Curtain Call: Burns teaching folk music through fun, fearlessness

Curtain Call: Burns teaching folk music through fun, fearlessness

October 20th, 2011 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Christie Burns, foreground, is joined by Laura Candler, a fiddle student at the Folk School of Chattanooga, during a sidewalk performance on Main Street.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.


Hometown: Cinnaminson, N.J.

Age: 32.

Education: Ethnomusicology degree from UCLA, master's degree in folk music from Western Kentucky.

Vocation: Director of the Folk School of Chattanooga/musician/teacher.


Movie: "The Muppet Movie."

Play: "Into the Woods" or "West Side Story."

Author: Wendell Berry.

Performer: Georgia Crackers.

Christie Burns first came to Chattanooga in the mid-'90s after being invited to fill in for street performer and fellow hammer-dulcimer player Dan Landrum.

After getting her undergraduate and graduate degrees in music, with a concentration on folk music, and a three-year stint in Ireland, she was looking for a place to live and work. Two things helped her settle on Chattanooga.

First, Landrum suggested she might want to return here for the 21st Century Waterfront opening celebration, and later Allied Arts introduced its ArtMove program, which offered financial incentives for creatives willing to move here.

Today, she is co-founder and co-director of the Folk School of Chattanooga. The school is designed to introduce people to traditional music through classes, concerts, informal jams sessions, support and anything else they can think of.

One of the things Burns is most proud of is a very informal weekly gathering she's put together for young kids in the Jefferson Heights neighborhood she calls the Southside Hootenanny Band.

"It's really rough-sounding, but it's fun," she said. "It is the sound of fun and fearlessness.

"What's the point of it? That's the mission of the Folk School, so that kids will grow up and think, 'Of course that's what you do: You grab your instrument and go to the park and play for fun.'"

Q: What brought you to Chattanooga?

A: I was kind of loving Chattanooga for a while, and then the ArtsMove program was introduced. It fit all of my criteria. I had been here before.

Q: Were you coming here to play or to just visit?

A: I was doing things with Dan Landrum or filling in for him when he was off. I was doing those street-performance things. It all had to do with the hammer dulcimer, but now I play other things as well. Well, maybe not as well, but you know what I mean.

Dan suggested that I might want to come down for the waterfront celebration. He said it was going to be cool with music and dancers dangling from the bridge. It was really cool, and the whole city was there and all of the dancing and music. It was a beautiful day. Then ArtMoves allowed me to move into Jefferson Heights. Once here, I kept finding all these other opportunities to play and to teach and to get involved, so I decided to pursue my music.

Q: It sounds like you could be the poster child for the whole arts in Chattanooga movement.

A: I've really taken advantage of the many CreateHere and Allied Arts programs. I signed up for Springboard, which was one of those things that came out of CreateHere. It was a business planning class. It walked you through all the steps of preparing a business plan. It wasn't like the perfect business plan, and I was the class clown, but the Folk School came out of it.

Q: Was it always your plan to open the Folk School?

A: When I moved here, I was married, and I was working off a totally different plan. That's another story. When I first got here, CreateHere did not exist. Once it started I was like, "Yeah, I'll take advantage of that."

I had a regular job that was non-music-related. It required me to leave Chattanooga, and I hated leaving the city. I wanted to be downtown to see what was happening. On the Southside, every time you blinked, something new popped up.

Q: When did you open the Folk School?

A: Two falls ago.

Q: What is its mission?

A: Our mission is to make Chattanooga a more musical place by teaching people to play traditional instruments like the banjo, hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, fiddle, guitar, Dobro, pedal steel guitar, upright bass, Irish flute, tin whistle, singing, piano and mandolin. We focus on traditional music where the whole point is to learn from somebody else and not from books. We learn in jam settings. We have these private and group lessons all the time. We occasionally have parties, and we are intertwined with most of the local folk players.

I'd like to live in a city that is known for musical participation and where the general population has a knowledge and love for a wide range of music.