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Old Folk Home

Directors envision Encino Park facility as a venue for music, dance and storytelling.

September 22, 2000|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the good part of the last two decades, Elaine and Clark Weissman, who head the California Traditional Music Society, have organized and managed the annual Summer Solstice Festival.

But just when they hired a new festival director to run the mammoth three-day event, the husband-and-wife team found something new to do. Late last year, the music society won a competitive award from the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department for a free five-year lease on the 1,100-square-foot building in Encino Park. Thus was born the Encino Folk Music Center.

"Folk music teaches us about our past and who we are," said Elaine, the society's executive director. "There's something so special about this musical umbilical cord to our past, our culture."

The new folk music center is not much more than administrative office space for the festival and other programs, but the Weissmans have big plans. For one thing, the building has a performance area equipped with a sound system, stage lights, chairs and a kitchen. The Weissmans want to share the space with folk music, dance and storytelling groups for meetings, workshops, rehearsals and small gatherings.

"We've opened the center to nonprofit companies that never had a facility to present their stuff," Elaine said.

The L.A. Dreamshapers are using the center for storytelling concerts, and the California Dance Co-op has presented folk music concerts there. But except for some impromptu mini-concerts, most days will find Elaine Weissman and festival director Tammy Javorsek working out logistics for the 2001 and 2002 festivals.

The Summer Solstice Festival is different from most folk music festivals because it focuses on teaching instead of performances. It usually offers more than 300 one-hour teaching workshops where people can learn a new instrument or pick up a new musical style. Subjects can include Cajun accordion and hammered dulcimer, as well as folk dance, crafts and storytelling. Teachers are flown in from all over the world. The festival even offers loaner instruments to novices in some classes. Until this year, the Weissmans ran the festival out of their Tarzana home.

They started it in 1980 in Beverly Hills. Next June's event will be their 19th. Over the years, it has moved around from Beverly Hills to Cal State Northridge to Soka University in Calabasas, where it has been held for the past 10 years. The festival took a two-year hiatus in 1997-98 as the Weissmans searched for a festival director to share the administrative load.

Eventually they found a kindred spirit in Javorsek, the former owner with husband Frank of the Blue Ridge Pickin' Parlor in Canoga Park, a music store that specializes in bluegrass and acoustic music.

Elaine Weissman wants to eventually establish exhibits and educational displays related to folk music and arts in the Folk Center. This month, the center began offering group lessons in bluegrass fiddle, Scottish fiddle, bluegrass banjo, guitar and mandolin.

Besides the Summer Solstice Festival, the California Traditional Music Society is involved in educational programs. Last spring, the society brought 27 folk music programs to schools in the San Fernando Valley, exposing more than 7,000 children to clogging, Andean folk music, dulcimer, bluegrass, Celtic music, mandolin, storytelling and folk music instruments.

"We're keeping folk music alive to teach people about our culture and other people's cultures," Elaine Weissman said.

BE THERE

California Traditional Music Society's Folk Music Center, Encino Park, 16953 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 817-7756 or www.ctms-folkmusic.org.

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