Virtual Winter Camp Calvin
When you can’t travel, but still want to get out and about what can you do? Well, you can either go virtual or vicarious. In this installment we’re going virtual. From January 14 to 18 I took a fiddle vacation from Chicago up to St. Paul, Alberta, to attend the Virtual Winter Camp Calvin and never even got out of my jammies!
You’ve probably already surmised that the “Calvin” in Camp Calvin is none other than Canadian fiddle legend Calvin Vollrath. I first met Calvin back in 2004 when we were both instructors at the Montana Fiddle Camp. I was blown away by his playing and showmanship. With his gregarious nature and zest for sharing his talents I’ve been a fan ever since.
Camp Calvin has been going on for years as a summer event to much acclaim. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and “real” events were shutdown Camp Calvin went online. The VWCC I attended was actually their fourth such on-line camp. One of my main interests in attending, aside from seeing and interacting with other humans in the dead of winter, was to see how such an event would work.
Calvin has composed hundreds and hundreds of tunes, many of which have become Canadian classics. So the camp teaching repertoire centers on Calvin tunes. Even though I know a bunch of Calvin’s tunes and have a big list I want to learn I was glad to be exposed to some others that had yet to catch my ear.
VWCC utilized Zoom as their on-line technology. I can recall attempting some activities on-line with Zoom in the early days of the pandemic and the results were not great. Clearly the Zoom platform got wise that people were using it for music and made some improvements. As for my Camp Calvin experience the all-important audio quality was excellent. Video is always a challenge, but considering that the instructors were at various locations with varying quality internet connections, it was more than adequate and did not in any way detract from the experience.
Upon registration I received a detailed email with instructions for using Zoom and the necessary links for the camp. You can also download an invaluable packet of material including notation, MP3s and backing tracks for all the tunes to be taught at the camp. The day before camp starts there is an opportunity to log-in the “meeting” to make sure your connection is working so you’re ready to go when camp starts.
The program ran each day for 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM with 30 minutes for lunch. Each session was 45 minutes so you had a little time to get up and move around between. Or you could stay on-line and chat with folks as you wished. The way things were run by Rhea LaBrie (step-dancer extraordinaire and Calvin’s wife) as the between-session host everything stayed on track beautifully. It was the perfect combination of relaxed atmosphere and “time to get back at it”.
There’s no shortage of great fiddlers and fiddle teachers in Canada and the VWCC had some of the best. In addition to Calvin himself I was able to take advantage of lessons with Brian Hebert, Daniel Gervais and April Verch on fiddle. Kimberly and Skip Holmes offered sessions in piano and guitar accompaniment, respectively.
In addition to learning some of those great Calvin fiddle tunes each instructor presented a session on some technical aspect of fiddling. April discussed “Ways to Make Your Tunes Groove”. Daniel gave a lesson on how to spice up tunes with variations. Calvin’s session dealt with how to learn tunes more easily by knowing a few basic scales and arpeggios (a personal crusade of mine, by the way). Brian Hebert gave a workshop entitled “An Introduction to Introductions”, and he gave some ideas for coming up with clever tune introduction, which I found especially useful and entertaining.
For teaching accompaniment I’d be hard pressed to imagine any better than Kimberly and Skip. With me knowing next to nothing about piano, our Patt Plunkett sat in on Kimberly’s sessions. While there was ample information for beginners, Kimberly also opened a window into some very advanced concepts, which Patt has already incorporated into here playing on a few tunes.
I really enjoyed Skip’s guitar sessions. His style and approach are different than mine and I got some great ideas from him for transition chords and right-hand technique, especially on the 6/8 tunes.
There were jam sessions every day led by the fiddle instructors. After being cold-bound for several weeks it was great fun playing along and seeing 50 plus people on the screen sawing away. Also, there was a really enjoyable jam and “happy hour” on the final day to conclude the camp.
With the pandemic seemingly on the wane plans for are afoot to reinstate the in-person version of Camp Calvin this summer in Alberta. We want to attend the “real” camp and hope to in the next couple years as part of a cross-Canada excursion pulling our little Scamp along behind us. Until then I hope Calvin will continue to offer his virtual camps, especially in the winter, as I would definitely attend again.
If you’re a fan of Calvin’s participating in the virtual camp shouldn’t be much of a leap. It’s reasonably priced and you don’t even have to get in the car!
Be sure to visit www.calvinvollrath.com where you can access music and audio for all his hundreds of compositions. You might also sign up for his newsletter and look for his podcast Calvin Vollrath – The Story Behind the Tunes wherever you get your podcasts. More information on Camp Calvin, virtual and otherwise, is available at www.campcalvin.ca/home.
A version of this article appeared previously in Fiddler Magazine. Go subscribe today at https://fiddle.com/.