Our first moments outside of transportation stations on a blustery day in England.
JMac here. I want to take a moment and write about my travel companion, Maria McCullough. We are colleagues at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, and Maria is one of my closest friends.
We’ll be spending seven days in Newcastle Upon the Tyne in northern England; attending a music festival called The Hexham Gathering, with is produced by The Sage Gateshead, a huge organization that is home to a folk music school and three concert venues. Their web site says,
“The Hexham Gathering is perhaps the country’s leading folk festival aimed at providing performance opportunities for a host of hugely talented young singers, dancers and instrumentalists. Hundreds or performers converge on Hexham each year providing a vibrant kaleidoscope of music and spectacle throughout the town centre and at a variety of other venues across Tynedale.
I am thrilled to have this chance to travel to the Hexham Gathing with Maria. We became friends in 2002 when we were both teaching for an organization called Music House. It was my first teaching gig. We taught before-school violin and guitar classes to first through fifth graders at Decatur Elementary. Those where some early, cold mornings waiting for two buses to get to the school by 7:00am. We learned a lot together and I am very thankful that my first teaching experience was so positive.
We became fast friends and we were both soon teaching at The Old Town School of Folk Music. We schemed to get our guitar and fiddle classes to play together and I remember, in particular, one conversation very early in our tenure at OTSFM. We were sitting in the cafe at The Book Cellar, discussing our classes, until we realized the power that the song Pay Me My Money Down, could have in bringing musicians and singers of all abilities together.
That was a moment that lead, several years later, to The Gather-All and the Young Stracke All-Stars. Now, young musicians are learning to play together in several Kids Ensemble class and our teaching weeks are capped by an incredible full Saturday of teaching and jamming at the Armitage Building of the Old Town School of Folk Music. Our community has grown with us and we were able ask our community for help to make this trip possible. You can see the awesome pictures our our super-fun fundraising party here.
We’ve grown and found ourselves in the thick of the wonderful community of teaching-artists and students at The School. As we’ve grown, we’ve done stints in Paul Tyler’s Fantastic Toe-Tripper Orchestra, seen hundreds of concerts at The Old Town School of Folk Music, have met music legends like Roger McGuinn, and traveled north the play with Chirps Smith, south to visit with Old Town School of Folk Music founder Frank Hamilton and found a way to meet up in Cuernavaca, México to play with the wonderful Chucho Peredo Flores.
Jamming with Chucho Flores Cuernavaca, México, 2008.
In addition, Maria has been to The Sage Gateshead before. You can read and watch some videos about her previous adventure, here.
Maria is now Chair of the Kids’ Fiddle Program at The School and I and so proud of the work she has done to grow the program. Her patience, dedication and enthusiasm are one-of-a-kind.
Recently, Maria was also incredibly supportive in helping me and the Old Town School Community produce the School’s inaugural Family Barn Dance where dozens of young musicians provided the music as their families do-se-doed and shashayed to the kids’ wonderful melodies. Her work, her musicianship and her friendship have been the inspiration for so much and I am very glad to know that we’ll keep playing and teaching and growing our musical friendship for many, many years to come.
To me this trip feels like a “next step” in our journey. We’re visiting The Sage Gateshead at the invitation of Chris Pentney, who programs many of the concerts at The Sage Gateshead, hoping to glean some tunes, some teaching styles and some of Northumberland’s great folk music energy. I’m very glad to be sharing this experience with Maria.
As Maria often says, “That’s all.”