This month, we feature Cayley Miranda Schmid, in our series of people working to make a difference in the world and in their communities. Schmid is a professional musician, fiddle instructor, community event organizer, dancer, writer and magical weaver of connection for people interested in traditional and folk music and dance. In a recent podcast interview, her bandmate and interviewer, David Pender Lofgren, credited Schmid with drawing him into celtic music and their band. It is safe to say that there are many musicians in the Pacific Northwest and beyond that owe their introduction to music and the social circles that it can provide to Cayley Miranda Schmid.
We were curious to discover what motivates someone to spend so much time and energy creating opportunities for others in her community.
I love being able to create environments for people to enjoy music and enjoy their communities. Once I find something I love, I want to find a way to share it with other people and enjoy it, together.
Born in Vancouver, Schmid’s family moved to a quieter seaside town in Northwest Washington when she was just a child. Not being a big-city child, this was a decision for which Schmid remains grateful.
I’ve never lived anywhere else for long enough to compare; Bellingham is small enough that information spreads by word of mouth, but large enough to support lots of projects. A lot of people move to Bellingham from larger cities to have more of a sense of community. Bellingham is also starting to get more of a reputation for being a folk-music-loving town, which attracts more of the same!
Schmid began her performance career as a ‘tweenager,’ participating in competitive Scottish Highland dancing. She soon found that she enjoyed Irish dancing and preferred the celtic music that accompanied Irish dance.
Irish and Scottish music drew me in first as music to dance to, and then as music to play. Jigs and reels at a good tempo feel like a heartbeat, and playing it with other people feels like a natural human function. The tunes jam so many notes into a phrase of music, but it feels exhilarating and not chaotic. Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what draws you to something you love, but I know it makes me happy.
When she was just 12, she saw Anna Schaad perform in Bellingham and was mesmerised by her glamour. Realising that her violin lessons could be re-focussed on learning fiddle tunes, Scmid’s musical journey began. Under the mentorship of Schaad, she began performing at the age of 14, developed a lifelong performing partnership with cellist Clea Taylor Johnson, (a fellow founding member of the traditional celtic band, Giant’s Causeway), had her first professional paid tour as a fiddler, and returned to Bellingham and a roster of fiddle students, by the age of 20.
Schmid currently plays in Giant’s Causeway, and in the multi-genre band, Polecat, which she joined at the request of guitarist Aaron Guest, who later became Schmid’s life partner as well as band mate.
Schmid is grateful for the many wonderful opportunities that she received as a young musician and recognizes that many music students don’t have these same chances to experience performance, mentorship and the social aspects of being a musician. Over the past decade, Schmid has dedicated much of her time to providing safe spaces to explore one’s craft, with more experienced musicians, in workshops and jam sessions. Schmid hosted a weekly Celtic Ceili gathering (roughly translated as an Irish kitchen party), which has evolved into the multi-day, multiple venue autumn Bellingham Irish Festival. Schmid also organises a diverse festival of workshops, performances and jam sessions of many sorts of traditional music in the celebrated multi-day, Bellingham Folk Festival. The 2019 Bellingham Folk Festival takes place at the Bellingham Unitarian Church and offsite concert venues this coming weekend; January 25-27th.
Schmid seems to never rest. A typical day consists of:
Lots of computer stuff. Emailing and calendar coordinating. Feeling guilty about not cleaning the bathroom. Four or five private fiddle lessons, sometimes group classes. Feeling guilty about not exercising. Play a show or go to a show, have a rehearsal or recording session. Making a big to-do list for tomorrow.
As a precocious and self-motivated youngster, Schmid’s experience with home schooling and self study taught her that if there is a gap in her knowledge or experience, she has all the skills and resources necessary to fill it or find those who can help her fill it.
I’m always excited to learn new things about the subjects that I’m passionate about. Expanding my understanding of music and folk traditions makes me appreciate it even more, and it seems like other people want that as well. I don’t think there needs to be a definite line between teachers and students, we can all be open to receiving new information.
