Traditional Song Week Classes – July 7-13, 2024


Overcome creative paralysis in your songwriting. Struck by an unstoppable urge to write a song? Maybe you have a melody, chord progression, or a snippet of lyric, but then something happens, and you just can’t write past it? Don’t lose hope. Help is on the way. We’ll focus on practical tools and tips that will help any level of songwriter get and stay inspired. Come prepared to write!

What is your origin story? What are the wonderful details that all add up to making you who you are? And how can they be harnessed into writing great songs? Join me as we explore the roots, myths and magic that make you into the person (and songwriter) you are. We’ll dive into specific songwriting prompts to get you thinking about your story and what makes you unique. Then, we’ll work to craft these into songs.

Western North Carolina has a long history of shape-note singing. From the haunting melodies of William Walker’s Christian Harmony to the complex, moving parts of Stamps-Baxter Conventional Hymn Books, this class will be an exploration of the evolution of shape-note. You will be able to hear the differences through group singing. We will discuss a variety of singing styles that are most effective for each hymn and above all, have fun! Gospel harmony has always been an important part of traditional singing and you’ll get the chance to hear where Josh, along with many others, got their start in music. We will begin by learning the shapes, so no prior experience is required. Get ready to have lots of fun hearing some amazing harmony and experiencing it with a full group in four parts. (No class limit)

MUSIC THEORY (Josh Goforth)
Ever hear a song and wonder why it’s so pleasing to your ear? Have you always wanted to be able to sing in harmony without approaching it like a math problem? Have you tried to learn theory before and just didn’t find it interesting in the least or just way too difficult? Perhaps you are thinking, “Why do I need music theory as a traditional singer; shouldn’t it just come naturally?” Well, this class is for you! We will explore the advantages of visual and aural learning in traditional music. No experience or formal music training necessary! This is a good way to get pleasantly thrown into the deep end of music theory and ear-training basics.

The Blues is one of the most identifiable styles in American music. In this class we will explore the idea of incorporating the blues aesthetic on whatever instrument you play. Whether you play guitar, harmonica, ukulele, banjo or something else, you’re just three chords and five notes away from playing the blues. It is this adaptability that has historically allowed musicians from different styles to find a common language in blues. We’ll have fun getting know the broad principles that underpin blues music. We’ll look at things like call and response, basic rhythm, improvisation and blues structure. So, bring whatever instrument you play and we’ll figure out how to play some blues on it.

These are the songs I grew up singing in the many different Baptist churches in Sodom, NC. You’ll recognize many of them: “I’ll Fly Away”, “Build Me a Cabin”, “Where the Soul Never Dies”, “Farther Along” and “Palms of Victory” are but a few. This class will ROCK! You can sing melody or find a harmony. I’ll provide the words and music but we’ll sing them without accompaniment. Come to this class ready to sing and sing some more! I love teaching this class! If you need to get in touch with me please email me at (No class limit)

Ever wonder just how those old sea chanteys were used during the age of sail? Join Chris in singing and a ‘virtual’ demonstration of the working of a 19th century square-rigged sailing vessel, and the specific songs that helped get the jobs done together and more easily. By use of a Powerpoint demonstration, and Chris’ knowledge gained after a 20-year association as Chanteyman with the demonstration squad of Mystic Seaport Museum and sailing square-riggers, participants will ‘sail’ a 19th century vessel through Cyberspace, singing as we go. In addition to the songs themselves, we’ll learn how the form, pace, and style changed depending on their specific use. We’ll learn about shipboard life aboard a square-rigger as well as some of the ‘rituals’ that included their own songs.

We’ll decipher ‘clues’ that were left for us in the work songs and ballads of 19th and early 20th century maritime trades and folksongs. We’ll look at singing the songs that might contain obscure, or confusing references and terms, and explore potential meanings and definitions in order to sing them with more intent and understanding. Although some chanteys may be used, the sources will be largely from the ‘non-work song’ maritime-themed ballads and songs.. (No class limit)

(Matt Watroba)
Bringing your songs and performances alive is all about choices. In this interactive class, Matt will show you the choices great performers make to get the most out of their songs and time on stage. Participants will then be encouraged to apply what they’ve learned to the songs they choose to sing. This workshop promises to be a safe, friendly place where beginners and professionals alike will benefit from the wisdom of the instructor and the group. Phrasing, style, stage fright, and performance techniques are just a few of the areas this class will explore on the way to wowing any audience with the power of your music. (Class limit: 12)

This class will be all about the singing and the song. This will be an opportunity for you to learn what you need to know to unleash the power of song in your community. Matt will share his experience as a song leader and community performer by teaching and leading a wide variety of songs in a wide variety of styles. After learning song-leading and Community Sing organizational techniques, participants will be encouraged to bring in songs and try out their song-leading talents on the class. You will sing every day and leave on Friday inspired to take what you’ve learned back into your community. (Class limit: 12)

