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Welcome to KLKP 2020!

Hello from KLKP command central in Forget, SK.

Here I am, sitting at my kitchen table, the one which has been in my family for more than 40 years, and in someone else’s family for many more than that. I look at Freya snoozing on the couch in front of the fireplace, my mother in her chair giggling at the television,  a lovely cup of coffee at my elbow, and my computer smoking with activity.  And it’s the start of Kitchen Party Season. 

It’s Lovely Labour. 

KLKP has always been a labour of LOVE,  and has always operated under the philosophy of “if you build it, they will come. ” Using this philosophy we’ve built a great camp, built amazing staffs and indeed, our KLKP participants have supported us;  we have been grateful for that ongoing presence.  For more than 15 years, this philosophy has been WILDLY effective.

So, my friends, I’m going to share with you the new version as we go forward, and I am confident that many of you will ride this crazy version with us and explore what 2020 has to offer. 

Perhaps you caught wind of some side-stories, or just snippets of conversation at KLKP the past couple of years, but  the real truth is this; when we left camp in August 2019, we were not sure we’d be able to operate in 2020!  Lots of crazy factors – I won’t bore you.

The reality is  simple; I miscalculated! It happens ( believe it or not!) And though many variables were carefully scrutinized, I believe that I simply mis-read the impact of years of a local failing economy.

Local people  have now gone through much of their savings, and are now in “emergency mode” where all extras are being carefully weighed. It’s heavy times for many families.  My heart aches for their difficulties.  

When we began our KLKP journey so long ago,  local registrations were 80% and “away” registrations were 20%. This year, it was completely reversed. In fact the bulk of our registrations came from out of province! And this shift has had serious consequences for our bottom line. Additionally, because we did not want to turn anyone away, we offered many  bursaries and dipped far into our reserve funds.  WE even tried   fund-raising for extra programming to help out. 

And in 2020 it’s time to employ the same financial management strategies for the camp as I have expounded on in my personal life  (and bored many of you with ) for years. Time to live within our means and take a new financial approach.

So here it is.  I’ve built a sustainable model  of KLKP using  a clear and concise bottom line. 

This means that initially, I’ll be hiring a much, much smaller staff than in previous years. However, as we exceed our   predicted number of registrants, I’ll then simply add more staff.  And as we may enlarge class sizes, we have a cool idea of utilizing Teaching assistants – but that’s a whole other tale of cool developments for a later time. 

We’re also going to  put some of  the onus on participants as well!   For instance, if folks want a class in a particular instrument, we will need to assemble 5 participants in that instrument.

That is a sustainable model and will allow us to move forward into the future (without  bottom line panic!)  Here are some class ideas that people have asked us about in the past: if we get FIVE people, then I’ll hire a kick butt instructor for that particular class, In fact, I have many clinicians in mind who would be lovely to add to our staff! ( Step dancing / Song-writing / Cello / Mandolin / Accordion / Harp )  I do apologize that we cannot accommodate bagpipes!! Even KLKP has limits!

A team of us have also analyzed what we feel are the “best bangs for the buck” for participants.  We’ve removed some programming and have added some programming, and come up with alternative ideas that will continue to build our little community and let everyone participate as they wish to.

For instance:

  • KLKP  will no longer offer “raw beginner” classes in instruments. Frankly it’s just not the best value for  money! ( for instance, fiddlers will need to be able to play 5 tunes, pianists will need to know several scales and chords, guitar players should be able to chord in the keys of D, A and G,  – like that!  ) BUT  we’re going to do some fun Kitchen Party programming in FORGET over the summer, and  will offer raw-beginner classes then, which means that theoretically a person could come to one of those clinics and learn the basics, and then would be able to simply enter the beginner class at camp! Win-win! More camps – more fun!


  • Our piano class will only be offered ONE week. And will be an intermediate/ low advanced  class with a focus on accompaniment skills.


  • We’re expanding programming to include ART instruction. YAY.


  • Somehow, our SNACK budget has gotten out of control!! LOL So this year, we’ll keep the fun jelly-bean snack centre for the kids each day, but reduce things like chips and junk food.  We think it will be fun for everyone  to potluck snacks for the evening after the concert if they wish. 


  • And some instruments will only be offered on one of the weeks. We’’ll be sad if a person cannot attend the week their instrument is offered, but we are hoping that we are providing enough time to adjust plans to accommodate the great instruction we are lining up.


  • WE WILL be offering an unchaperoned child (age 9 – 15) program in week ONE only. However this supervision will not be offered to any child who has a parent on site with them.


  • And JAMMING!! We’re still working on it, but we’re creating a Jam based camp this year, with instruction in jamming, practising in guided jams and all sorts of fun collaborations around JAMMING. We’re pretty excited about the model.



