Conclave 2016: The big post!
I know its been awhile since we have written. But here we go again!
‘Why?’ you say, ‘have you thoroughly documented even the most boring days of your 2 week drive up and back to Conclave but we haven’t seen or heard anything about it?’
That’s a good question! The simplest reason is that we had such poor internet connection or none at all on the way back. We have seriously had the worst luck with internet at our hotels! But I have been catching up on all the posts I had to miss like a beast since I’ve been back and it was important I finish our journey first! Mostly though, the experience was just so epic and I have so many photos that I figured I’d make one large post after the fact. Also… I needed some time to recover and reflect on the whole experience. So this is it! The one massive post you’ve been waiting for but didn’t know you were…
A little background:
So as you know (or don’t), this whole road trip was because of the Viola da Gamba Society of America’s (VdGSA) annual Conclave. Every year it is in a different location. This time, it just so happened to be in the far north west corner of Oregon which is nearly as far west of Texas you can be in the US. Obviously, we could have driven 12 hour days, not stopped and gotten there and back sooner than 14 day round trip we took. However, if we were going to be driving all that time and way, we might as well enjoy some of it right?
After 7 days on the road we arrived in Forest Grove. The next 9 days were dedicated to Conclave 2016. Each of us had jobs for the duration. Ellis and Steph were on scholarship so we worked alongside the organizers as part of the custos team. We helped with setting up, registration, signing out, and anything else they wanted in between.
Conclave always runs a silent auction and a live auction each year which was very entertaining. We helped out with both of those events. We even live tweeted the whole thing – go us for being technologically with the times! Pedro was a teaching assistant for the beginners. They performed and concert at the end of the week and he prepared them really well!
Pedro’s POV (A.K.A. The man of few words)
The last Conclave I attended was back in 2009 when I part of the Consort Coop Program. This time I was the teaching assistant to the beginner class which was a great opportunity to work with people who wanted to learn the viol but have actually never touched one. Seeing them learn and be able to perform at the student concert was amazing and I hope I get to do it again.
Conclave is a great chance to work on your viol technique for a week, play consorts all day and night (who needs sleep!) and hear professionals perform (aka faculty).
It also wonderful too see my teacher from IU Wendy Gillespie. She has been more inspirational to me on viol teaching than she knows.
I hope to return more often to Conclave and more nerds of the viol!
The few weeks leading up to Conclave were pretty nerve-wracking for me. I was going to a festival for an instrument that I wasn’t terribly good at. To make things worse, I didn’t know if my classes were going to be too hard for me. Luckily, I had Pedro and Stephanie there with me, at the very least. I’d know at least two people.
When I got to Conclave, I had to get to work, since I was working alongside Stephanie as a custos, helping to keep the whole event running. I was in charge of copies, and I soon realized that everybody and their dog needed copies of everything. It was nice to have an insight into what every class was covering, but it was also very stressful to have to copy things that were not in the right size with a machine that was losing toner. But, I managed.
As for the playing aspect, I thought I was in classes that were a great balance. I was in one technique class where I learned how to hold the bow (finally!), followed by a class covering Abel sonatas (the easy ones, not the hard solo ones), where I was challenged, but not overwhelmed. Then, I had a class covering the six part fantasias of Gibbons, “the champagne of consort music,” as Tina Chancey put it. At the end of the class periods, I had a class with people of every level, so I was able to hide when I messed up. I learned so much from the classes, and I came home inspired to continue building on what everybody taught me.
But, that’s not all! Conclave is only half about the classes. I’m used to having 16-hour days with a good 8-hour chunk to sleep. Conclave, on the other hand, had me sleeping around 4 hours a day, for each night would consist of playing fantasias well into the night (Lawes Sunrise fantasia, anyone?). I’d learned from Pedro that that would be the case, but I was shocked to see how devout everybody was to this practice. In fact, I took part in this every single night, even when Pedro and Stephanie did not play! I had so much fun with this that I can only pine to have this be a regular occurrence in Texas.