Many of Appalachia’s best-known songwriters, such as Ola Belle Reed, Hazel Dickens, and the Carter Family absorbed traditional songs as their first musical language. We will explore the sounds, styles and structures used in traditional songs and apply those elements to songwriting. In class, we will listen to traditional songs, discuss the basic tools of songwriting, and work with individual and group songwriting prompts. Participants will be given the option to share their work in class but sharing is not required. All are welcome to participate. No previous experience with songwriting or playing an instrument is needed. Participants should bring their instrument (if they play one), paper, a writing utensil, and an audio recording device.

DUET HARMONY SINGING (Kay Justice & Sam Gleaves)
This is a class for those who enjoy the spine-tingling harmonies of Southern singing. Repertoire will include songs by the Blue Sky Boys, Jean Ritchie, the Louvin Brothers, the Carter Family, the Stanley Brothers, and more. We will learn parts by ear using repetition, singing melody and harmony separately before putting parts together. Participants will work with different singing partners to experiment with harmony lines, match phrasing, and practice the stylistic elements of Southern singing. Lyrics will be provided. This class is beginner-friendly and open to everyone. No previous experience with harmony singing is needed. (Class limit: 14)

This course will feature songs in both Irish Gaelic and English that Cathie has collected through the years and new ones she has recently discovered, including love songs, newly-composed songs, children’s songs, humorous songs, historic ballads, singalongs, and more. We will learn the songs ‘by ear’, so bring an audio recorder with you to class. And please bring a song you’d like to share with us! (No class limit)

Even the most casual traditional singer needs to take care of their voice to sing well. If you plan on singing for a lifetime, vocal training will help give you a voice you can depend on. In this class I will teach some of the vocal techniques I have learned and practiced in my 45 years of singing, including breathing exercises to help support the tone and strength of your voice, vocal exercises to help you develop your range, simple vocal embellishments and stylistic techniques, how to take care of your voice, the rudiments and importance of a vocal practice, tips on how to deal with performance anxiety, and how to use a microphone. By the end of the week, you will have a basic understanding of vocal training and the tools to sing with more confidence and freedom for many years to come! Class size is limited to allow one-to-one work with each student. Please sign up early to assure a place!

This class is designed for early intermediate level guitar players and will concentrate on learning to accompany songs rather than fiddle tunes. Each day will be devoted to a particular subject including various strumming patterns, the use of a flat pick, various strumming patterns, use of a capo, runs between chords and matching the accompaniment to the song. Students should be able to comfortably change chords in the keys of C, D, G and A prior to enrolling in the class. Please bring a playable acoustic guitar, flat pick, thumb and finger picks, if desired, capo and tuning device. A recording device may be helpful but not required. (Class limit: 12)

Settlers who moved from the Appalachians to the Ozarks took all their worldly belongings, as well as their music with them. From ballads to popular songs of the day to newer-composed songs, this class will get folks up and singing, and will help build repertoire. (No class limit)

Tracing musical DNA from Doc Watson, Merle Travis, John Hurt, Maybelle Carter, Norman Blake, Leadbelly, and more, this class will have your fingers doing the walking and you doing the talking. Great for pickers who like to sing, and vice versa.

MOVEMENT & PROTEST SONGS (Saro Lynch-Thomason)
In this class, we’ll explore an energizing mix of songs from people’s movements in the U.S. and abroad. From coal wars in Appalachia to 19th-century suffrage in the UK, civil rights movements in the U.S. and environmental campaigns in the modern era, we’ll sing to connect with these powerful histories and celebrate their legacies. (No class limit)

Singing together brings joy, calms the nervous system, and releases oxytocin to generate feelings of trust and empathy. In this workshop participants will enjoy the sensations of sharing their voices together as Saro teaches work songs, hymns, rounds, hollers and more from a variety of American and North Atlantic Island traditions. Get ready to learn everything from sea chanteys and Shaker songs to Appalachian hymns, Catawba Indian songs and Scottish lullabies. Along the way, Saro will provide the historical background and context for each song. (No class limit)

For centuries, gospel music has been the center focus of musical expression within African American culture. No matter the denomination, gospel music is the thread that stitches together various religious experiences and expressions through the singing of spirituals, hymns, and songs spreading the gospel. Even in times of extreme difficulty, gospel music is the genre that helps bring people together to focus on the common good and promote positive changes within our communities. Gospel music is inspiring, uplifting, and encouraging. It creates a platform for musical expression, so no matter who you are or where you’re from, we can all sing the good news together in one voice. In this class, Pam will take you on a musical journey that highlights the beginning of gospel and takes you through its evolution to the present impact of its message and influence on current church culture. (No class limit)

There are important components buried deep in the mind of the singer that can aid them in performing beautiful music or hinder their best musical expression. This class will show you how important your mind is in the overall equation of what makes or breaks a great vocal performance. We will delve into the psyche of great singing and singers. We’ll share musical and mental strategies needed to execute your notes with precision and confidence. And we will provide essential information on vocal health and maintenance. This class has been curated to help vocal musicians understand how his/her instrument works in order to achieve pristine musicality.