And here are some of the  other fun things we’ll be altering:

A.  We’re also putting out a call for volunteers!  I have always appreciated being on the inside of an organization – helping out where I can, offering my expertise, and I know that many of you are the exact same.  Additionally, if you’re new to camp, it’s a great and quick way to get to know lots fo people… so we’ll be adding on a line to registration if you’d like to help out in some fashion:  before camp? During camp? After camp? During the year?  Just let us know and we’d love to include you. 

B.  A participant suggestion was to add in some Teaching assistants to our classes, and we’ll be making some offers for these as well.

C.  We’ll also be looking to expand our board to include some working positions as well. Might that interest you? (just a note – the  meetings are minimal and always involve great food. Or WILL. LOL)

D.  And we’re getting OUT of the merchandise business. Personally, I’m not a shopper, and we all seem to agree that the extra STUFF in our life is not adding joy and happiness… so we’ll be blowing out all of our old merchandise this year ( giveaways and draws).  But we are KEEPING our fabulous, hand crafted bags which everyone loves and uses.  Good trade, I think!

So, please keep watching as we build this new and sustainable model.  Thank you for your continued confidence in our vision.


We are so grateful to have the continued opportunity to anticipate two weeks with this wonderful family of the KLKP community – both those who have been with us in the past, and all the new folks we get to experience as we move forward. Please share your experiences with your friends, and if YOU have any ideas to add to our constant growth model, please reach out and let me know! I LOVE to talk about ideas. 

Thank you.


Kitchen Party for Classical Musicians

By McKenzie Warriner, KLKP Summer Student

The makeup of our Kitchen Party is diverse in every way – we come from all over North America, and our ages range from 1 to 91. Some of us are full-time musicians, while others delight in music as an escape from day-to-day life. We come from all different genres and instruments, and we all have different backgrounds and beliefs, but we all come together for our love of music. That’s why Kitchen Party is such a wonderful community – we learn from and are supported by everyone. This summer we wanted to highlight our incredible camp-goers, so we are creating videos that tell the stories of some our participants, and why they come to KLKP.

Our first video features the Hiebert Kids – Cai, Shiloh, and Jonah. They are talented up-and-coming strings players in the Winnipeg classical music scene, but they are also enthusiastic students at Kitchen Party every summer. Check out this video to see what they think classical musicians can learn from KLKP!



Expectations vs Expectancy

Okay. I admit it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist in recovery.  I make lists. In fact, I actually have a “book of lists.”  Okay, if I’m being completely honest, I have a SERIES of books of lists.

They are all in the exact same book (which I buy from the Pharmasave in Carlyle, because I love the texture of the paper and the solid feel of the book.) And I keep them all – for reference sake – because I also make notes in them which I may need to remember in the future. They are in a drawer. It is very full. 

Sometimes, if I do something that’s not on “the list” for my day, I’ll sneakily add it to the list just for the joy of crossing it off.  I know, I know.  Sigh.

I set deadlines, I am tough on myself if I miss them or mess them up.  Because, you know, I’m the chick who gets Sh*t done!  I have expectations of myself, and am hard on myself if I don’t meet those.

Yes. I have a problem  And I’m getting over it.

In fact, I’m generally trying to get over myself – isn’t that a work in progress?  Learning to be more … chill. Rolling with the punches… easing up on the DO-ing and working harder on the BEing.

If you know how to do this effectively, let’s have us a little chat, shall we?

See,  when I reflect on the problem, I boil it down to this:  expectations are like a set of criteria. I expect a particular result, and if I don’t get it, then I am disappointed. For instance, if I add 1 + 1, I expect I will get 2.  If I don’t get 2, then I’m WRONG!

Last year at KLKP, Daniel Koulack said to me (as I was fussing over some detail of the new schedule – I think the dance, actually) “You create this perfect space, and you assemble an amazing team of people. Just trust that what you’ve build is great, and let it do its work!”

But this suggestion  invites me to live in the land of EXPECTANCY:  where the joy is in being open to what happens next.   Like, what happens if you add 1 GIRL RABBIT + 1 BOY RABBIT?   Ah ha! See where I’m going with this? 

So,  the announcement about the instructors for 2018 is not entirely on “time.” But who set that expectation? ME.

And my hiring is not exactly complete yet, as I try to reach some folks by phone who are proving elusive (but they are the perfect persons for the position that week… so I keep trying!) And because of this, I can’t even contact some of my all-time favourite instructors, because this is like building a house of cards!!

Or government grants are slow to convey results of applications for summer students.  Or as you are diligently working on updating the website one night, the shower in your house starts leaking as you watch in incredulity as your pendant light starts to shower water all over your kitchen island. (Which, by the way, in the lamplight, was pretty super-cool looking, if I didn’t think about the possible destruction of my ceiling or my fear of electrocution  as I rushed to turn off the power to the light!)

But who set that Hiring Expectation?  ME.

