A Brief History of The Sandbridge Hammered Dulcimer Retreat
A very brief history
The idea for holding a week-long hammered dulcimer retreat for advanced players grew out of discussions with one of my students, Laurie McCarriar. Both Laurie and I thought the peaceful environment of the beach would provide a perfect location to spend a week working on music. A couple of hammered dulcimer players from the Virginia Beach area (Sandy Barton and Darlene Himes) suggested the quiet resort, Sandbridge Beach.
In 2004, we held the first Sandbridge Hammered Dulcimer Retreat with a group of six students. Our second year saw our size double to 12 participants, as we added a great chef and moved much closer to the ocean to one of largest beach houses in Sandbridge. The size of the week continued to grow and in 2008, we expanded to two weeks. We also created two levels that year: (1.) an intermediate/advanced level and (2.) the original advanced level.
We expanded to three weeks with three levels in 2011, with up to 20 participants per week. And finally, in 2016, we added a fourth week - the first Spring Dulcimer Week. We moved oceanfront in 2015 for our three houses! In 2017, Marylynn van Deventer became my assistant for Fall weeks #1 and week #2. "ML" also prepares many Sandbridge students for the week and now teaches over 20 of the Sandbridge regulars! And in 2017, we started The Sandbridge Scholarship Fund named in honor of a student who loved Sandbridge, Adie Carlyle, who passed away in January 2018. We have partnered with Boxwood Festivals (a 501(c)3) so that all donations are tax deductible. The fund is thriving and will support youth and needs-based scholarship students for many years to come. Also, in 2018, we added a mini-session master class for the most advanced players, expanding Sandbridge to 4.5 weeks, with over 85 students. In 2019, we added a 4-day fiddle retreat for a dozen fiddlers: "The Sandbridge Fiddle Retreat" - we call our fiddlers The Sandfiddlers!
In 2020, we have added a new week to target specifically first-timers to Sandbridge and those who desire a more relaxed pace. There are many players who have not been able to get into Sandbridge due to space OR perhaps they have been on the fence about coming to Sandbridge, believing that they are not ready. This new week had 25 players signed up and ready to roll when Covid-19 hit! We switched to zoom for all weeks. Mary Lynn van Deventer served as my teaching assistant for ALL weeks. We might have been one of the first festivals in the U.S. to switch to zoom! While there was definitely a learning curve, 180 students ended up attending Sandbridge over the six weeks.
Four of the students from that very first year still attend the most advanced week after all these years: Laurie, Kathy Sanderson, Sue Wilson and Mark Grobner. There are many others that have attended at least five or ten years. Over the years, we have built a fantastic community of players - with over 150 participants + spouses/partners attending each year. The return rate is around 85-90% each year.
In 2021, the Spring weeks were again held via Zoom for 85 participants. The fall of 2021, we will be back in-person with a hybrid model of zoom and in-person (vaccination required). Zoom is here to stay with Laurie McCarriar will run the technical side.
We have many traditions such as our open night crab/shrimp feast, a Wednesday night "coffee house," a daily happy hour, a beautiful tunes jam on Friday, nightly jams, games such as pool, bocce ball, foosball, spike ball, ladder toss & monster ball, an "awards" ceremony and much more. The relationships that have built over the years are long lasting and deep. And it couldn't be more fun!
Why did we start Sandbridge?
I have greatly enjoyed teaching at countless of music camps and festivals over many years. I love the community, the people, the jamming etc. And I will continue doing some teaching festivals when I can.
However, many elements of festivals and the typical music camp sometimes frustrate me as a teacher. In discussions with many students, I thought of creating a different sort of learning experience. First, I wanted a peaceful location - having a beautiful place to learn and play sure makes being there much more fun. Secondly, I was looking for a totally self-contained environment where we didn't have to get in a car ever or even move from room to room. (Meadowlark in Maine was a great music camp that fulfilled those first two requirements and gave me the idea that I needed to replicate that experience.) I really wanted a workshop with a cohesive level of player - a common problem at the typical festival workshop is that anyone can sign up for your class. This is fine but I wanted to insure that the fit was right for each player. Especially for advanced players, I wanted to be sure that the level was truly advanced. In addition to a peaceful location, I desired a relaxed learning environment where we had plenty of time for chilling out! Excellent food - having a chef who tends to our needs seemed like a good idea! Fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, seafood, steamed crabs, crabcakes, daily happy hour! Need I say more? Comfortable housing - this is an obvious one but while a dorm room is OK, I'd rather stay in a nice room in a lovely house.
I have gone on too long. But that was some of my thinking when Laurie and I initially thought of creating what became "Sandbridge" as most of us call it. We are still working on it but I think it is pretty special!
The Sandbridge Learning Philosophy
We focus on learning in a supportive and fun environment with no politics, no religion and no whining!
We work on four major dimensions: (1) technique – the technical side, seeing patterns, all sorts of techniques; (2) listening skills – developing your ears to learn by ear, hear phrases, intervals, chords, to listen in an ensemble/jam and much more; (3) musicality – phrasing, dynamics, swing and much more; (4) theory – engage your brain to understand chord/music theory, how to see the chords, structure, phrases in music, how it all hangs together, tying together melody, chord progressions, arrangements etc.
I am, of course, hugely grateful to all those who have supported Sandbridge with a 85% recidivist rate! I also owe a big thanks to Laurie McCarriar for supporting me in this venture. Laurie (see www.artistgeek.com) serves as my sounding board, adviser, occasional boccie ball partner and videographer for the retreat. And Laurie keeps my websites functioning when I run into trouble! In more recent years, Mary Lynn van Deventer has helped raise the level at Sandbridge in two significant ways. ML serves as my assistant for all weeks. She also prepares many dozens of students attending all the weeks via teaching throughout the year.