Kate Abbott: Egremont plays it by ear


Listening to the fiddles and drums ripping through reels under a yellow tent in the rain - getting yourself to pick up the whistle and work out a note, maybe a run, maybe a key, until they start on a tune you know and you can actually play it that fast when there's a rhythm behind you, and who cares that over six fiddles and four drums you can't even hear yourself, because you can feel yourself and the music in your hands -- let me tell you, that turns a body on.

I wrote that in August of 2007, when I had just come home from a week at Maine Fiddle Camp. (The whole account is up now on the By the Way blog.) And Sunday night in the rain in North Egremont, I felt it again.

I felt a summer night in Maine.

Children build sand castles at the foot of the stage. Behind the yellow-and-white-striped tent, the sun is setting into the lake and the white pine. The audience sits on benches (and the younger members run in and out around the edges).

On stage, a young couple, a standing bass player and a fiddler with a low intent voice, play a Cornish ballad with a driving melody. A banjo player calls his 9-year-old daughter to the stage to join him in a reel.

A Quebeçois fiddler with a glint in his eye hands out spoons as percussion instruments -- serving spoons to the first man, table spoons to the second, teaspons to the third, sugar spoons to the fourth -- and when the whole crowd is laughing out loud, his accomplices beat out a four-part improvised dance rhythm that pulls people to their feet.

They are all professionals, after all. Some of them have played together for decades.

Some of the audience have been coming here for decades too, and some have never picked up a penny whistle before. Some play music as easy as speaking, and some will learn their first tune this week.

I came here because of two close friends who lead a fiddle jam in the New Hampshire town where I got my MFA in fiction. They taught me to learn a tune by listening. I discovered contradance music in college, but they gave it to me again in a new way.

They gave me the keys to this.

After the concert, when people sit together and begin to play -- I can join in.

This week, some of the same people are playing here, in Egremont. I remember my time at fiddle camp, the closeness of music under the trees, the sound of rain on the tent roof, the soaring joy. Knowing that spirit has found its way here fills me with light.


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