Since 1971, Dwight has helped literally hundreds of students on the clawhammer banjo [and local mountain style fiddle]. Not only do they learn strong rhythm and tunes in his workshops, they spend time learning the context of the music. They hear stories from the old people and stories about them and their music. His week long banjo retreats are legendary: several days of playing, talking, thinking, learning technique and rhythm, eating, practicing, the students are sometimes frustrated, sometimes happy, but generally being stretched in directions that allow for new growth in old time music as well as life in general and have sometimes painted students’ cars. He has been traveling for many years from England to California, Michigan to Florida to New England with the message that with a little talent and much hard work and sacrifice, those from outside the culture can learn to play the music. The emphasis is always on hard work and sacrifice as with any art form. His teaching standards, methods and philosophy, follow his personal standards of integrity and kind honesty.. There have been students of Dwight, who themselves are teachers in other areas. These banjo students have evaluated Dwight as a teacher and found him to be excellent in his teaching ability. This is because Dwight gives the students what they need rather than just what they want. He understands better than an “outsider” can that old time music is about rhythm rather than notes. Dwight “levels the playing field” for all his students so they can begin to feel the rugged rhythm of the mountains where this music originated.
Dwight will be holding regional workshops and camps again this year. Both 4 day/5 night sessions at his Brown’s Creek home. Weekend shorter classes at other locations in the US and England are also scheduled though smaller in number than previous years. The schedule is listed with his itinerary.
There are classes in both fiddle and clawhammer, frailing, thumping. rapping. down-stroking, etc – all the same African down-stroke no matter what the experts call it. It will be the banjo style taught in the way Dwight has developed over the past 35+ years. All classes will focus on developing strong rhythm on the instrument whether playing tunes or singing songs while playing the banjo.
Enrollment will be between 2 to 4 students per retreat, first-come, first-serve basis only. Tuition for retreats at Brown’s Creek includes room, board, and morning and afternoon class work each day. There are some new changes in the making to help simplify the time spent at Brown’s Creek. IE Students pay less money but do more to help out. Make it more like a visit rather than a ‘resort’.
For anyone attending Dwight’s workshops, viewing one of his instructional videos ahead of time will be of great help (you can purchase them from Elaine Diller’s Morningstar Folk Music .) Watching the rhythm hand at work is especially important. Dwight also has some detailed advice about preparing for class and choosing the correct level whether beginner or intermediate.
The setting for the camp is two acres backed up against several thousand acres of national forest. The quiet rural field surrounded by forested hills help students get in touch with the context of the 19th century mountain music. Nurture and reflection are part of the learning process that go along with rhythm and tunes. Conducive to this process are two long hollows which invite a hike open up at the back end of the house.
The plan in Dwight’s classes is to provide each student with a strong authentic, rhythmic approach to traditional Southern Appalachian/West Virginia Mountain music. Much emphasis is placed on trying to help each student connect with the ‘elusive drive’ that permeated the black and white music of the area. Also much of the ‘work’ is trying to help the student[s] restructure their approach to the music. To go to a deeper level than just ‘learning a bunch of tunes that have no basis in what this WVa mountain music is all about’. After the rhythm comes the job of fitting the repertoire into the structure that has been built up. The end result each student will be striving for is an individualized tool whereby his/her personal ‘being’ can be expressed through the music of another time, place, people. This combination is a major challenge and will stretch the students. Thus helping them go from beating around on an instrument to making it into an art form. On the exterior, it is right often hard to discern whether the player is developing/playing an art form OR just ‘strumming’ around in a directionless way.
Emphasis will be placed on having a small group of tunes with which the student is very familiar rather than a large number of tunes that are only acquaintances and become mush. The context of the music, the time Dwight spent with the old people and the reflections regarding the music which have come from a career of teaching the music will be very much a part of the ongoing discussions. In other words, the hours spent together will contain elements of a search for rhythm that is syncopated and strong, a search for how this music that [usually] comes from another culture might fit into the student’s world, and the addition of appropriate tunes that can become vehicles for the enhancement of the music.
A typical day at banjo camp includes two and a half hours of instruction with Dwight in the morning. Afternoons could be spent on field trips around the local area to learn about the culture, practice time, occasional workshop time with assistant instructors, time to listen to source recordings and view videos of traditional musicians, occasional visits with other West Virginia musicians, and time to explore Dwight’s library of related reading material. Evenings are spent in discussions with Dwight about the music and culture, listening to Dwight and other musicians sharing their music and stories, and review of material already learned. Students are responsible for preparing their own breakfast and lunch from supplies available and a hot supper is prepared by staff.
Come, work, be challenged, but enjoy studying at Brown’s Creek Retreat directly in the heart of the high Allegheny Plateau, the perfect environment to study Clawhammer Banjo, Fiddle or traditional Appalachian Mountain regional style of singing at one of Dwight Diller’s classes.