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Tips & Tricks: Financing Your Trip to Balkan Camp

I won’t lie, getting to Balkan Camp can be a financial challenge. My own decades-long journey with camp is a testament to that. I’ve paid full-ride, been rejected for scholarships, received scholarships, and done hours of work exchange. There have been years when I could pay the whole fee upfront, and years when payment plans were a godsend. But no matter what, Balkan Camp is a nonnegotiable fixture on my calendar, and it can be for you, too.

No matter which way you look at it, these workshops are an excellent investment of your time and energy. You’re always going to learn something new, connect with someone you wouldn’t otherwise know, and leave better than you started (albeit a little sleep deprived). If I’m going to take a whole week off of work, I want to go somewhere that fills me with warm fuzzies and forces me to stretch and evolve in ways I didn’t know were possible. Camp does that. Every time, I get major return on my investment.

Here’s the truth: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’ve seen campers who make peanuts attend consistently for years without complaint, and I’ve seen well-off campers come and go, because they “can’t afford it.”  Rather than focusing on the challenges of saving for camp, let’s focus on strategies you can implement TODAY to start making your camp dreams come true.

  1. Try the Emily Cohen Method. Emily has been known to give out coffee cans for folks to stow away money throughout the year as their camp fund. Personally, I used an old mason jar, but the effect was the same. I threw in my tips from gigs, tucked the jar away somewhere I wouldn’t see it all the time, and slowly but surely, things began to add up. This is one of the most popular and successful means of saving for camp.
  2. Apply for a scholarship. Scholarship information will be updated early 2019, so go ahead put a reminder in your calendar now to check back at our website then. I had to apply more than once to get my first scholarship, so don’t be discouraged if you didn’t receive one before. Be sure to read through ALL the details and the rubric. If you struggle with writing, maybe ask a friend to help you with editing in exchange for coffee or a foot rub. Take your time, dot your i’s and cross your t’s, and see what happens.
  3. Request a work exchange position.  After registration opens, you can request a work exchange position by emailing the site managers. If you plan to join us on the West Coast, you need to contact the site manager by May 1st. East Coasters have until May 31st. Having “something to do” at camp can can be a huge relief and help you meet new people (I’m talking to you, introverts). Also, if you do the job well, you’re likely to get it again. I was able to maintain my work exchange position for a couple of years while I was finishing college, which was enormously helpful.
  4. Try a money saving app. There are numerous apps available to help you strategically and painlessly squirrel away money. My favorite is Digit, which analyzes my spending and sneaks money into savings. I don’t have to think about or put any effort into it, but the result is the same.
  5. Draw up a budget. I know that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but I’ll tell you what helps—dangling a really delicious carrot at the end of a stick to spur you on. Let camp be that delicious carrot! Put on some of your favorite Balkan tunes, set out some olives and feta for snacks, and get to work. Websites like Mint and YNAB can be very helpful for structuring your approach. You get bonus points for this one, because it’s helpful for life in general!

For many of us struggling artist types, there’s also the reality of lost income while we’re at camp. Depending on your trade, you might consider tailoring you camp stay to accommodate weekend or weeknight gigs. Don’t let FOMO prevent you from being flexible with your stay. But if you MUST work remotely during camp, I’d recommend driving off site (you’ll need to at Mendocino) for better Wi-Fi and cell service. It’ll also help you break away mentally, so you’ll work more efficiently with a clearer head and fewer interruptions. Many campers end up enjoying these breaks from the hubbub of camp, and sometimes journey offsite even when they don’t have work to do just to relax in a different environment.

Remember, there’s no wrong way to make your camp dreams come true. While I wouldn’t recommend robbing a bank (our community is hardcore, but not that hardcore), find the way that works for you, hustle hard, and then, cherish every moment of camp all the more, because you made it happen!

By Jenna Shear

Growing Live Music

Musical Mix in a Different Way

In the town of Arcata, California, population 17,000, we have extraordinary good fortune in the availability of live music for our dance community. Yes, we have jazz bands, salsa, Afro-Cuban, bluegrass and Celtic bands playing at coffee shops, dance venues and festivals. But, I’m talking about Balkan music.

Currently, we have a choice of six groups, playing mostly Balkan dance music. This isn’t a new event. In the twenty-five years, I’ve lived here, I can count a dozen groups, from duos to bands of five or six, that have played live Balkan music. One of the main reasons, I believe, is the existence of a community, open-door band: a band nursery, if you will.

