• Summit School is about music for everyone
     | January 19,2013

    MONTPELIER — For the organization behind this weekend’s folk music festival in Montpelier, it’s part of a focus that harmonizes music-making with helping musicians make a living.

    “It is part of our mission to contribute to the creative economy for artists and musicians here,” says Ted Ingham, 50, an instructor and board member the Summit School of Traditional Music and Culture.

    The school’s third Winter Folk Festival at venues around the city this weekend continues its efforts to enrich the central Vermont arts community and cultural history.

    “When you bring people here, for workshops and concerts that might be on their tour path, sometimes people end up here because they love Vermont and want to be a part of the school. It allows us to tap into some impressive musical arenas,” says Executive Director Mary L. Collins, 54.

    The Summit School was founded in 2007 by two area musicians, Rebecca Singer and Katie Trautz. Collins took over the executive director’s duties in September from Trautz, who has stayed on as a teacher and board member but wanted to focus on her own music.

    Collins’ musical background is in the broadcast business, marketing and writing and producing. “I’ve written thousands of jingles,” she says. “But I didn’t sing in front of anyone until I turned 50. When that happened I said, ‘I don’t care what other people think anymore.’”

    She now sings with two bands.

    Ingham says that is an example of one of the initial impetuses for the school. “One of the things we were convinced about when putting this whole thing together was that there are a lot of folks out there with instruments in their closets and songs they aren’t singing in front of people, who wouldn’t participate in a one-on-one lesson but might come to a class. We wanted to provide some classes for adults to get those instruments out, to get those folks into bands, and create some opportunities to get them to play for each other and family and friends,” Ingham says.

    Another motivation was keeping the area’s thriving arts and music scene alive.

    “There aren’t a lot of opportunities for musicians and teachers to make money in central Vermont. We saw the school as a kind of teachers collective trying to provide those opportunities to teach and earn income,” says Ingham.

    With the support of Montpelier City Arts, local businesses, grants and fundraising, the Summit School has offered hundreds of classes and workshops and has brought many renowned traditional and folk artists to the area.

    “The educational component to visiting artists and the opportunity to do workshops with them is really our signature distinction,” says Collins. “There are a lot of people who present concerts, but what we do that’s fairly unique is cultivate that relationship between the artist and the people who love their music, the opportunity to sit in with them for a couple of hours and learn something from them. ... It kind of harkens back to the real oral traditions of how people used to share information.”

    This weekend’s festival boasts several concerts and seven workshops, as well as a meet-and-greet at Positive Pie, a dance party at the Skinny Pancake, a film screening and a free guitar pull.

    What’s a guitar pull? “Great guitarists come together and play tunes, share repertoires and talk about how they play,” says Ingham.

    The Summit School’s winter semester begins at the end of January and runs eight weeks. Sixteen classes are offered, everything from beginner banjo, mandolin and ukulele to recording basics for women and songwriting.

    In addition to the adult classes there are two just for kids: West African drumming and folk songs. There are fall and spring semesters, but during the summer the school focuses on its Traditional Summer Camp for kids, which last year collaborated with the Young Tradition Vermont camp out of Burlington.

    One of the school’s goals is to further its focus on kids by branching out into schools and offering traditional music and culture education within the context of existing music programs.

    “It’s our hope to become much more involved and collaborative with a lot of other organizations and businesses in town. If there is an opportunity to bring music into something, or if there is a need for a school music unit involving traditional music and culture, please call on us, please utilize us as a resource,” says Collins.

    The school’s success in stoking an interest in cultural and music traditions, both native to Vermont and beyond its borders, is growing. “A lot of people who’ve taken classes have gone on to do things of their own. For example, there’s a regular old-time weekly session that came out of a class and has been going for five years. A lot of folks who get this group sense in class continue to play music outside of a formal school structure, which is again part of what we’re trying to do — spin off music into the community,” says Ingham.

    For tickets to the Winter Folk Festival, go to www.summit-school.org. For information or to become involved with the school, go to the website, email director@summit-school.org or call 917-1186.

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