A Decade of Music and Friends

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Aug 17, 2010 3:47 PM
Students of the Vinland Music Camp

By Shawn Hayward

When she first went to Vinland Music Camp a couple years ago, Rosemary Lawton had never played the bodhrán. Now, the 15-year-old can pound out a beat that would make The Navigators proud.

Vinland Music Camp near Woody Point will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year - a decade of teaching the skills needed to play and write music in the traditional style.

"I really liked being able to walk around the camp," says Rosemary. "In normal camps you'd hear people playing sports and screaming, but there you'd hear people playing music on the porch. You'd walk through and hear music all through the camp."

Rosemary is one of hundreds to pass through the camp's doors over the past 10 years. Eric West and a couple other Newfoundland musicians began the camp because they wanted to share their musical knowledge.

"I had been working in Gros Morne as a musician-in-residence," he says. "I always wanted to have some sort of structured music workshops."

Eric found a site located at the mouth of the Lomond River overlooking Killdevil Mountain. Killdevil Camp and Conference Centre has been home to Vinland Music Camp ever since.

The camp began with 11 students and a couple full-time instructors. Today it's grown to 50 students and nine instructors including renowned violinist Christina Smith and Daniel Payne, an accordionist and actor who starred in the television mini-series Random Passage. The number of classes offered has expanded to include songwriting, dance and traditional storytelling. But the focus remains on music, and students can learn to play a wide variety of instruments including the harp, tin whistle, bouzouki and mandolin.

An unusual feature of Vinland Music Camp through the years has been its age range. The minimum age for a student is eight but there is no cut-off age, giving the classes a unique mix of young and old people learning together at the same time. Last year an 83-year-old attended the camp.

"It's what makes the camp really special," Eric says of the age range. "Initially we thought this would be a problem, but actually everyone seems to enjoy the mix and it makes for a special atmosphere."

"That's really cool 'cause you get to meet a lot of neat people while you're there," says Rosemary about the age range. "I met someone who was French and her husband who writes books. You get to hear about their backgrounds, and they're there to learn, too."

Retirees need special facilities and can't perform all the same activities as kids. And the camp is becoming so popular that last year Eric had to turn people away after the program filled up. So this year, for the first time, Vinland Music Camp is offering a second session just for adults. It's called Sound Traditions Music Retreat and will run October 3-9 at Lion Max Simms Memorial Camp in Bishop's Falls.

"There was a sense retired people wanted their own camp, and that they needed more comfortable facilities," Eric says.

The new camp won't affect the age range of the original program at Lomond, says Eric, where anyone aged eight and older is accepted.

"We wouldn't change anything about the music camp. My life would be endangered if I did," Eric says with a laugh, then adds, "There may be people who decide to go to both camps."

Many students who attend the camp go on to professional careers in music. Alumni include Alan Ricketts of the Stone Rogues and Aaron Collis of the Dardanelles, two young performers whose bands are gaining popularity with their traditional music.

The next generation of Newfoundland musicians, including Rosemary, will once again attend Vinland Music Camp August 22-28, alongside adults who want to play the music they grew up listening to.

"I really enjoy the classes," Rosemary says. "I kept up with the bodhrán and now I play it all the time."