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Pick up musical skills and knowledge at Old Town School of Folk Music

American folk music is a very DIY genre. It's an eclectic merging of instruments, rhythms and traditions from immigrant cultures. It's a thoroughly blue collar brand of music, of and about the working class folk of America, from the coal miners of the Appalachian mountains to the labor organizers of the union movement. It's even a tradition associated with physical 'do it yourself' practices; bluegrass music and other sub-genres use instruments improvised from day to day objects, such as jugs, washbasins, banjos made from coffee cans, guitars made from cigar boxes, and so on.

The exterior of Old Town School of Folk Music
Coleman Gailloreto

You could say that the Old Town School of Folk Music, currently located in an Art Deco on 4544 Lincoln Avenue, is not only the largest community folk music center in the country, but also a sterling example of the 'DIY' ethos.

Founded in 1957, the Old Town School of Folk Music's long term goal was and still is to promote folk music through concerts, public events, classes and workshops that showcase all kinds of instruments and musical styles. The school has worked with many famous folk musicians over the years, most prominently the recently deceased folk singer Pete Seeger, composer of folk protest songs such as "If I Had a Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" (the school's currently hosting a memorial exhibit and a kid's concert this coming sunday in honor of his legacy)

The Old Town School of Folk Music hosts classes for both kids and adults, teaching instruments such as guitars, banjos, fiddles, harmonicas, and the venerable Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer, and genres such as country, celtic, latin, jazz, blues, bluegrass and more. Certain classes teach less well-known instruments from specific musical cultures, such as the Bodran frame drum from Ireland or the Oud, an Arabic lute-style string instrument.

The Old Town School's musical instrument store sells string, percussion, and woodwind instruments, ranging from the standard guitars, ukuleles, and dulcimers, to more obscure instruments, like lutes, bow-harps, or, in one case, a fiddle/walking stick hybrid. The Resource Center, located in the basement, is both an information center and musical library, filled with books and records about the history of folk music and it's famous performers. "It's mostly intended for students and teachers, " the center's secretary explains, "but we're not going to turn anyone away."

Some people lack a natural talent for music or have no interest in learning to play it. Even if that's the case, the Old Town School of Folk Music is still a place where everyone can learn more about American musical traditions, their history and instrumentation, or to just listen to some beautiful tunes.

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