Contemporary Folk Week Classes – July 24-30, 2022



Stories help us understand and process the world we live in. A story set to music possesses an added power to penetrate hearts and minds. In this class for all levels we will work on honing the craft of telling a story though song. Whether you seek to write a modern-day folk-hero classic, magnify a fragment of forgotten history, paint a picture of your hometown, or immortalize a series of events from your family history or your own life, this class will give you the tools to craft something memorable and meaningful.

DISTILLATION (Nora Jane Struthers)
As writers, we all attempt to find and convey truths. When we sit down to work on a song, the first question we should ask ourselves is “What am I trying to say?” The second question is “How can I best say it?” In this class we will work first on distilling our intentions down to their essence and then on our delivery of those intentions, through lyrics, melody, and performance. Bring a song or a piece of a song that you feel has promise but lacks focus. We will create a safe space to generate, hone, and share our work together.

The Sound of the Feeling My favorite place to be is in the middle of a song. I hope this class will find us all in the middle of a new one. Our purpose will be to write new songs and to complete promising, unfinished pieces. The first day I will talk a little bit about what has worked for me as a performing songwriter. Then we will quickly shift the focus to the individual student’s areas of interest or concern. There is no one right way to write a song. I hope to address various approaches to beginning and completing songs be they lyric- or music- driven and create a positive atmosphere where writing a song is not only possible but inevitable. Experienced and novice songwriters are welcome!

This course will focus on songwriting as well as presenting your songs in a live setting. We will spend some time working on writing new songs and the craft of songwriting, based on your interests and questions. Then we will focus on ways to connect with an audience: ways to introduce a song, how to pace a set, when a song needs no introduction, considerations when you are an opening act, sound system advice and mic technique. You can benefit from my experience and my many, many mistakes to find ways of telling your story, presenting yourself and your songs. If you have them, please bring printed lyric sheets along to the session. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach as a song coach but I will adapt to the individual needs and interests of the attending songwriters.

(Note: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material.)
We will examine the songwriting process and look for ways to improve it to consistently produce better songs. We will explore such topics as writing alone, co-writing, performing, writing for other artists, the business of music, and helpful hints for the writer. The class will have a certain flexibility built-in, so that topics of interest to the class and individual student needs can be explored in some detail.

(Note: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material.)
We will take your song and, as a class, get it over the goal line. You will learn a new love: the pleasure of finding just the right word, the right phrase, to bring your song home. That’s where the fun is.

It’s a beautiful moment when a wave of inspiration hits you. However, if you’re like most of us, it can be a long time between those moments. Fortunately, the Muse is kind to those who are busy at work! Inspiration never travels without the companion of craftsmanship, and we’re going to use the whole toolbox: hard and soft rhymes, cadences and chord changes, cut & paste, puns and juxtapositions. In the process we’ll conquer three challenges during the week: assignment writing, writing lyrics without an instrument, and putting music to a co-writer’s lyrics. Come explore how creativity can blossom from boundaries.

Tired of writing yourself into a corner? How often have you found yourself up against the wall of writer’s block? Have no fear, there’s always a way through, and we’re gonna find it together. In the process, you’ll acquire some tools that can help you overcome future writer’s block. Bring a problem song, 16 copies of the lyrics, and together we’ll tame that sucker!

WRITING MELODIES (Cliff Eberhardt)
We’ll start with a brief history of melodic writing and then show how to incorporate a melodic vocabulary into your songs, including what to look for to get out of melodic repetition. Bring in songs that are incomplete or songs that you feel need improvement, not songs that you are married to or have already recorded. You’ll be asked to start with just a verse and a chorus to work on, no complete songs until later in the week. We’ll talk about how to insert different chords and use different intervals of your existing songs to improve your melodies, how to make the songs have more memorable melodies, and how to insert intros, bridges and endings. By the end of the week we will try to reconstruct your work into a complete, beautiful song. Usually during the week most students start to get it and add their own suggestions. That’s when I get to take cat naps. The point is, I’ve never taught this class where the students didn’t have a great time.

RELATABLE SONGS (Cliff Eberhardt)
This class is about making your song more accessible to more people. We all want to share our feelings in song with the world. Most want to hear a song that we can identify with. I want everyone to bring in a song (with lyrics) and we will explore the message of your song and discuss different ways to approach redirecting your message so that everyone can relate to your story. We will consider irony and juxtaposition to make your work more interesting and concise.

