Interview With Cynthia Johnson

From the interview with Cynthia Johnson of Lake Oswego, OR conducted by Rae Tennyson at the Fort Worden History Center on July 7, 2002. Ms. Johnson and her young son Shane had been participating in Centrum’s Festival of American Fiddle Tunes for several years. Here she discusses her experiences:

“I’ve been coming for years and I think there’s nothing like it. I have very fond memories here at Fort Worden. You get the rare opportunity to really sit in rooms with people who are the best in their fields, for example, Dewey Balfa, who has died. You can just sit with these people and hear their own style of music and really get a feel for their repertoire. It is something you can’t get off a recording. It is really wonderful and a lot of wonderful musicians have come here over the years, but now many of them have passed on. So, I really cherish my memories.

I’ve also learned a lot about different styles of music, because the whole American Fiddle Tunes covers all styles of music. Not only for me, but for my son, it has been a really wonderful education that you just don’t get anywhere else. The faculty comes from all over the country and sometimes beyond.

There’s a band lab session for all the adults and children as part of Fiddle Tunes. What they do is, you pick a faculty member whose style of music you like and people come together and they learn a tune together to play as a band. They also have them for beginning levels, and they have one for kids. The kids’ band lab is particularly wonderful because children don’t usually get to play as part of a group….It doesn’t matter if you already know how to play an instrument, a lot of kids do play beginning fiddle a little bit. But if you don’t know how to play they let you just pick something. Some of the kids play maracas or rhythm sticks. This is Shane’s third year of playing the banjo at band lab, as a result of this he just started taking banjo lessons in Portland.

I think they’ve fine tuned some things over the years. The kids’ program is an addition that wasn’t something they had in the beginning. And I think they’ve opened their styles of music a little bit, so when they say American Fiddle Tunes it now includes Irish, Scottish, and Cape Breton and Mexican and Cajun, clearly old times. I think they’ve broadened a little bit as to what type of musicians come, but they’ve stayed pretty much true to their goal in the respect of the passing on of the music.”

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