TRADITIONAL GOSPEL CHOIR (Pamela English & Shirley Smith)
This class is all about singing some amazing and spirited music that will move your very soul. These songs are not only graced with great uplifting energy, but they will also encourage you to clap your hands, pat your feet, and sing with a joyful sound. This class will include two different styles of gospel music: the traditional style that includes hymns like “Precious Lord”, penned by the prolific composer, Thomas A. Dorsey and congregational style that includes songs like “Down Through the Years”. We encourage you to bring your passion and leave your inhibitions at the door. You will leave this class everyday humming and rocking with a song in your heart and soul. You won’t have to bring your hymnals because handouts will be provided. (No class limit)

CONTEMPORARY GOSPEL CHOIR (Pamela English & Shirley Smith)
The focus for this class is to share a varied style of gospel music that has been common since the early 1970s. This style infuses syncopated rhythms and fun harmonies to explore. We will teach songs made popular by some of gospel music’s most prolific composers and musicians, like Andrae Crouch, Walter Hawkins, and Hezekiah Walker. The songs and skills obtained in this class will certainly keep you inspired and encouraged. Opportunities to perform solos and duets come with this class, as well as encouragement to bring small hand instruments, like a tambourine. Don’t worry about having a perfect voice! Just bring your enthusiasm and we’ll bring our years of love for this great style of music for every student. Handouts will be provided. (No class limit)

As human beings, we are physically and emotionally hardwired for song and story. They connect us with our past, make sense of our present, keep us aware of the struggles and joys and can provide a basis of hope for our future. By conveying information, inviting collaboration and perspective, songs shift mood, release frustration and can inspire us toward personal and societal transformation. In this course we will use our voices to sing spirituals, blues, shouts and various songs of hope and freedom as we explore the historical and personal connections that ground us for living in a world of complexity and isolation.

Pete Seeger, Bernice Johnson Reagan, Bob Dylan and so many others used traditional song frames to inform and inspire their writing efforts as they expressed personal and global concerns. They also used song to highlight people and issues that were close to their hearts and minds. In this course we will make use of aspects of traditional song as we reflect on, address and celebrate the world, our elders and ourselves. Open to songwriters and non-writers alike. Come with an attitude of discovery and ready to have some fun. (Class limit: 20)



We offer a full-day program taught by Melissa Hyman, for children ages 6-12. Children must have turned 6 by July 1st to participate. No exceptions please. Bathroom independence is a non-negotiable prerequisite. Maximum age is 12 on July 1. Some older children (age 12-16) may be able to work as junior counselors. Please email Melissa ASAP if interested in a junior counselor position, even if you’ve discussed it with her before: We are no longer able to provide evening childcare.

This year, our Children’s Program theme is SUPERHERO ACADEMY!! Welcome to the Swannanoa Superhero Academy, where we train aspiring champions of the downtrodden in all the most important heroic skills: speaking up for what’s right, flying, breathing underwater, x-ray vision, super strength and more. Get ready to don your cape and zoom into arts & crafts, music and games that tap into our amazing superpowers of creativity and fun. We’ll also learn about real-life heroes through the ages, who inspire us to step up and be the greatest versions of ourselves. It’ll be another unforgettable summer of friendship, silliness and discovery… and we hope you’ll join us! With the help of a talented music teacher and our beloved drama instructor Miss Mary, we’ll write our own original song and perform for the whole Gathering at the student showcase on Friday. We’ll also have visits throughout the week from other Gathering staff, who will teach and perform just for our kids. Weather permitting, we’ll continue our traditions of shaving cream hairdos, swimming in the river, playing in the sprinkler and slip-n-slide madness; we’ll definitely have movie night, messy games, and other favorites. Please bring at least one swimsuit with you. There will be a $30 art/craft materials fee for this class, payable to Melissa on arrival.



(Note: A highlight of the day’s schedule is when we gather together each day after lunch for these special events. No advance registration necessary.)

A panel discussion featuring instructors Susan Cattaneo, Sam Gleaves and Joe Newberry

A panel discussion featuring instructors Rev. Robert Jones, Reggie Harris, Pamela English and Shirley Smith

A panel discussion featuring instrucstors Kay Justice, Josh Goforth and Saro Lynch-Thomason