Expectations seem to come with a finite goal: Either they are MET or they are FAILED.

Instead, if I approach the process as an exciting journey of possibilities, things appear very different.

I want you to know that  the planning is looking awesome for KLKP2018, and I’m so excited for these two weeks.

It was a struggle at times, working on personality balance within the weeks,( especially with my expectations for myself)  but as I finalize the last few hires (one key one for week one) I can see the shape of the weeks, and they’re going to be lovely!

Finding the perfect person for each position, thinking outside the box to imagine how KLKP can be a great blend of learning, rest, fellowship and fun for all is energizing.  I am thrilled when someone like Kanndece Sawitsky makes a cool suggestion at the end of camp last year, and I can see a way to incorporate that idea into this year’s planning.  I’m excited when I can consult a long-time participant over what HER idea for a great instructor direction would be… and then I can follow up on that. 

And I’m still building these halcyon weeks. I’m doing what I do, and I’m GOOD at it. I’m spending the time I need to spend to  build a great space and  a wonderful team of people! So I guess it’s okay to adjust my own time line and schedule in favour of the big picture!

It has also become evident that the very event which I’ve been preparing for for years is now upon us!  I talk a good story about future-planning – for training up new  teachers, for forward-thinking administration ( and even for someday replacing myself).  I have expected that  the health of all fiddle/ music camps lies in the planning for the future that we do (hence the internship program at KLKP)  .. and the future is NOW!

Many of my mainstays  are unable to free themselves up in 2018 (like  my daughter Brienne, for instance, who won’t be able to make it to KLKP at all, and who has been instrumental in developing smart systems for making things work  and so I don’t get things too complicated.)

Brie has this way of telling me I’m being an idiot with a mere look and a raised eyebrow! Like the time I thought it would be a great idea to pre-load all of the participant bags early and label them with nametags –  and of course this would have been time consuming and storage-heavy  with few benefits!

Some friends who I have come to rely on over the years, for their good sense, their way of calming down or offering sage advice, or just a big old bear hug to make an awesome day more awesomer – well, some of them won’t be here this year either.  POOP.

I’m going to miss them. I’m also going to be open to the expectancy of  discoveringNEW friends, new people to lean on and to hug.  So who will be my “Daniel Koulack” model 2018? –  The one who I stay up late with harassing about Bananagram games or who offers me snippets of sage advice which stick to my heart?

PS.  FYI Daniel is going to be spending a month on the African continent with his son, on a much-delayed trip to learn drumming from MASTERS!  Awesome. Totally awesome in all of the best ways.

But the expectancy which arrives with  NEW friends – new people to get to know, to share space with, who will  add their special flair to KLKP – that’s also  exciting  to anticipate! So over the next little while, I shall update some biographies to the web page and to Facebook, so you can get to know them a little in advance as well!

What fun the journey is going to be in 2018!

What amazing possibilities are going to greet each of us  at KLKP 2018? What gifts will each participant, each parent, each child, each musician, artist, teacher,  friend share with us this year?  What will my take-a-ways be this year?

That’s what being open to possibilities is about! Learning when to set the lists aside and live in expectancy instead of expectation!

I’m working on it!



Building a KLKP Staff – The Insider’s Edition

It’s January again.  Festivals are securing their line ups, musicians are organizing their tour and travel, people are planning Winter holidays, and here at KLKP headquarters ( my couch in Forget, Sk.) I am also building our amazing staff for 2018.

One of KLKP’s strengths as a music camp is the quality of our staff, and the new vibe which is created each week/ each year.  Since we have expanded to the Two separate weeks, we have ended week one, looked at each other and asked, “how can we ever top that?”  and then the following week happens, with new instructors and new participants, and inevitably do.

And each year brings new people to meet, new musicians to get to know, new types of tunes.  We think that the NEW is important.  But the familiar is also important.  People who we love to see year after year, to catch up with, to engage with their families, to enjoy the challenge they present.

So – it’s all about balance!   And balance is tricky at the best of times.  Here are some of my major stumbling blocks.

  1. I want to hire every awesome musician who I know.  I want to bring every amazing personality, and explore what they have to offer in a camp setting. I want to pay every one a lot of money so that they can continue to make amazing music for all of us to enjoy.
  2. There is only so much room at the camp.
  3. There is only so much money in the budget.
  4. There is only so much sense in this house, and most of it resides in Will’s brain.
  5. I have a budget I have to follow.  And the budget is based on keeping the camp affordable for participants, because I really want every person who has ever come to the camp, and every awesome person I meet who utters the phrase ” I wish I could play ____________” (fill in the blank yourself here! LOL)

    Michele trying to balance the pieces of budget, space, talent, learners, fun and schedules

    So, how do I do it ?  ( and I confess to tooting my own horn a bit here, because I’ve assembled some totally rock star casts!!)

