half the workshops.  Then if things run from 9:00 to 5:00 local time, many of us are unable to attend half the Saturday workshops because they start too early (I don't mind playing the dulcimer at 6:00 AM, but I don't think my family appreciates it!).  So what is advertised as a 2-day festival is really a half-day festival for many of us.  There is no reason folks in New York or West Virginia can't have some workshops as late as 8:00 PM, and they'd get more folks from the west coast that way.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Skip
Skip
@skip
one month ago
281 posts

It seem to me the 'when' needs a lot emphasis, like a larger text font, in color, no abbreviations and possibly other attention gathering techniques. It may help to include a link to a time conversion site. The 'when' is probably the most important piece of information I use to plan things. 

Pondoro
Pondoro
@pondoro
one month ago
30 posts

If event promoters want to be really smart they could post a schedule that said, "3PM EST, 2PM CST, etc." Even "9 PM Continental Europe" I promise that if 20 people want to attend a specific event at least one of them will misjudge the time zone, I have done it! I have worked with people in Italy and Poland for 20 years, I can convert Eastern time to Europe in my sleep. I have relatives in Central. But Mountain Time and Pacific Time still mess with my head.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
one month ago
1,956 posts

Lois Sprengnether Keel:

The time difference can be a help or hindrance.  An online time converter is worth checking before deciding on workshops or concerts.

Excellent point, Lois! People sometimes don't think of these things.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
one month ago
184 posts

The time difference can be a help or hindrance.  An online time converter is worth checking before deciding on workshops or concerts.

ocean-daughter
@ocean-daughter
2 months ago
19 posts

I did have another thought about a benefit virtual festivals have given me--they are helping me get to know who's out there, in terms of well-known teachers and players, and giving me the chance to learn from those people. 

I built my first dulcimer from a kit in '96, and attended the Southern California Harvest Festival of Dulcimers in '97 and '98.  I attended some wonderful workshops with Neal Hellman, Mark Nelson, Lois Hornbostel, Ruth Barrett and Cyntia Smith.  About that time my fourth child was born, and I was really busy for awhile.  I still played, but I was basically the only dulcimer player I knew, except for a dear lady who lived near my parents in Kentucky.

When I went to register for the festivals in November, I had never heard of any of these people--except Lois Hornbostel, who taught at the North Georgia festival, and you can believe I attended a couple of her workshops!  But it was great to realize I could go learn from this one and that one, and get to "know" them. 

(Actually I was dimly aware of Robert Force, who taught at the Florida festival, and it was great to learn from him!)

Neal Hellman was on the faculty of Quarantune 3.0 (I missed the first two), and I enjoyed a wonderful class with him.

But I've been really solitary in terms of playing dulcimer for a long time, and the virtual workshops help me get back with the dulcimer community.  This website is helping with that too.  And I want to start dropping in on virtual jam sessions. 

(and I should probably go check out the informal Zoom meetings at the Albany festival; I missed yesterday's.)

ocean-daughter
@ocean-daughter
2 months ago
19 posts

@dusty-turtle, thank you for that detailed response.  Wow, thank you for taking the time! 

I play fingerdance with a flatpick, mostly melody-drone; I'm getting back into playing with a noter sometimes, and I want to fingerpick more (I found a video on this site of @flint-hill fingerpicking "Wayfaring Stranger" and I was captivated).  I've been really working on making the notes flow together.  I want to develop my hammer-ons and pull-offs and other techniques.  I agree that not letting go of the strings too quickly does a lot to make them sound connected! 

I need to re-read all you wrote and let it sink in. 

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 months ago
1,417 posts

ocean-daughter: One thing I've wanted is to develop technique--to make the notes sound connected

@ocean-daughter, I don't want to ignore this comment.  It shows what an attentive player you are that you can so easily identify an area you want to work on that is not simply about finding the "correct" notes to play.  You should also feel free to ask this question in workshops, even if the workshop is on a different theme. Once the instructor has helped people through the tab, you should feel free to say "This is a pretty arrangement, but when I play it, it is not as smooth as your rendition.  How can I get the notes to flow together better?"  Better yet, make that request about a specific phrase rather than the piece as a whole.

Third, what is my advice? Without seeing you play and knowing whether you play with a flatpick or fingertips, I can't be that specific.  But let me mention some left-hand techniques to think about.

First, work on the left-hand legato techniques of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides.  When you move from one note to another using one of those left-hand techniques rather than plucking the string again, the the notes sound more connected or tied together.

