Last weekend I went to the Cambridge Folk Festival again. I can’t count how many years I have turned up for it. The reason I like it? Fabulous music – and always new singers and musicians to surprise and delight us. This year the atmosphere was, as always, friendly and cheerful and the sun shone down on the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall. Perfection.
The music first and then a crossover to teaching and teaching conferences:
This year I heard a fantastic collection of singers and music – and if you are interested you can click on the links and hear the people I heard (the clips aren’t from their festival performances, but still). For example there was the English folksinger Chris Wood with his incredible song about the murder of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes by the British Security services. In contrast (the rest of this paragraph is very ‘folky’ – blues, country etc later) the Irish band Danú charmed us with their folk airs and supreme musicianship – and in the same vein Manran and a whole host of others fiddled and piped their way through the four days. And that’s not to mention the sheer zaniness of The Spooky Men’s Chorale (check out their wonderfully ridiculous version of Dancing Queen – the audience loved it) or the humour and straightout good traditional singing of the Cornish Port Issac’s Fishermen’s Friends.
There was Country and Western music too from Caitlin Rose and the incomparable Mary Chapin Carpenter (who sang a wonderful song about Ernest Hemingway’s wife and their time in Paris). Rumer Bacharach-ed us into submission. But Richard Thompson was there too – one of the greats of British folk music, and legend Robert Cray with his blues. Femi Kuti kicked up an African storm (and the energy of his dancers!!), Newton Faulkner amazed (especially the younger festival goers) with his guitar hammering, and the miraculous Laura Marling, unbelievably only 21 years old, completely bowled me (and everyone else) over with her fantastic songs, mature voice and terrific support band.
But the greatest fun was the extraordinary folk ‘big band’ Bellowhead. They take old folk tunes and stomp them up in a unique and enjoyable way. In the main stage tent people we bopping away like crazy when they were on. Oh yes we were!
Right, now here’s the teaching/conference bit:
The Folk festival took place at the same time as the incredibly successful third Reform Symposium e-Conference – something I really wanted to attend, but the music won! Still I kept seeing tweets and that kind of kept me thinking about the day job (and the conference going). Some questions arose:
Most of the acts I really really enjoyed displayed fantastic musicianship. The singers and players were experts at what they were doing. For example Bellowhead’s inspired clowning and energy only works because they are damn good at what they do. Is that the same for teachers? They have to be damn good at what they do? I can recognise a good musician from miles away, but recognising good teachers? Is that as easy? What are the clues? What do you think?
The festival now has two big screens and (sometimes) good sound, so it’s easy to sit out in the sun and enjoy the music instead of heading into the scrum of the crowd. But that kind of anaesthetizes the experience; it’s much more sweaty, immediate and human inside the crowded tents. Is that the same for teaching and training? Does easy technical access somehow compromise the human experience of learning?
Newton Faulkner, now there’s a gifted player. But he did keep telling us how he was going to use this pedal or that device and he may not have meant to (I’m sure he didn’t), but it sounded like showing off – ‘look what I can do’. Are the best teachers and speakers people who wear their expertise lightly? Do some presenters/teachers show off too much?
The wonderful Bellowhead sing songs with historical, but sometimes frankly dubious content. About men getting, er, a bit drunk and visiting professional ladies, some of whom they rob etc. And we all bop and dance and shout our pleasure. Because the music’s so good. But it made me wonder: is our critical thinking (in conferences and classrooms) frequently dulled by the surface brilliance of what we are experiencing? It happened to me, I am sure, at a conference recently.
That’s quite enough for now. I hope you enjoyed (some of?) the music.