I start with my budget. Always begin with the end in mind.   I figure out the money first.  KLKP has amounts allocated for the camp rental, for all the pieces of the camp, and for instructors.

We have a magic number based upon how much space we can create at the facility!  As Will continually reminds me – it’s great to HIRE 25 instructors, but where the heck are

we going to put them?  And how many people can the facility comfortably hold  – because if we HIRE 25 musicians, we then need to find enough students for 25 teachers – and then we’re jammered into every corner!!

Then I start building a  GIANT wish list – based upon all of our criteria:

a) each must be  a wonderful musician,

b) each must  be a great person, who is willing to help build the culture of inclusiveness and participation at KLKP.

c) I need to like them. This means that I seldom hire a musician that I have not personally met and used my “Spidey Sense” on!

d) KLKP  priorizes working musicians and music teachers

e) KLKP  priorizes Canadian musicians. We are free to make exceptions, when the musician fits many of our other categories – because ultimately we choose our best person for the job at hand. 

f) KLKP pays attention to the future and future forward planning, ensuring that we provide employment  opportunities for some up-and-coming-camp teachers/ musicians. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective) we have SO MANY of these amazing musicians who have interned with us – and we cannot possibly hire them all!

g) I need to include veteran teachers and musicians so peer collaborations and modelling can best occur. In a camp setting, experience is golden.

h) I need to balance out my genders – because it’s 2018!

i) I need to create variety from year to year so that the camp does not become stagnant ( Sometimes this involves the hardest decisions!)

One of the largest budget items on our list is transportation.  Of course KLKP pays to fly in/ transport our instructors to the camp – and that involves some complicated numbers.  If they are flying from the EAST, for instance, those flights are way more expensive than flying from the WEST.

If I am flying people in for ONE week, or TWO weeks, that is a significant difference on my budget line!

So I start with groups. If I’m trying to hire a band ( ie the Fretless or the East Pointers, or The Goodbye Girls, or Beolach)  then I need to have their commitment first and I continue to build the staff around that.

For instance, perhaps I try to hire a whole band, and the musicians in that band play fiddle, guitar, piano and mandolin, then I need to insert each into that spot on my staff list – and then continue to build.

What are the delays?  FESTIVALS.  Sigh! Because we hire such amazing people, they or their agents are also booking summer Festivals.  At Festivals, bands and musicians become much more visible to the listening audiences, which increases CD sales, which increases popularity – and leads to things like JUNO awards! And we want that for our friends – so we wait!!

And like the bottom stone on the balanced rock pile above, until ONE piece of the puzzle is secured, we cannot move on to the next piece.  So it’s a lot of waiting, and offering, and waiting, and offering!

The really awesome part of this, though, is imagining how awesome the pieces are going to fit together once it all is booked.  Then I get very excited about possible collaborations, how each person’s talent is going to affect our programming – what that allows us to add/ schedule/ change to best enhance the talents on the table this year.

We don’t get to hire everyone we want to – and as each piece of the puzzle is secured, that means that there are a few others that we have to pass on for this year – and hope to include them again.

So it’s not that we don’t LOVE each person. It’s just a complicated bit of building.

Here’s what I know for sure right now:

  1. JJ and Gordon have commitments on the West Coast this year, so they will not be able to join our staff in 2018.  Here’s hoping for 2019!
  2. Daniel Koulack is taking his long-anticipated drumming trip  with his son to the African continent this August. But we’ll see him back in 2019!
  3. The Goodbye Girls are not able to come as a group this year.  And I was super-hoping  that this powerhouse girl-band would be available!  But just for fun, check out this amazing group on Youtube
  4. and we’re waiting on two other offers ( all about the Festivals) before we’ll be able to move on.
  5. As soon as I have completed signed contracts for this year’s KLKP, I’ll be emblazoning it everywhere – so you’ll all be the first to know.
  6. We are sooooo lucky in Canada to have a plethora of amazing musicians and people from whom to choose.  I also get recommendations from participants about amazing musicians they think would be a great fit.

We sure live in an amazing place – especially when a good chunk of our regular staff comes directly from a 2 block radius of my house! But they have not yet signed contracts, so I can’t publicize them!

Welcome to the insider’s view about hiring for KLKP!

I’m sure that there is another whole blog post about balancing:  personalities, gender, ethnicity, music styles, teaching styles, instrument flexibility, ability to make the best pizza – you know – the important things!

And yes – I know – this is probably more than anyone every wanted to know about what goes on in my head.

You are welcome.

Changes can be … awkward… even if they’re awesome!

I retired from my job this year.  At the end of September, to be exact. That would be my English teaching job for those of you who did not know that I have also worked as a professional teacher for the past million years!  And I didn’t so much “retire” as just -well -stop.

It’s a long story. Perhaps I’ll have a chance to chat with you someday about it.  It’s a peculiar and affirming story , all at the same time, and I’m loving my new life and the new craziness which each day brings.