Second, keep your fingers down until they have to move.  This is important not only for playing the melody, but also any chording.  Let's say your are playing a 3-3-3 G chord in DAd, and the melody moves up the melody string from 3 to 4 and then to 5.  First, you might consider using hammer-ons or slides. Second, don't make the move to the next melody note until it is time. That is, don't let your concern about whether you can get to the next note encourage you to cut off the earlier note too early.  Give it the full duration it is due and only move to the next note when it's time for the next note.  And third, even if you pluck that melody string again, keep your fingers on the bass and middle strings.  Most of the time, you want those harmony notes to continuing ringing as long as possible, until the next chord formation is necessary.  That way the harmony creates a consistency of tone as your melody moves along.

Third, as you move from one chord position to another, try to keep at least one finger on the same string.  That way you can slide into position rather than lifting up your hand entirely and re-positioning it.  In the best of circumstances, you will have an open string that was part of the first chord position, and you can let that continue ringing as you move to the next position so there is no dead air.  And sliding your hand will facilitate its placement in the next position so you can get there quicker.

Best of luck to you, @ocean-daughter.  I'm sure just the fact that you're thinking about trying to play smoother will help you do so.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 03/05/21 05:20:50PM
Pondoro
Pondoro
@pondoro
2 months ago
30 posts

@art-s - I agree. Playing along with only the leader audible on Zoom I will try harder stuff. And it us easier to hear how I actually sound.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 months ago
1,417 posts

That's a good point, @art-s.  A lot of the people who come to my online dulcimer club each month say they play more when we meet online because they know no one can hear them, so they don't fear messing up. Even advanced players often feel free to play around and improvise and stuff because they can mess up with no consequences.

However, as a teacher I will say that it's hard to teach beginner students for this reason. Intermediate students know when they're not getting something and will usually speak up and ask for help. But beginners can't always tell when they're making mistakes, and without the ability to hear them, the instructor doesn't know either.  I remember once leading my dulcimer group through my arrangement of Shall We Gather at the River.  During the A part everything was great and I could tell that most people were playing along. But during the B part, when the melody goes up an octave, suddenly I was the only one playing.  I heard immediately that there was a problem and we stopped and went slowly over that change.  If we had been online, I would not have been able to tell that no one was playing along anymore.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Art S
Art S
@art-s
2 months ago
6 posts

I will add one more benefit to @dusty-turtle 's list. On Zoom, those of us without the confidence or talent to go out in public (yet) can hide behind our mute button. I took Erin Mae's chord shapes workshop this morning and got horribly twisted up on occasion, but no one could hear me, so I just kept smiling.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
2 months ago
1,956 posts

Amazing discussion!




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Pondoro
Pondoro
@pondoro
2 months ago
30 posts

@dusty-turtle - Your response is great and maybe the best description of festival success in a pandemic (and post-pandemic) world. To some extent it addresses my complaint - the lack of sitting around playing and talking.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 months ago
1,417 posts

I have so much to say about this, I'm not sure where to start.  @ocean-daughter, I will address your issue of "making the notes sound connected" in separate comments, since I have too much to say about virtual festivals.

Just last night was the inaugural event of the virtual dulcimer festival of the Dulcimer Association of Albany.  There were no workshops, performances, or jams.  Instead, it was just a kick-off Zoom session, when anyone who wanted to joined in to say "Hi." It was a two-hour event, and at its height about 40 people were in there just chatting away.  That is only a little more than 1/10 of the number of people registered for the event, but it shows, I think, one of the main reasons we go to dulcimer festivals: camaraderie.  We attend dulcimer festivals as much to meet other dulcimer players as to get formal instruction on playing. This is important to remember, especially for festival organizers.

I had the good fortune of being part of the first ever online dulcimer festival, the Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering. That event happens in May, and it was the first festival last spring to choose to go on Zoom rather than just cancel.  Although I would like to think that the workshops were successful (especially the couple that I taught! grin ) our main success, I think, was structuring in lots of time for people to just hang out.  There was a homeroom (meaning a Zoom link) where we all met in the morning just to chat and go over some festival logistics, but it was consciously treated as a social experience.  The "homeroom teacher" was Erin Mae, and two or three times she broke us into small groups of 5 or 6 and put us in little breakout rooms so we could interact in a more intimate settings. We talked about where we were from, what instruments we were using that day, and so forth.  After the morning workshops we again met in the homeroom for a lunchtime Q & A, when people could just ask questions of others.  Some asked questions specifically of certain instructors and some just posed questions to the group at large.  But some really interesting conversations ensued.  At the end of the day of workshops, we met again in the homeroom for a song circle. And throughout the day, the homeroom was open for anyone who wanted to pop in.  During one slot when I was not teaching I joined the homeroom to see how Erin Mae was doing and there were a handful of people there just chatting.  One of them asked me a question about a particular technique I used in a video I had posted, and rather than inflict our conversation on everyone else, Erin Mae put us in a breakout room where we could have a private conversation, after which we just clicked into the homeroom again.