It does require a few dedicated leaders. Folks who can be good coaches and organizers. Experienced musicians who can guide a group of mixed-level singers and instrumentalists. But the door is really open. There are no auditions or qualifications. If you want to sing or learn to play an instrument, you are welcome. Sometimes the results can be lopsided. What happens when you get three drummers, a recorder and a ukulele? Also, the mix isn’t just instruments. There are experienced singers and musicians, but not experienced in Balkan music or style. There are folks who have been dancing to Balkan music and know how it sounds but haven’t ever held a folk instrument.

The last two years, Linnea Mandell and yours truly have continued this little outreach. We call it our Balkan Meetup. The formula is a time slot set for 90-minutes. The first thirty minutes is a cappella singing. This includes songs with three or four parts such as choir pieces from Croatia, Serbia and, of course, Bulgarian choir songs made famous by the Les Mystere des Voix Bulgares recordings. But, there is also room for songs with a single melody and drone, which echo a more village-y feel. We’ve been fortunate to have a good mix of voices, so that all parts are covered. A nice by-product of this process is that people who have voices straddling more prescribed ranges of soprano, alto, tenor and bass can experiment and stretch themselves.

The second half-hour is combining instrumental accompaniment to singing. We have a mix of Balkan instruments like gaida, gudulka, kaval and tupan as well as flutes, fiddles, guitars and cellos. Most of these songs are dance music, but not exclusively.

The last 30 minutes is just devoted to instrumental music. The folks who only wish to sing are free to go while the group works on dance music.

The end result is also a mix. There will always be folks who just come to make music with no long-term plans. But, there are also folks who, after getting their taste of Balkan music, want to continue. These folks tend to seek out like-minded colleagues and start play together on a regular basis and build a repertoire. Ta-dah! The beginning of a band or vocal group.

As with any learning group, it can be a longer process and requires patience. But, it really can pay off.

I encourage you to make the investment.

By Craig Kurumada

Volunteer Spotlight: Camille Holmes

Many of you know Camille Holmes, but for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of making her acquaintance, we’re excited to introduce this friendliest of west coast campers. Camille began her career with the EEFC in 2013 as an intern. She literally wrote the book on volunteering by helping us develop and organize our volunteer manual. Since 2015, she’s served on the Program Committee, and we are so grateful for her spirit and years of dedication!

How did you first discover our Balkan Music & Dance Workshops (Balkan Camp), and what keeps you coming back?

I first came to camp when I was 5 years old. Dragged by my dad the first time, it was the only camp that I ever had to be convinced of going to. Since then I’ve only missed 3 years and look forward to it each year. I keep coming back for the music, the dance, and most of all the community. I love being in nature for a week with such awesome folks, incredible music and dance, learning, and great food!!!

What is one of your favorite memories of Balkan Camp?

One of my favorite memories of camp is that moment when I was a teenager that I realized I could actually figure out some of these dances. That in sync moment when your hands swing in the correct direction with the rest of the group, rather than against the grain. Otherwise, the best memories are with friends and late night music. Drinking endless tea, dancing all night, and the smell of the redwoods.

What inspired you to start volunteering?

I was inspired to start volunteering, because I knew I cared for the EEFC and what they are doing. Camp has given me so much joy over many years, so I fully support the growth of the organization. I want to make sure that others can feel the overpowering joy that camp brings. It feels like a great way to give back and stay involved throughout the year.

Photo by James Hoskins

What has been your proudest moment with the programming committee?

My proudest moment was going to camp after being on the committee for a year. To experience what we as the committee had put together collectively was awesome. After the hours of calls, emails, and discussions, to attend a camp that was hugely successful made me feel proud that we made good choices with the schedules and staff.

What would you tell someone considering attending Balkan Camp for the first time? 

Try new things out of your comfort zone, and keep your toothbrush in your bag. That way you can always brush your teeth on your way home at 4am, rather than needing to stop at your cabin/tent first.

Post Balkan Camp Disorder (PBCD)

Symptoms include dry mouth caused by strained vocal chords and slivo shots, increased appetite for garlic-infused anything, and palpitations in ⅞ time. If left untreated, withdrawal symptoms may only last 3-5 days. While not life-threatening, treatment is recommended. Availability of natural remedies may vary depending on your location. The following is how one patient is currently living a fulfilling life with PBCD.

In August of 2013, I spent a week completely focused on intense learning and non-digital socializing, almost completely disconnected from outside work and family responsibilities. I didn’t even know what was going on in the daily news. It was refreshing but also jarring. That week at camp I played violin (which I already played before, but hadn’t touched in a couple of years), had a crash course at playing the santouri, and on my last day at camp fell in love with the tapan. I danced Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Serbian, and some form of free-movement bird-like improvisation in the wee hours of the night at the Kafana. The Monday after camp I was back at my desk job, slouching over my computer on an ergonomic chair. Friends asked where I was for a week, and I found it difficult to describe. They seemed genuinely excited and envious of my courage to try something new and step out of my comfort zone. They said they would have loved to do something like that if only they didn’t have to worry about blah, blah, blah. The conversation would veer back to complaints about not ever having enough time to do everything, dreaming of exotic places to travel to, and which bar or restaurant to try out next week. That’s when the symptoms started to sink in.