Anyway, it made for a lot of change in my life and the change was awesome.  Suddenly I had time to pursue all of these things I’ve wanted to do for ages – practise more fiddle, play music with more friends, make pottery, craft moccasins, tan hides, cook great food, work on food husbandry and making our home environmentally friendly – all the crazy things I talk about all the time.

But did I?  Well. No, actually.  I kept just getting caught up.  In the change. I found myself on social media, wandering randomly,  cleaning things that did not need to be cleaned.  Well, okay – maybe they DID need to be cleaned – but you know.

Unexpectedly, I found myself off balance.  Sort of missing the routine of life, even though I had become automated by the same routine of each of my busy days.  I’ve been finding my stride lately, but it took awhile.

It had me reflecting a lot on the “shake up” needed at KLKP this year.  Why “need” you might ask?  Well, as soon as things become routine, we, as humans, start to become complacent. Things slip by us. Some routines are amazing, because they stop us from having to use our brainpower, which we theoretically can use for more important things (like making music) For instance, it’s just a routine that when I get up in the morning, I brush my teeth. Sometimes I’m downstairs with no recollection of whether I have or have not brushed my teeth, and then I realize it’s just because it’s so habitual that I no longer need brainpower to accomplish that small task!

But we don’t want the KLKP to get like that! Sure, it’s sort of nice to have a “routine”. We know that the jellybeans get set out at a certain time, and all the kids race to the MTC to fill up their nametags!   We know when Rowan will have the confessional sheets out, or when to get in line for lunch to maximize our time!

But it’s also important to rethink all of what we’re doing and to ask ourselves whether each of these automated steps is getting us closer to our ultimate purpose at the KLKP, or farther away.

So, just like the year when we cleverly moved the  “Will computer desk” to the opposite wall of the MTC and wondered why it took us so long to figure that out, I asked many trusted sources to walk with me over all of the fine details of camp – everything from when people arrived to how they left. And we examined it all with the questions; is this making us MORE of a community? OR separating us?

What would bring us more “face to face” time and less anxiety time?  How could we streamline things? What would we each like more TIME for in our lives? Certainly not more running around like hamsters on a giant wheel of busy-ness, that’s for sure. Is there a way to work in a nap break?  or more “woodshed time”?

So this year may feel – well – different to some long time participants.  Some of our streamlining might feel awkward at first. That’s natural, and we’ll be looking for feedback. But we really hope – sincerely hope- that this year is going to bring some time to nap, to chat, to work together on hand projects and visit, to share stories and commiserate over the year gone by, to play music together and dance and laugh and swim and eat and dance!! To listen to people create music, to make time for that process to occur without feeling like we’re “skipping something”.

We actually have MORE direct instruction time than in previous camps, but we think that it is more condensed, and will be more student-friendly and less frenetic! And rotating instructors will allow everyone to have variety in their days, and to meet other amazing musicians. Camp mixers are still in place, yet are a little less – well – dictated! So – check out the preliminary schedule.  Nancy already found a flaw – we had not included breakfast time – so that’s been fixed already! ANd if YOU find a flaw, maybe drop me a line so we can look more carefully.  Many eyes make  – well – a very weird looking monster I suppose!

And if it’s feeling odd, and you just want to clean something, there are always dishes to be washed. It’s very satisfying to start with a dirty pile and end up with a clean pile!

It’s one of my favourite things!

Hope to see you at KLKP 2017

~ Michele

Our History

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Fiddling:  not forgotten in South East Saskatchewan:

Submitted by Michele Amy, Founder of Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party

Carlyle, 2001: fiddling was all but extinct in the South East corner of the province.  A few fiddlers still made the rounds, (foremost of these was Fred Easton) but there were not many, nor was there much of an audience remaining. 

Carlyle of  2016, where there are now over two-hundred traditional fiddle players in the  immediate area, large audiences, and the S.E corner has become  a tour stop for some of Canada’s best professional fiddle groups. How did this happen?  I suppose with anything, hind-sight is 20/20, and we can usually trace things back to a few pivotal moments.  I like to call it “The Power of One”.

Here is the story of the Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party, and fiddling in S.E. Saskatchewan.

Canmore Folk Festival, 2001; I leapt to my feet in an enthusiastic  standing ovation, only to look around me and discover to my chagrin  that on the giant field of the festival, I was the only one standing  and whooping at the end of April Verch’s fiddle performance.

I suppose that this was the beginning.  Something in me heard that traditional fiddle music and responded with such a strong visceral memory from somewhere so deep in my subconscious that I could not shake it, even though I tried.

My daughter, Gillian Maher, responded  to the music as well, and after the show, she asked if  Will and I would buy her a fiddle.  She was only 8 at the time, and I suppose it’s revealing that I went out and bought her a full sized instrument ($100 from a  newspaper ad in Kelowna), because I just didn’t know any better. 