These kinds of informal interactions are an essential part of the festival experience, and we have to work on ways to incorporate them into virtual festivals. It takes a little work, and it is not exactly the same as sitting next to someone, but if virtual festivals are going to strengthen the dulcimer community and not just help us become slightly better players, they are essential.

So that community building, that room for social interaction is, IMHO, what's missing from many dulcimer festivals, especially the biggest ones.

What do the virtual festivals do well?

First and most obviously, the virtual festivals provide support for dulcimer teachers.  How many of them freaked out a year ago when all their gigs got canceled? The online festivals have allowed dulcimer teachers and performers to continue as musicians and not take jobs driving for Grub Hub or whatever other jobs might exist in the middle of a pandemic. Many of them have adapted quite well to the virtual world and have started offering a range of different kinds of workshops and interactive concerts and stuff.  Just last night night, Aubrey Atwater, who had never used Zoom before the Dutchland DulciZoom festival last summer, proclaimed "I will never be without a gig again." When she has an open date, she can just prepare a workshop or concert or some other kind of online event, put the word out, and easily get enough people from around the world to make it worthwhile.

And that brings up a second great benefit to both teachers and players: the lack of geographical boundaries.  I have a job.  And I have a family. And I don't have a lot of time or money.  I would never have been able to drop my responsibilities and fly to Albany, NY to join the Dulcimer Association of Albany for an in-person festival. But I can click a Zoom link and join with others from around the world.  @ocean-daughter has joked that she has "been" to Florida and Georgia for virtual festivals. I, too, have "been" to Pennsylvania and New York and LA and elsewhere for virtual festivals.  I have been able to meet dulcimer players that I would never be able to meet any other way.  

My own local dulcimer club is also no longer local.  Although we started with those who had been meeting in person, more than half people of those who join my online group monthly come from some distance away, from Tennessee and Oregon, Texas and Maine, Ireland and New Zealand.  One woman told me that she lives in a pretty desolate area, is not fully mobile, and had never been able to attend a dulcimer group or festival in person.  But she joins our group every month and is having a blast.  And when the North Georgia Foothills folks asked me to teach at their next virtual festival, they explained that many of their 400+ members have "aged out" of in-person festivals, meaning they have reached an age when traveling to a state park or other location, carrying around their instruments and music stands, and so forth, is too difficult. But they can sit down in their living room and turn on their computers.  So a third benefit of virtual festivals is that they include people who could never attend in-person festivals.

By the same token, they can allow workshops on pretty esoteric topics, a fourth benefit.  At a local or regional dulcimer festival, workshop teachers have to come up with topics that enough people will find interesting.  When I proposed a workshop on Songs of the American West (I thought I was clever and called it Dulci-Ki-Yi-Yo), Neal Hellman, the festival organizer, expressed skepticism that I would garner enough attendees.  But once the decision was made to go virtual, the question of popularity disappeared.  In the end, the workshop got plenty of attendees to run (although my workshop on Irish ballads had twice the enrollments).  That concern Neal expressed does not exist with large virtual festivals since the pool of potential attendees is so much larger.  I took an advanced workshop taught by Bill Collins on Icelandic tunes.  The music was pretty strange, I have to say, and I doubt that such a workshop would draw many people at a regional dulcimer festival.  But we were online, so he was able to garner enough people from around the world to make it worth it. Workshops on bizarre tunings (beyond the main 4 or 5) or specific, niche techniques, or some little known corpus of music might be hard to justify at regional, in-person festivals, but they can thrive online.

