Love Cajun Music? Never Heard of it? Kids Can Try it Out for Free!

Pam Weeks didn’t grow up playing the fiddle. As a child in upstate New York, she sang in the church choir and in school choruses, learned a little violin, plus guitar and piano and then moved on to Boston University’s School of Music, where she planned to major in voice.

It didn’t turn out that way. She picked up the mountain dulcimer and fiddle, and that was the end of her classical training. She fell in love with traditional music, dropped out and became a street musician and a singing waitress on weekends, performing three shows a night, while studying with musicians who were steeped in the old-time tradition. Now she describes herself as an educator, singer, mountain dulcimer player and fiddler in old-timey, Cajun, Quebecois and New England styles.

Pam is director of the Youth Music Camp at Rhythm & Roots music festival over Labor Day weekend at Ninigret Park. As a musician who didn’t discover the playfulness and accessibility of traditional music until her late teens, she’s thrilled to introduce children to the experience as early as age 8.

“Traditional music just really touched something deep in my heart,” Pam says. “When you play traditional fiddle music, you’re helping people dance, you’re helping them find the joy, but also to connect with the sadness in their hearts. We need to connect with and accept both the joy and sadness in our lives and find balance, and traditional music helps us do that on a deep level.”

The camp is part of the R&R mission to keep American roots music alive. Introducing children to the form and encouraging them to try it, for free, is a passion shared by Pam and her fellow teachers of mandolin, fiddle, accordion, guitar and upright bass. Teachers are patient and highly skilled. Pam, for example, is a member of three active bands in Maine, Scrod Pudding, T-Acadie and JimmyJo & the Jumbol’Ayuhs, playing Cajun waltzes, two-steps and Zydeco tunes that draw listeners onto the dance floor. All the instructors are equally experienced. Michelle Kaminsky, a Cajun fiddler in five bands, directed the camp for over a decade and is still actively involved.

Children will find the camp experience far different than learning classical music in school orchestra or private lessons. First of all, there’s no sheet music. “It can be a challenge, but that’s part of the point, giving them another way of learning,” Pam says. “And we give them help by keeping the tunes pretty basic, and by spending a lot of time singing and playing the tunes over and over. We also hope the students will record the tunes to work with outside of the camp sessions, so bring a recording device!” Instructors will not demand precision, or achieving the most elegant tone. They’ll encourage campers to have fun. Watching people jump out of their seats and start dancing is an experience many of them have never had.

Over just three days, students will learn to play two Cajun tunes by ear, capping it off with full-blown concert in the Dance Tent Sunday at 2. The camp starts with an introduction on Friday evening, Aug. 30. By Saturday afternoon, campers will play a two-step and a waltz together. Sunday, Sept. 1, is a review and then a walk over to the Dance Tent for a concert that’s proven popular among dancers, parents and R&R music lovers.

Pam says she hopes to encourage a deeper love of music and confidence in the campers. Learning to play a new instrument and a new musical form is not only possible, but fun. “I want them to find their own way of doing it, so they’ll continue to play music through their lives. “

The camp is offered at no cost to children aged 8 to 18. This year, violas and cellos are welcome, and teachers can share spare accordions, mandolins and guitars (with notice). Learn more and then register. Early registration is appreciated. For further information, call (207) 576-7296 or email Pam Weeks. No festival ticket is required, but any child under 12 who wants to hear the vast range of bands at Rhythm & Roots can get in for free. Tickets for teenagers are half price.