I look back now and chuckle at the really awful, and really huge instrument that I bought, and how (as you could expect) she played it one or two times before it went into the closet. And that’s where it stayed until one fateful day at the Carlyle Swimming pool the following summer, when I was sitting at the “pool-end fundraiser” (a goldfish swim with air bands, if I recall correctly) with some pals, Lori Brown, Wendy Bax, and Linda Coffey, and we were chatting about random things, and the “violin in the closet” came up.

During the conversation, we all realized that we each had a desire to play the instrument, but had no idea how to begin. Lori Brown, being quite a mover and shaker, bought a fiddle from Swap shop, and then found a woman near Arcola who had taken lessons as a child, and convinced her to teach us all a few things – and that was another beginning.

We learned the basic tuning, basic technique, and how to read music for the violin.  This was very useful for getting us started, but not very useful for progressing.  Then our “teacher” moved quite suddenly and it was back to square one.

A Musical Quest:

By now, Lori and I were on quite a journey together. As two pianists, we both understood music, but squeaking music out of this fiddle was something totally different. We bought many books and tried to learn from those with limited success. (This was “Pre-You-tube” days, remember!)  Then one fateful day, we attended a  Fantasy Fiddler concert in Kisbey. This was a young performing troupe of fiddle players, and were we ever impressed!!  Afterwards, we grilled Brian Granger (the coach of the players) for any tips on playing or music. Then we bought the Cd’s… our  very first ones!

Later that weekend I went home and learned my first fiddle tune. It took me about 5 hours.  I remember that it was a Sunday, and I was supposed to be marking papers, but I put that Fantasy Fiddler  Cd on the player, and just kept rewinding it until I sort of got the tune. It was “Chase me Charlie”, and I was sooo proud of myself for figuring it out. 

I listened to all the tunes on those Cd’s over and over again. I bought more  books and tried to learn from them. While I could sort of play the notes,  I had no idea  how the tunes were supposed to sound.

The Influence of Fred Easton:

Shortly after, I read in the paper that Cannington Manor was having some entertainment for the long weekend, and that it involved local fiddlers. I was so excited, and I drove up by myself and parked my chair in front of the portable stage and was entranced by the fiddling of Fred Easton.

When he asked the crowd for any requests, my voice rang out time and again for tune after tune.  At one point, he stopped playing and asked “What does a young girl like you know about these old tunes?”  I really liked the part about the “young girl” as I was pushing 37 at the time.

But Fred took me under his wing, and invited me (and Lori) to a jam session he was having at Kenosee Lake. He invited us to play our very few and very awful tunes, complimenting us extensively.  What a treat. He really took us under his guidance,  inviting us to various events, both to listen and to squeak out our tunes.

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In loving memory of Fred Easton and the musical fire that rages through Kenosee thanks to his kindness and talent.

We carried on like this for awhile, trying to learn on our own, and jamming with the gracious Fred upon occasion, when at then end of the summer, I ran into a lady from Moosomin at one of these events. Theresa McLeod told Lori and I about this event called “The Emma Lake Fiddle Camp”. I had never heard of anything like that before, so I got all of the information, and the following year, I traveled to Emma Lake to attend. It was a looooong drive, but worth every hour on the road.


“This tune [Memories of Emma] was written by Calvin Vollrath, in honour of the Emma Lake Fiddle Camp. Many of us fiddlers got our first introduction to the world of fiddle camps via this camp, and it was truly a very special place.” – Patti Kusturok

The Emma Lake Fiddle Camp:

And that’s how it was that in 2003, I spent 5 heavenly  days in the Northern forests with some of Canada’s best fiddlers. Everyone was so welcoming and accepting of the new and rookie player that I was that they offered additional advice and tutoring, and commiseration on the frustrating journey.  My teacher, Randy Foster, was a great guy, but over the first three days, I had visions of bashing him over the head with my fiddle, as my frustration level climbed and climbed, and I just didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.

Until one day by the outdoor bathrooms I suddenly HEARD.  I heard the music and I knew what to do!  I quickly turned into a great annoyance as I would run up to players and ask them to play something, and then I’d play it back to them and laugh maniacally in glee.  I was firmly hooked, addicted and pretty obsessive! I had learned to learn in the traditional way, and what a powerful tool that was to become.

My family knows that when I returned from that first week of camp, there was no turning back.  All I seemed to do in all of my free time was learn tunes, jam with Fred, learn more tunes; hours and hours and hours of playing.  The only CD’s in my van  and my living room CD player were fiddle CD’s (In fact, one time in Regina, my vehicle was broken into, and my CD’s were rifled through, but nothing was taken!! Hahah) 

My husband, Will Elliott, was very long-suffering, enduring  this excessive fiddle music, and he  even encouraged me to spend time and money on my newfound passion.