Bring your unfinished songs to class – maybe just a piece of something – and we will imagine that there’s more to uncover, like fragments of dinosaur bone from an archaeology site. Unearthing a song requires asking the kinds of questions that will help you imagine it complete. It’s a step-by-step process. Let’s start by closely examining the existing evidence. You have just a piece of a song, but not the whole story. What character might speak these lines? What’s the situation? What trace of intent or feeling is in the music? Who might be speaking to whom, and why? There are so many possibilities, but once you can fully imagine the life that this fragment came from – how it walked – you can fill in the missing pieces and bring the song to life.

SIMPLE SKILLS (David Wilcox)
I still love practicing the simple skills that make up the craft of songwriting. When we do them together, we can make them fun. It’s a confidence builder to remember that our complex craft is made up of simple skills that can be practiced one at a time. For example, we will all take 15 minutes to write our own little melody to the 2 lines of lyrics up there on the blackboard, and then we will all be welcome to share and talk about how we did it. What clues did the words give us? How did we discern the rhythm? All the different possibilities open our imaginations. Then, for the next exercise, I give everyone the same short piece of melody on your phone and we each take 15 minutes to write words that fit it. The rise and fall of the melody determines what syllables are accented, so it’s really just a word puzzle. We don’t feel self-conscious because this isn’t a song, it’s just a game of finding words that have a particular pattern of accent and rhythm. You could start with some nonsense combinations of words. There are no wrong answers. The momentum and freedom we feel from simple exercises gives us confidence to be more playful with our writing.



This class is for those who have a small to moderate amount of experience singing in public. It covers foundation-level work on increasing the authenticity and believability of your singing to have a greater impact on your listeners. There are lots of different ways to go about becoming a better singer; this class will focus on one highly effective approach: increasing the believability of your voice. Genuine honest singing, from the heart, has the power to captivate listeners and leave them wanting more; the very best performances are ones that move a listener emotionally. In this class, we’ll explore a wide variety of things that will allow you to achieve greater authenticity in your vocals, including: ways to connect more deeply with your audience by fully inhabiting the meaning of a song, choosing the right key, grounding yourself in the present, using body language to reinforce connection, holding notes, using wordless vocalizations, using vocal dynamics, etc. We’ll consider big-picture concepts to improve your singing, such as fun, gratitude, vulnerability, etc. and how to remove barriers to powerful, connected singing, allowing your voice to shine. We’ll examine vocal technique as it relates to delivering emotionally-authentic performances, including vocal health, vocal warmups, enunciation of lyrics, etc. We’ll review inspiring examples of authentic believable singing by my musical heroes and ask the class to share examples, as well. Please come prepared to sing your songs for us! This class will be experiential, allowing you to try out new things right in class, and learn from other students as they try out new things. The environment will be warm and supportive, judgement-free, and focussed on improvement and growth. Please bring water, your favorite notebook, and your favorite pen/pencil. If you play guitar or another instrument, feel free to have it handy—along with any needed gear (tuner, capo, picks, etc.). You’ll leave this class a better singer than when you started it!!

This class dives more deeply into the material covered in the Level I class above. It’s for those who have a lot of experience singing in public, who have a good understanding of and confidence in their voice, but want to learn more and/or address specific singing challenges.

WILD, WILD VOICE (Moira Smiley)
The human voice has astonishing range, and, like our lungs & our brains, we may not use it to its full glory! Here’s a class to explore the far reaches of our vocal color palettes. We’ll spend some time listening to and discussing recordings of truly wild singing that ‘wow’ us, from many genres. We’ll break down and try out elements of singing that define ‘style’ and our relation to it. We’ll write mini-songs to explore this in ourselves. We’ll learn about the contexts for singing that bring unique, expressive singing forward. We’ll learn a few unusual traditional folk songs primarily from Eastern European and Appalachian traditions to enjoy different vocal colors together. Moira will playfully draw out techniques, timbres, ornaments, laments and laughter you always knew were in you as a singer or writer of songs, but maybe hadn’t felt you could bring out!

Body percussion, vocal & theatrical improvisation, gesture work, breath work… these will form our playful exercises, discussions and musical games. We’ll break into pairs to learn to create with and support each other. We’ll learn and create body percussion as a way of making your singing and song- writing more embodied and free. Moira is unfailingly gentle and playful when teaching movement, so ‘non-movers’ are encouraged and welcome to come. Group vocal improvisation (circle songs and other structures) will alternate with more personal/solo songwriting and performance exercises. Explore fresh, physical ways into songwriting while at the same time strengthening your confidence, clarity and presence.