Step 1: Ask for help. If camp-life is a drug, Emily Cohen is my doctor and my dealer. She encouraged me to attend my first camp, so it was only natural to ask her how else I could stay involved. She had a wealth of knowledge about existing folk dance groups (like Folk Dance Fridays or Central Park dancers), other camps (like World Camp), and community resources. She even let me borrow a great book, Balkan Fascination, which I admit I still have not returned. I also asked my friends at the Greek American Folklore Society for help connecting to local musicians, opportunities to catch more music and dance, and began attending dance sessions more often. I had almost forgotten how important it was for me to have music and dance be a consistent part of my life. Anastasia Tsantes and Vaia Allagianis continue to be my Greek dance mentors and always help me stay involved with the Greek community. You are reading this blog right now because someone introduced you to this community. Who are they and how can they help you stay involved?

Step 2: Choose one treatment at a time. After meeting with my camp doctor, I found that with too many options I was more likely not to do anything. I had to pick one thing to focus. At camp, I had already made a plan to continue taking skype lessons with Beth Bahia Cohen, so I continued with that. While I really enjoyed playing the violin again, I missed the tapan. I decided to make that my focus began attending tapan classes with the Young Bulgarian Voices of New York’s 101 Kaba Gaidi i Tupani. During my first year, my lessons with Ivailo Kuchev inspired me to even buy a drum that he made. It was an investment, but one that solidified my commitment to this new instrument. Even though I do not speak Bulgarian, I found the community very welcoming, and that communication in art transcends words. The drum classes are now taught by the infamous Mersid “Semka” Mustafov and our drum circle feels like a second home. Which instrument, art medium, or community ignited a fire you didn’t know existed? Even if it’s a completely new style, try focusing on that one first.

Step 3: Hair of the dog. I’m so glad that I live in New York City, so that I can easily attend GoldenFest each January. I was able to volunteer in the kitchen my first year in order to offset the cost of the ticket. In following years, I performed with YBVNY and use my guest ticket to introduce my friends and family to this crazy Balkan scene. I recommend you select your signature event at approximately the 6-month mark to tide you over from one camp to the next. If you’re on the west coast, you might want to join Edessa and friends at Ashkenaz for New Year’s Eve. Meanwhile, save up for the next Balkan Camp.  Strategies include stuffing money in a jar every month (I use an old Tsipouro canister), using apps like Digit that stealthily squirrel away money without your noticing, or ask family and friends to “donate” to your camp fund in lieu of physical gifts at holidays and birthdays. How will you get your mid-year fix?

Need an emergency dose of fun? Join me at one of these events.

I hope my writing has not offended those dealing with illness. My involvement in the Balkan community has improved my own wellness, both mentally and physically. This article is light-hearted, but I hope it has touched your heart in some way.

 

Written by Michelle Tsigaridas Weller 

Photo by Alevrontas

Running Sound at Balkan Camp: Tips and Tricks

It’s evening time at Balkan Camp. I’ve spent all day learning mind-bending new folk melodies and rhythms, socializing and meeting new people, and eating way too many olives and stuffed grape leaves. To top it off, I’ve spent the last 2 hours trying to follow the steps of experienced dancers during the evening’s dance party. The clock is starting to edge toward 11:15. It’s getting late! If it were any other time of the year, I would have long since snuck out to rest and recover in the hopes of having enough energy for the next day. But it’s Balkan Camp, and at 11:30 I have to go set up sound for Kafana!

If you haven’t been to Kafana, Kafana is a place where you can watch music in an intimate setting, drink a little, enjoy ajvar along with other grilled goodies, continue dancing, and watch musicians really cut loose and maybe get a little silly and wild. Before I ran sound at Kafana, it was a place I would (sometimes) go to enjoy myself if I was feeling adventurous. This past summer, though, being at Kafana was my job almost every night. Why? I was the sound engineer.

Running sound is no easy task. You have to plug a dizzying array of microphones, cables, mixers and speakers together without mixing up what goes where. You have to make sure that musicians can hear themselves so that they can play confidently, and you have to make sure that the audience can hear the musicians well. You don’t want to blow people out of the water with sound that is too loud and harsh, or irritate them with sound that is muddy and indistinct. Of course, running sound after you have spent a very full day at camp poses an extra challenge, and at first, I was pretty nervous to take the job, but as the days progressed, I figured out a way to make it work and received such nice feedback (pun not intended) from performers and audiences alike that I was inspired to share my experiences with other adventurous Kafana sound engineers.