A fifth and final advantage of online festivals that I'll mention now (the list goes on, of course), is that everyone has a front-row seat.  Perhaps you've seen how Stephen Seifert teaches his online workshops.  He uses three separate cameras. One shows a line or so of tablature, and one shows a close-up of his face.  But the main part of the screen shows an overhead view of his dulcimer fretboard, so you can see exactly what his fingers are doing.  If you've taken an intermediate workshop with him live at a big even such as Kentucky Music Week, you most likely had to sit so far away from him that you could barely see his fingers. I only use two cameras when teach online, one on my face and one angled from above on my fretboard, which I also flip around so you get the "player's view."  I made that last adjustment at the request of students who love to see the dulcimer on the screen exactly the way it looks on their lap. The wonders of technology make it appear you are behind me with your head resting on my shoulder with a close-up view of the dulcimer, and yet, you might be thousands of miles away.  What a world we live in!

I'll stop now. I've outlined a major piece missing from the large festival (the social experience) and highlighted several of the obvious advantages of virtual festivals.  A big question confronting us all is what things will look like when we can gather together again.  How can we enjoy gathering in-person without excluding those unable to travel to the location? Will regional, in-person festivals disappear as they're getting used to the extra registrants and the lack of venue costs? What will hybrid dulcimer festivals look like?  Will our venues change from churches and community centers to conference settings better equipped with wifi?  Will workshops join together people live and people online or will there be separate in-person and online workshops at each festival?  




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 03/05/21 01:33:28PM
ocean-daughter
@ocean-daughter
2 months ago
19 posts

Pondoro, that makes sense to me.  At the smaller festivals, like the Stephen Foster Dulcimer Retreat last November, they had several informal sessions and they had a "jam" every day.  Of course we all couldn't have our microphones all at once, but we could jam along with whoever was leading.  At the bigger ones they don't seem to do that as much. 

Pondoro
Pondoro
@pondoro
2 months ago
30 posts

Virtual Festivals - what I like is concerts and lessons, they are very effective in the  virtual realm. What I miss is looking at instruments, sitting around jamming, and eating/drinking with other people who I know from past years. I understand the limits but those are the things I miss.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
2 months ago
1,956 posts

ocean-daughter:One thing I've wanted is to develop technique--to make the notes sound connected, and to find the way I like playing.  I keep taking workshops on embellishments.  Maybe I've nearly reached saturation point...

OceanD, that thing about "making the notes sound connected" is actually a big deal, and it's not all that common that people really think about it. It's sort of the equivalent of if you are playing penny whistle and making a separate blow out for every note, rather than doing sometimes two or three notes on one breath. Same with fiddling- some fiddlers make a separate back/forth stroke of the bow on each note. I find that becomes irritating to listen to after a while, like ratt-a-tat, ratt-a-tat.... 
With the dulcimer, it takes some conscious effort to sound more than one note per strum or pick motion. And it's not all about sliding. Lots of folks never get into such things because it's hard to change how you play once you've gotten used to something. The fact that you are aware of this and are taking technique workshops to improve your playing skills rather than to simply learn more tunes, is admirable!  

I think maybe @dusty-turtle can say something here about players wanting to actually have some enjoyable conversational time with each other during virtual zoom festivals... Dusty?

Pondoro, maybe you could elaborate a bit on why the virtual festival experience does not feel satisfying to you?- such input might really help those who organize such events.  :)




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990

updated by @strumelia: 03/05/21 07:33:14AM
Pondoro
Pondoro
@pondoro
2 months ago
30 posts

I've been to virtual festivals and they did not do a lot for me. I do enjoy virtual play-alongs with friends who I already knew, and I've enjoyed virtual concerts. Also some Zoom lessons. But the "festival" or "conference" experience seems lacking (to me).

ocean-daughter
@ocean-daughter
2 months ago
19 posts

I've been getting back into playing dulcimer after a hiatus of several years, and one thing I've done is to "go" to several virtual festivals.  I've "been" to Florida, Georgia, and wherever Quarantune is based, and tomorrow I'll be "in" Albany. 

I've found it to be a really good boost for me personally.  I was already familiar with Zoom, so that wasn't a problem.  And I've gotten to learn some wonderful music from some amazing teachers.  I couldn't have traveled to all those places. 

It's also helped me think about my own goals in playing.  One thing I've wanted is to develop technique--to make the notes sound connected, and to find the way I like playing.  I keep taking workshops on embellishments.  Maybe I've nearly reached saturation point...

I admit that one problem is that it's harder to connect with fellow students.  There's not as much opportunity for casual conversation.  So being able to go to a live festival will be great, when we're able to do that. 

Have you been to any virtual festivals yet?  What do you think?