Vance’s dicta is that songwriting and performance are inextricable entities, so his classes will focus more on one or the other aspect, depending on individual need. All of this is done in a supportive atmosphere as if it were an ‘instructive open mike,’ – Vance working with one student as the others watch. Then it’s YOUR turn! In these practical classes Vance gets ‘under the hood’ of what you do and want to do in a supportive and very entertaining way. This stage/song bootcamp is a class you don’t want to miss.

ADVANCED VANCE (Vance Gilbert)
This offering is for any of you ‘graduates’ who want to go further in performance and songwriting with one of the best. Got the basics? Then here’s an opportunity to dig into the performance/songwriting connection a little bit deeper. Patter, pacing, and constructing a set, are among the advanced performance points you can review in this class. It’s a great opportunity to tweak and hone skills previously acquired in a ‘Vance’ class, or heck, sure, if you missed the first one, c’mon in – there’s plenty for you to do here too.

(NOTE: This class is offered twice. Each section covers the same material)
This performance class will focus on making changes in your song arrangements and presentation to create the greatest impact on your audience. Dynamics, the use of space, and simple shifts in how the song is arranged on your instrument can bring out a greater response from people who hear you . And would it be surprising to find out that the visual side of your performance can have as great of an impact as your song? Your clothing, posture and poise impact how people hear you. We will address the visual aspect of performing as well as the dynamics of the presentation sonically as well – a checklist of what you are bringing on stage, a set list, banter, stories, and the visual – as well as what the venue provides – lights, sound, environment. This class will teach you how to get the most out of your performances, find the soul of your songs, and make the most out of the venues you play!



Guitar & Creativity

Explore the value of twisting, tweaking, building up and stripping down content and how it enhances and flexes intention in musical stories. Mix & match musical styles to a composition. See how packaging changes the way we connect to the content of a song or tune – yours or other people’s. Bring material you’d like to explore. Joe will provide song examples as well. We’ll all be surprised at the results. From detailing with tiny paint brushes to bold strokes with a paint roller – with or without a drop-cloth – it’s all about fearless possibility in creativity. Re-framing words, rhythms and melodies reminds us of the long, historical love affair between tradition and innovation. Everyone has a place and space to create anew from the old, the borrowed and the blue. Let’s liberate ourselves from the tyranny of common sense while exploring our Home on the (Free) Range of Contemporary Folk.

Join us for an e-ticket ride upon the pursuit of possibility. You’ll be asked to write a series of poems to share throughout the week with only 5 minutes to construct each one. You won’t be able to prepare for what will happen, so just get ready to have fun and be surprised and impressed with your and your friends’ ideas created under pressure. “Song-etry” connects something that just about everyone has already done (writing poems) to the newer art of writing songs. Joe will guide you with the approach of story first and then the music to serve the written word. This class is geared towards entry level songwriting, but anyone can benefit from the process. Bring a spiral ring notebook, a pen or pencil, and (importantly) a recording device. Bring an instrument, too if you want, although it’s not required.

This is a traditional Master Class, normally offered on the university level and focusing on what it is to be an artist – to live as an artist, and to understand more about the role of and history of the artist through the ages, right up to the modern world. We will be covering history – from earliest sapient beings to the ancient Greeks, the Dark Ages, medieval troubadours and their role in spreading the news, the Renaissance, and why syphilis gave rise to the ‘artist as lunatic’ perception. We’ll pay attention to fear, and its effect on us as creative persons, the poetry and consciousness of wood, what to do when the well runs dry, the importance of both craft and talent, and the impossibility of living up to your ideals. There will be exercises for stage fright, a ‘wall’ of quotes and artwork you can take pictures of to carry home with you. Each class will end with a song to illustrate that day’s lesson, along with a short Q&A. Students will be asked to read 3-4 short stories about artists before class begins. If you haven’t received the short stories two weeks before classes begin, please email for copies. (No class limit)

There are things in ‘the arts’ that no one talks about – bring them here! My Master Class will have a very defined fourth wall; it is an instruction class, not a discussion. Conversely, the afternoon class will be a guided free-for-all. Participants are encouraged to bring any and all questions and thoughts about art and business; discussions are expected. There may be a few guest interviews of select instructors and students, conducted by me and covering everything from “How political are the Grammys?” to “What do performers do when there’s no bathroom available?” to “How can I age gracefully in a youth-skewed market” and “Why do I even bother?!” to “How can I convince my family to give me my college money and let me spend it making a CD instead?” Both classes will take advantage of the fact that I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old. I am 71, so I must have learned something by now. Chiefly, I no longer have anything to lose by telling the unvarnished truth. Bring questions you don’t think anyone else will answer. Bring your doubts, bring your confusions, bring your anger and pain. We will sort through as much of it as we can, and become stronger in the making. (No class limit)