So the next year, I went back to Emma Lake  Fiddle camp, but this time for two weeks. And I took my youngest daughter, Gillian with me for one of them…. To study piano accompaniment. Then we were both hooked. We were hooked on the people, the culture, the music, the welcoming  and collaborative environment, the total experience; we had discovered  a special family of like-minded musicians and we revelled in the inclusiveness.

Then Fred Easton encouraged me to attend a fiddle contest in Weyburn. I still don’t know what he saw in me, as I felt that I was  still a seriously rookie player, but I went with him. This is where I met the folks from the Saskatchewan Fiddlers Association.

Again, I discovered an  atmosphere  that was welcoming, and  people who were so inclusive and welcoming  that the lure of the music and culture continued to hook me in. (I was to later become the President of the Sask Fiddlers Association, but that’s another story.)

Fiddle Teacher? Really?

It was while I was preparing for another contest that something really weird happened.  I  had decided to practice outside on my deck to spare my family  (who was watching T.V. inside) from yet MORE fiddle music.  Then, the doorbell rang.

Frankly, living in Carlyle, I don’t think any of us realized that we even HAD a doorbell, so there was some scrambling before we determined that someone was standing at our front door.

It was a new neighbor – an RCMP member who had recently bought the house a few doors down from us. He had a young daughter who had been taking fiddle lessons in Regina, and when they moved to Carlyle, they despaired of finding her a teacher, until he was in HIS yard, and heard fiddle music. He conducted a “door to door” until he discovered the source. With some convincing, Constable Dalton  persuaded me to take Meghan on as a fiddle student.

I am a firm believer in the adage that it is not “the years that you have been playing, but the hours on your instrument” and though I had not been playing for many years, I had been playing many hundreds (possibly thousands) of hours.  Compounded with this was the reality that I had my B.Ed with a minor in music, had been a high-school  English teacher for 18 years, and I also had achieved all of my Royal Conservatory exams in classical piano (through grade X). 

Well, the acceptance of one student sort of led to another, and before I knew it, I had a full slate of fiddle students, in addition to my full time job teaching at the high-school.  Their ages ranged from 5 years to 82years, and I had discovered a true passion.

Over the next couple of years, I tried to convince my students to attend the Emma Lake fiddle camp with me (only by now it had moved to Arlington Beach). But it was just too much of a drive for most families. Then I had the brain-wave; if my students would not GO to fiddle camp, maybe I could bring the camp to them.

The First Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party:

So, with my husband on board as a great supporter, and my friend Fr. David Banga (who happened to have access to a fantastic camp facility at Kenosee Lake  that we could utilize) I phoned up some of my “fiddle friends” – some of the best fiddlers  and musicians in Canada-  that I had met through the Emma Lake camp, and sort of, well, convinced them to help me out!   A little arm-twisting was involved.

Will and I were under-writing the finances of the whole camp  personally, so I could not pay them much, but out of friendship and a desire to “give back” they agreed to come to Kenosee for the first “Kenosee Lake Kitchen party” in August of 2006.

That first, year, we taught only fiddle, guitar and piano.  We hosted about 50 students.  John Arcand, J.J. Guy, Lucas Welsh, Shamma Sabir, Karrnnel, Dale Amyotte, Trent Bruner, Shannon Shakotko, Ray Bell, Anthony Kelly, and Anthony Bzdell,  came to help me out (teaching at a fraction of their usual rates!) and though the attendance was small, it was a great affair.  Most of my fiddle students attended the camp, and I was able to introduce them to truly great teachers, players and the amazingly collaborative experience that had first attracted me at Emma Lake Fiddle camp.

Fr. Banga, who had NO idea  that first year what I was trying to accomplish, but who was just such a good friend that he said he would help, actually double booked the facility (to my great annoyance). However, he provided great food (as usual) great personality and heart and by the end of the camp, turned into the greatest fan and supporter of our project. He became  (and will forever remain) the “heart” of the Kitchen Party.  And he never double-booked the camp again!

The Nightly concerts were fantastic, and the local crowds grew each night as word got around about the quality of musicians who were playing in concerts each night. They came from far and wide to hear the music, and to participate in the dancing and frivolity.

So how did it work that year? Well, we had lessons during the daytime, and at 4pm we opened the campus for jam sessions and invited other local musicians. Then each of the first three nights,  we had a concert featuring some of the instructors.

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Tim Chaisson, Gillian Maher & Daniel Koulack and Koady Chaisson

On the fourth night, we had a show that we called “The Pig n Whistle” in honour of a local event which had taken place in Manor for many years. This was a sort of collaborative show that featured the students.  And on the last night, we featured a student concert.  Each night we also had square dancing in the mess hall, as well as a nightly campfire.  It was a  slice of heaven.