The below tips do assume that you have experience with sound gear, but do not assume that you know what the various Balkan instruments are.

  1. Running sound at Kafana is all about speed and efficiency. People will be tired and may be not thinking straight, or they may be in a relaxed partying mood, so it is doubly important to come up with a plan to get performers onto and off the stage quickly and efficiently. Plan with your stage manager (if you have one) for how best to do this. You will also need to figure out ways to support yourself so that you can do your job under quite taxing circumstances.
  2. Every day, test your PA system and all mics before you start running sound. Make sure every mic can be heard in the mains and in the monitors. You never know if someone borrowed a mic stand, mic, or a cable during the day.
  3. Label what mic goes to what channel on your mixer.
  4. Personally talk to the band before they start and figure out what they need. Write it down. Write down what instrument goes to what channel. Consult this chart before you make any sound adjustments since you will be tired, and it will be easy to make mistakes.
  5. Ask the musicians where they’d like their microphones positioned.
  6. Make sure everyone can hear themselves in the monitor before they start. Make sure you can hear every instrument in the mains before they start.
  7. Check in with the band after the first song to make sure they can hear themselves in the monitor. Be paying attention to the band for cues that they need more or less of a specific instrument in their monitor.
  8. Super important: Use as little equalization as possible! But do cut some bass from every channel (except perhaps direct-injected bass guitar or double bass). This creates a natural sound that better approaches unamplified acoustic sound. Use the per-channel level to mix. Avoid the temptation to aggressively boost or cut equalization in the main mix. Again, this creates an unnatural sound. Rely as much as possible on volume controls.
  9. Cut more low end and maybe some mids from instruments with sympathetically resonating strings and/or a skin head such as gadulkas or the yaylı tambur.
  10. Mic the finger holes of clarinets, kavals, or other wind instruments that have finger holes.
  11. Always mic frame drums. Cut some extra low end and mids from frame drums since the microphone proximity effect is especially pronounced with these drums. Try to mic doumbeks if possible. If you don’t mic them then their accent sounds may not be heard in the room. You may not need to send any drum sounds through the monitors.
  12. In a small room you will likely not need to amplify the tapan / davul / daouli. If you do have to amplify it, think of it as a bass drum and snare together in one instrument. Mic both sides of the drum. You may need to cut quite a bit of the low end out of the bass drum side since it is often tuned at a higher pitch than most rock drum bass drums and may sound boomy.
  13. Be listening and available as much as possible. Walk around the room. If folks in the back can’t hear, you may need to boost the overall volume.
  14. Cutting highs should not be necessary except perhaps with violin or kaval. Boosting highs may only be necessary to increase articulation of vocals. These cuts / boosts should be minimal. Again, use the volume controls first.
  15. Lead instruments should sit on top of rhythm instruments in terms of volume level. Lead vocals should sit on top of everything else since lead instruments will frequently harmonize / play unison with lead vocals. If someone is playing primarily a drone or rhythm part, this should sit low in the mix but still be audible.
  16. If you are working with a brass band in a small space you won’t need much sound reinforcement. Do, however, have two wireless mics on hand for a vocalist or for solos.
  17. The zurla is extremely loud and typically doesn’t need any amplification.
  18. Drink a lot of water! Try to get enough sleep (good luck with that!).
  19. Know your alcohol tolerance. I am a lightweight so I don’t drink at all while I run sound. The combination of alcohol with not enough sleep would increase my likelihood of making mistakes.
  20. Wear ear plugs whenever you are not actively listening. Keeping your ears fresh means that you will make better mixing decisions. Once I have a band dialed in, I typically leave my ear plugs in the rest of the time.
  21. Thank musicians after they play. Show musicians your sincere attention while they play. Remember that per
    forming music is an act of emotional vulnerability and that even musicians with decades of experiences get the jitters. Being professional, courteous, and sensitive goes a long way!
  22. Break down all of your gear and wrap all of your cables every night. Safely stow everything. Try to enlist a few unlucky stragglers to help you pack everything up so that you can get to bed as soon as you can!

Running sound at Kafana and being part of the Kafana crew was a great way for me to feel like a valuable part of theBalkan Camp team. It gave me a chance to connect with many of the great musicians and teachers at camp. I left, exhausted and happy, excited to try my hand at running sound again in the future.

Hopefully these tips will make your Kafana sound experience go smoothly! If you have any questions or comments or any tips for me send me an email at john.david.eriksen@gmail.com.

 

Written by John David Eriksen