Keeping a Beginner’s Mind: Q&A with Abbie Gardner

We are thrilled to have Abbie Gardner joining us at SummerSongs East again this year!

Best known as one-third of the female harmony Americana trio Red Molly, Abbie has listened to the sweet sound of high lonesome harmonies since her first bluegrass festival at three years old. Her father, Herb Gardner, is a swing jazz and stride pianist and dixieland trombonist. Abbie has been recognized as an award-winning songwriter, as well, with such accolades as: 2008 Lennon Award Winner (folk) for “The Mind of a Soldier” and 2008 American Songwriter Magazine Grand Prize Lyric Winner for “I’d Rather Be”. Her song “Honey on My Grave” was also published in Sing Out! Magazine in 2008.

Here’s what she had to say about her classes and her own musical journey:

What attracts you to teaching at a camp/retreat such as SummerSongs? Have you ever been to one as a student?

Oh I’ve always loved music camps!  Ever since I did band camp for marching band back in 7th grade, I’ve been hooked!  As an adult I’ve been to a few songwriting camps and just as many instrument camps.  There’s something about leaving your regular life behind for a bit and dedicating all your time to music…  it’s a magical thing!  Especially when surrounded by others with the same intention.  It’s very energizing and inspiring for me.

What can people expect from your class on song arranging? What are the big takeaways you’re hoping people get from that workshop?

I want people to walk away from that class feeling as if they’re the conductor of their own orchestra, in a sense.  There are so many arranging tools that can be used, whether you’re talking about one person with a guitar or a whole band.  It’s a lot like painting.  I guess I just want my students to have all the “paint colors” that they could ever want!

What can people expect from your class on getting “unstuck”? What prompted you to come up with that idea?

Oh I’m a reluctant songwriter, so getting unstuck is something I do on a regular basis!  Writing can feel magical and mystical, taking on an unreachable quality that makes it hard to work on.  I like to remind myself that it’s a skill like anything else.  I hope to give people practical skills to allow them to keep writing whether the muse shows up or not.

You recently got off the road after a decade of regular touring with Red Molly. What are you most looking forward to this year in terms of your gigging and teaching?

I’m doing a lot of exploration- it feels like every gig is different!  Some shows are 100% solo, some with sideguys, some are split with excellent guitarists like Brooks Williams or songwriters like Jesse Terry, and I’m even doing a few jazz/swing dance shows with a 5-piece band!  I’m really excited to be branching out and stretching my wings.

You’re also a lifelong learner when it comes to music. Do you feel as a teacher you are still always a student too?

I’m a firm believer in practicing my instrument and writing as much as possible, too.  That way when I’m on stage improvising I don’t have to think, the skills will be there subconsciously and I can just play.  The same goes for writing- my intention is always to work on the craft, the building blocks of skills that make up writing, so then when my heart catches on something to write about I’ll be ready and there won’t be anything in my way.

There’s always more to learn and that’s part of what is so exciting about music!  I don’t ever want to be done learning.  Keeping a beginner’s mind is a really great way to keep your ego out of it and just get down to the music.

SummerSongs, founded by singer-songwriter Penny Nichols in 1999, offers seasonal songwriting camps (summer and winter) for adults on both the East and West coasts of the United States. The songwriting camps take place in the Hudson River Valley 30 miles north of New York City; and on the beautiful California Central Coast, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Both locations are perfect havens for songwriting and creative inspiration.

Join us for our 2016 summer retreats:
SummerSongs West: June 1-5: Camp Ocean Pines, Cambria, CA
SummerSongs East: July 23-29, Stony Point Center, Stony Point, NY

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Got questions? Email Sharon Goldman, marketing director, at sharon@sharongoldmanmusic.com.