On our way back home, I was thinking about how my next summer would look. I think I’m going to commit to Conclave for next year, even though it is still not for my main instruments (flute, recorder, bassoon). The community was so welcoming, which alone makes me want to come back. I love being able to make music with people who don’t fret about minutia at every moment.
Let me start by saying that I have never been to any music summer workshop, festival, or anything since I was a kid (like…8 or 10) and did Texas and Scottish fiddle workshops so Conclave was really my first experience as an adult and professional. This was actually a wonderful thing because without any point of comparison so I had no expectations. Everything was fresh and exciting and just as it should be.
When I returned to the States and started my music degree after attending high school in the UK, I found it was common for those pursuing performance careers to attend some sort of summer music workshop festival thing and get extra training, make connections, play in summer orchestras etc. Many people had already done some of that during their time in high school. I didn’t even know those things existed till I moved back. Even then, from the time I started my first degree I wasn’t able to go. Beyond the fact I couldn’t even think about affording them, every summer I was working and sometimes taking summer classes so I didn’t have time. This year was the first summer I really didn’t have anything planned or some sort of work scheduled. Shocker! So when I finally applied to this and got a full scholarship there was no question in my mind that I would go.
It was incredible really. Something that was unique to me was the fact that you don’t have to be a professional musician or even a serious amateur to attend. You don’t even have to play the gamba! They have classes for people of all levels, including the “never-touched-an-instrument-in-my-life” people (which is the class Pedro taught). Everyone is just so jazzed about the gamba and getting together to learn and play that it’s a really energetic and positive atmosphere. Maybe because I’m oblivious and didn’t notice, from what I observed, the workshop was relatively free from the drama of the music world. Probably because a majority of the people there weren’t involved in it. Overall it was just refreshing!
I was involved in 4 classes: technique above the frets, tablature, masterclass, and German songs. I took the absolute maximum amount you can take because why not get the absolute most you can out of something like this! I loved every class because I was learning stuff I didn’t know in each one and also getting my butt kicked. Fantastic! I dig the challenge.
After classes, there were a variety of things to do. Besides having a few concerts, a VDGSA meeting, and a welcome event, every evening people would get together to play until prop-your-eyes-open-with-toothpicks o’clock in the morning. It was amazing to get to play with so many people and have the opportunity to play repertoire that had 5+ parts. We played lots of Lawes….My fav!
Mid week, we all got a half day off to explore the area. Forest Grove is a super cute little town and it just so happened that our half day coincided with their farmers market. What a perfect afternoon activity! And boy! What a selection of produce! I wish that we had real kitchens there. There were so many things I wanted to buy and cook. C’est la vie.
I had to settle for fresh berries. And would you believe??? This whole flat was $10! Unreal. Apparently locals find that expensive because they can just go pick them off the side of the road. They are certainly spoiled. I’d give my left arm for berries that good and cheap in Texas! Needless to say, between 4 of us, we quickly polished off that flat in an evening.
The other thing I love about the west coast is that it is super cheap to buy flowers. Oh my gosh… these HUGE bunches for only $10-15. Everyone wanted to buy flowers! Many of us did. Pedro bought a massive bunch that I promptly took back to our shared living space and turned into 4 different arrangements. When we bought them I wasn’t even entirely sure we had anything to put them in, but between red solo cups, trail mix jars, and empty wine bottles, I made it work! Seriously though… if flowers were that cheap here I would buy them all the time. It’s just so nice to see beautiful flowers in a house!
The whole week was inspiring. Meeting and talking to so many people about what they are doing and getting to watch fantastic performances and read music every night… we have come back from Conclave refreshed and excited about our new season! Can’t wait!
For those of you who have never been to Conclave, the three of us (and pretty much any one that has ever been) recommend it highly! You should go… if you play gamba… go. If you don’t play gamba… go. If you’ve never heard of gamba… go.
You can find info at https://vdgsa.org/ for renting instruments and attending.
Also! Exciting stuff! Texans are taking over the world………. the next Youth Players Weekend is in Texas! Woo woo!!!! Come one and all!!! https://vdgsa.org/pgs/youngplayersweekend.html