Dancing with the Spirit [Arnold Shultz Fund grantee] connects Alaskan youth and elders through school music camps as a way to bring joy, happiness and hope to villages; encourage healthy living; and prevent suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse. We teach guitar, fiddle, mandolin, bass, singing, dancing and culture in week-long trips to remote Native villages with primarily Native staff. Over the past 16 years, we have traveled to 55 villages, most of them many times. We use a color coded system so by the end of the week students are able to sing and play for a community concert and dance. During these pandemic times we travel virtually by sending instruments—and providing song videos, curriculum, and Zoom lessons to keep the music going. 

We are very grateful for the Arnold Shultz Fund! We were able to make more bluegrass videos than promised, but because of the continuing pandemic only with individual musicians or a husband and wife team rather than the full bluegrass band as we had envisioned. The majority of the grant was used to make fiddle videos by Angela Oudean, an Inupiaq fiddler whose family comes from Pt. Hope in Northwest Alaska. Angela grew up learning fiddle from her bluegrass playing parents, as well as through private lessons, school orchestra and music camps just like the ones we are taking to villages! Angela also traveled nationally on the bluegrass circuit for almost 15 years with Bearfoot Bluegrass, a band that originated in Alaskan summer music camps. 

We produced the following videos with the Arnold Shultz Fund grant:

Angela Oudean Fiddle Videos: “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Saw the Light,” “Move It on Over,” “Sweet By and By,” in the key of G, and in E: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Amazing Grace,” “On My  Mind.”

Angela Oudean on Fiddle and Todd Grebe on Guitar:Big River,” by Johnny Cash

Mike Mickelson on Guitar:I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” by Hank Williams

All the fiddle videos, song lyrics with color coded chords, and colored fiddle tabs were posted on our website by the end of February, 2022. “Big River” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” will be up later in the year as part of Volume 3.

Our song and fiddle videos, together with the songbooks and fiddle tabs, are free to download from our website at https://www.dancingwiththespirit.org . The videos make it seem like our musicians are right there with students in their classrooms or living rooms, so they can play along slowly and then up to speed. The videos, songbooks and fiddle tab may be used by people all over the world!

–Belle Mickelson,

Dancing with the Spirit Director
Our staff lives and works on the lands of dAXunhyuu, the Eyak People, the Gwich’in People, the Koyukon People, the Inupiaq People, the Deg Hit’an People, the Supiaq People; the Yupik People, the Tlingit People the Haida People, and the Tsimpsian People.

Bluegrass in the Schools Mini-grant report from Florida:

On January 22, 2022, at West Hialeah Gardens Elementary in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, the Jacksonian Music Factory bluegrass band presented a live, educational program for 120 students in grades 2-5. In mid-February, Crystal Sawyer, one of the teachers, wrote: “Your generous support is greatly appreciated. Our students enjoyed the bluegrass presentation. It was such a joy to see how engaged they were with the live music. My students drew pictures of the event and made cards for the band. Thank you for introducing us to this genre of music.“

Captions for the student drawings below:

Thank you very much for coming to our school. I really liked the music you sang Friday. I love the way you sang. You sang good and beautiful. Have a great day. Thank you. : )

Thank you very much for coming to our school. I really liked your instruments a lot. I loved how you use them. I love how you all sing, and I love it all.

Thank you very much for coming to our school! I really liked the music a lot. I really like your instruments. I have a guitar at my dad’s house.

Project Grant Report from New Mexico and Colorado:

The mission of the Queen Bee Music Association, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is to support musicians in every stage of their careers, no matter what age, aspiration, or ability. Queen Bee Music Association Kids Bluegrass Camps for musicians age 7-15 are held annually in July.

After a year of virtual learning, Queen Bee Music Association summer camps returned to in-person programming. Our Kids Bluegrass Camps, held one week in Crested Butte, Colorado, and another in Santa Fe, New Mexico, were filled with joy. Our campers were excited to play their instruments while renewing friendships as they gathered to make music with others once again.

In Crested Butte, Queen Bee served 18 bluegrass campers, lower by 50 percent compared to pre-pandemic years. We suspect this is largely due to COVID-19, and we planned for a slower year. Even with the lower numbers our campers had a great week, learning “Squirrel Hunters,” “Tennessee Waltz,” “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” and other classic songs. We had a wide range of instruments represented: five fiddle students, two banjo students, one upright bass student, two mandolin students, and eight guitar students. Because we had fewer new students, we were able to host specialty workshops with more advanced concepts like jam etiquette, harmony singing, and learning how to solo.

A favorite moment of the week for many students was the opportunity to perform in downtown Crested Butte. On Thursday afternoon, we walked four blocks to the main street area of town and busked in large and small groups for the afternoon. The students sang and played with pride, as friends and tourists passed by and cheered them on. They raised enough money to provide a pizza party for themselves the following day!

The following week in Santa Fe, our Bluegrass Camp served 24 young people. This was the second year we held camp there, and we nearly doubled our attendance. As these campers were newer to their instruments and to the bluegrass genre, we spent a lot of time getting students familiar with their instruments in skill-based breakout sessions and learning to sing loud and proud. We had five mandolin students, twelve guitar students, six fiddle students, and one banjo student.

They learned the new skills of playing in a bluegrass band with others—nonverbal communication, listening, keeping time, etc. In their songwriting classes, they wrote epic ballads of battles between good and evil (a giant chicken taking the form of the villain), sweet songs about missing friends, and practical tales of the importance of recycling.

A highlight for our teaching staff in Santa Fe was that we were able to offer four scholarships for students to attend camp for free. These students received an instrument for the week, made new friends, and sang and played with joy.

KEY LEARNINGS: We became acutely aware of the responsibility we have in both of these communities. In Crested Butte, we developed partnerships with the local school to provide free music enrichment programs during the school year. This community of students is severely underserved in regard to access to arts. The music teachers struggle to get outside groups to come to their remote town, and the local performing arts organizations are only active during the summer, when the bulk of tourists arrive. We are currently raising more funding to provide two of these multi-day enrichment programs each school year, one for the fall and one for the spring.

In Santa Fe, we recognized that we were still nurturing younger, less experienced musicians. While we are in the early stages of growth for this camp, we see glimmers of an established, healthy community, with students who return year after year. We hope to offer more tuition assistance in future years so that we may reach more of Santa Fe’s lower income families.

SUMMARY: We are so incredibly grateful to the IBMA Foundation for their support of $2,000 for our Kids Bluegrass Camps. With the uncertainly of COVID-19 and lower registrations, the funding awarded helped us guarantee our families, students, and teaching staff that these camps would proceed. And they did! We are excited for July 2022 and have already seen an increase of registrations in comparison to January 2021. Each week that brings us closer to summer unites us more in the joy of providing bluegrass education for youth.

–Lindsey Taylor, Executive Director

RETURN to the April 2022 issue of The Cornerstone.