In a teaching role, the most valuable thing I can do is to share why I love doing it, and to help other people find their musical happy place. Everyone learns so differently, and everyone has a different idea of what they want to achieve. I try and adapt to each person’s learning style and speed, and to push folks a little further than they think they can go. Some people are able to work on music every day, and some only have an hour a week to play, but everyone can still experience the joy of playing. For myself, I’ve had times that I’m really motivated to improve on my instrument and times that I need to take a break.
Recognizing that there are many ways to learn, Schmid has for the last 5 years, organised a multi-day festival with a full roster of workshops on songwriting, singing, dance, and in depth sessions with senior musicians on various instruments that aim to help developing musicians take their skills to the next level. When one thinks of music festivals, one imagines summer sunshine, camping in a field and jam sessions that go into the late evening with the long summer light. A bright light in the space between summer festivals is the Bellingham Folk Festival.
I like that the festival is in the middle of winter, when days are short and you want to be cozy, inside, with your friends. My friend Sam Vogt designed the perfect logo for the festival; a lantern in an evergreen forest. I think that sums up the feeling of being at the festival pretty nicely. The Bellingham Folk Festival has a pretty huge offering of workshops, so it appeals especially to those who are interested in playing music as well as listening.
I have loved seeing new communities of folk music players and appreciators start to form in Bellingham over the last few years. I am constantly trying to introduce people to each other that have already connected! We are bonding with the people we share happy times with, and community seems to spring naturally from those shared experiences.
We wondered how funding impacts Schmid’s choice of festival performers and instructors and where Schmid sources the money to fund these events.
There isn’t any! Everything I organise is supported by ticket sales. The festivals receive some financial sponsorship from generous local business and individuals. Those donations are crucial to getting the events off of the ground. Then I shoot for ticket sales to cover most of the operational expenses.
For me, an ideal festival line-up would include half local musicians and half touring musicians, performers and teachers who are passionate about sharing with the people who have showed up to be there, and a blend of current friends and new people to connect with. I so appreciate teachers and performers who come with the ‘all in’ attitude, ready to participate and connect.
Undoubtedly, love of the music and craft inspires this ‘all in’ attitude, but we suspect that Schmid herself inspires people to want to give generously to these events.
As if her to-do list was not massive enough, Schmid has recently revived an old passion for fiction writing.
In high school and college I did a lot of creative writing. Mostly poetry and short stories. I think I stopped putting energy into it when I didn’t have a class or peer group to share it with. Right now I’m VERY slowly working on a (piece of) young adult fiction about kids playing traditional music. It’s sort of sitting on my desktop right now, waiting for creative moments.
Creativity is a quality that is not in short supply with the multi-talented and tireless Schmid. We at TTDOG look forward to reading her fiction, in print, soon. As is our way, we asked Cayley Miranda Schmid to tell us what makes her most grateful and where she finds her greatest joy.
I am grateful that I get to work with and be friends with so many kind, supportive, and fun people. People who are generous with their time, passionate, courteous, hilarious and loving.
Amongst musicians and music lovers across the Pacific Northwest and beyond, it is hard to overstate how beloved Schmid is. Her goal in all that she does is to make people feel good about playing music, and to create opportunities to break into the jam sessions and social events around which musicians congregate. Her gentle warmth, charm and delightful sense of humour endears her to others, brings them to her performances, and draws crowds to sold-out sessions in the multiple festivals and gatherings that Schmid has organized.
I hope that the festivals continue to grow and bring people joy. I want to have a lot of fun and to get better at everything I’m already doing. I would like to continue to do work that I am proud of, and to have more memories of great times with friends.
Perhaps it is in performance, where we can best see how this joy of making music, together with others, has been the motivation for her work.
The Bellingham Folk Festival runs this year January 25-27 at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, 1207 Ellsworth Street, Bellingham.
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Fiddle lessons with Cayley Miranda Schmid