Except for altering the “Pig n Whistle” we have essentially kept the format for the past 8  years. We have added an additional week to our yearly roster, as we could not keep up with attendance, and additional instruments as word continued to spread about the great opportunities for learning and collaboration.

Currently, the Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party (KLKP) runs for two weeks each summer,( In August)  and hosts about 120 musicians each week (for a total of 240 each year). We have added banjo,  and mandolin to the roster of traditional instruments that we teach.

In 2013, we also added a vocal and cello component to reflect the real musical evolution occurring in the SE. SK. area,  and  we continue to create sponsorship programs to help break down any financial barriers that may stop families from attending the camp.  Will and I continue to under-write the event personally, but with contributions to our scholarship fund, we are able to keep it all affordable and accessible.

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Eric Wright and his cello class 2014

We attract large numbers of spectators to our evening concerts,  and have been expanding the audience base by exposing our communities to spectacular talent and top-notch entertainment events.

KLKP: A family Affair:

The KLKP remains a family affair.  I plan and run the camp and organize and hire the musicians,  create the schedule and tweak the format. I have specific requirements for hiring, because we are not just creating a music camp: we are creating a musical experience with collaboration and cooperation at its heart.   

Will Elliott (my husband) runs all the tech, sound, recording engineering and facilities.  Our great friends, Joan Bue and Shannon Klatt, work with us to promote and host at the event. Other friends assist in ways too many to mention. 

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Brienne, Joan, Shannon, Michele & Will

Our oldest daughters, Brienne and Sh’vaun Maher work in rotation  as administration, promotion, web design and graphic designers (when their professional jobs allow)

Our youngest daughter, Gillian Maher, who was originally responsible for the “purchasing of the fiddle”, finally  (at 12 years of age) decided to take “lessons” from her mom, and there was no turning back! Having been exposed to the music for years, as well as being immersed in  the music of some of the greatest players in her immediate social circle, she just took off, and within 4 years, was being invited to study fiddle in Ireland with Teresa Burke, a reputable Irish player!  Gillian  spent her grade 12 year in Saskatoon  in order to receive advanced fiddle  training, and to play with the Saskatoon Youth Orchestra as well as  the Fiddle Orchestra . Now, at 23 years,  she returns to the KLKP as a fiddle teacher and has become a valuable member of the elite fiddle community in Canada.

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Gillian and her first ever class at KLKP

Michele’s Fiddle Studio:

As a professional teacher, I became equally obsessive over the quality of fiddle and music instruction, applying the skills and strategies learned over many years of teaching.   To better facilitate my own teaching and  the learning of my own students, I have studied the methods  some of Canada’s best teachers: Gordon Stobbe, Natalie MacMaster, Calvin Vollrath, Troy MacGIllivray. I have traveled overseas to observe the cultural components of fiddling in Irish culture, and I have integrated my research into my teaching practice.

From my experiences, both as a learner and as a teacher,  I wrote and published  a fiddle instructional series titled “Just Fiddling Around” and had it professionally recorded. I also created a teacher manual to accompany this 4 book set, which is now being carried in music stores across Canada, and I conduct teacher workshops to better assist players in becoming quality teachers as well.

My personal fiddle studio continues to expand, and with the additions of school programs at White Bear Education Complex (2009 – 2012) and Bellegarde school(2012–13) ,  there are now  well over 200 fiddlers in the local area who can capably play a roster of tunes.

Students who started lessons with me several years ago have now become quite advanced  players themselves, which has created a new opportunity in the S.E. area.

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Michele and the instructors who helped workshop Gordon Stobbe’s “Fiddle History of Canada” for her fiddle studio (all of whom have attended or instructed at KLKP!)

 Our Move to Forget:

In 2011, Will and I built a house in Forget, and moved away from Carlyle, but our home  continues to nurture the musical evolution of the  S. E. area. We host 4 – 8 professional house concerts in our home each year. (Sometimes in the Theatre in Carlyle as well) 

My music studio is now efficiently set up with its own entrance, making it easier to continue to teach a full fiddle studio and group/orchestra lessons. 

We have become part of the musical hive in Forget, which boasts 9 working musicians, 5 music teachers who teach guitar, fiddle, piano, voice and banjo  and bass lessons. Forget boasts two performance venues (The Happy Nun and our home – The Big Red House .) , monthly open mic sessions , regular weekly jam sessions, yearly banjo clinics and outdoor festivals. And we’re just getting started!

The Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party continues to expand, both in scope and prominence in Canada. Last year, we were the largest traditional fiddle camp in Canada, hired the most professional teachers in one week, and have been the focus of several CBC documentary programs, recordings and feature articles on a National level.

The Power of One:

All things begin with the power of one: One pivotal performance;  the one person who takes another under a wing to nurture and encourage (Fred Easton) , the one pivotal moment, the one big idea, the one decision to act – to say YES – instead of turn away.

And the rest becomes history.