Kids’ fiddle camp takes a virtual tour

Olympia’s fiddle camp is about much more than fiddling around.

The camp takes young fiddlers on virtual visits to countries around the globe, with music, dance, crafts and food appropriate to the country.

“I don’t know of any other camp that does what we do,” said camp founder Deb Collins, who teaches violin in Olympia and is one of the leaders of the monthly Oly Kids Jam, which gives young musicians an opportunity to play old-time music together.

“I like that each day is based on a different country, and they pick really interesting countries,” said 11-year-old Albany Coate, in sixth grade at Olympia Regional Learning Academy Montessori School. Albany has attended the camp since Collins started it four years ago.

The campers learn a fiddle tune each day and wind up the week with a concert to show family, friends and the community what they’ve learned.

Monday, 22 campers ages 5 to 13 were learning about Jamaica — not a country known for its fiddling. Divided into beginning, intermediate and advanced groups, the students were learning a fiddle version of a traditional tune. This year for the first time, there was a group of guitarists, too.

“In Jamaica, the traditional folk tunes are mostly oral,” said Clara Hemmings, 18, of Spanaway, who has volunteered teaching fiddling at the camp for the past 3 years. “People have started playing them with all sorts of instruments.”

Howard Hemmings, Clara’s father, told the children about the government, sports (cricket and soccer are tops) and his life growing up in Jamaica, where he lived till he was 12 years old.

There was lots of giggling, and at least one surprising question, about whether Hemmings had slumber parties and sleepovers. He thought about that and concluded that he had: He rode a donkey to take fruit from his family’s trees to extended family and pick up other foods to bring home, and on those journeys, he’d sleep over with cousins.

Hemmings, wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt and dreadlocks, also taught the campers a few phrases from his homeland: “yah mon” (which means, of course, “yeah, man”) and “irie” (pronounced “eye-ree” and meaning “all right”).

When he moved to Los Angeles at age 12, Hemmings was surprised his fellow students had trouble with his accent. “I understood everything that was being said around me, but they didn’t understand me,” he said.

The kids learned to dance a version of the quadrille, made bracelets with beads in the Jamaican colors, ate curry chicken rice and plantains for lunch. For dessert, they had grater cake, a coconut-and-sugar dessert that was Hemmings’ childhood favorite. “My grandmother used to make that,” he said.

Other cultures the musicians learned about this year were Australia, Spain and Native American. (Friday is reserved for getting ready for the show, eating fresh-fruit popsicles and having a water-balloon fight.)

Crafts are a favorite with the campers, with both Anthea and 8-year-old Mateo Plimpton remembering weaving on Finland day last summer as a highlight.

Another highlight: “The teachers are nice,” said Mateo, in third grade at Lincoln Elementary.

And then, of course, there’s the music.

“I like learning new songs,” Albany said. “I only go to violin lessons once a week.”