Songwriting workshop set to begin |

Songwriting workshop set to begin

Forest Charter School music teacher Toon Vandevorst will hold his annual summer singer-songwriter workshop, focused on helping local residents from all musical backgrounds to learn to write and perform their original songs.

“I’ve been teaching this workshop for four years,” Vandevorst said.

“It’s kind of an intensive week that’s open to people that write lyrics and are comfortable singing, but I’ve had people anywhere from beginners to people who have written songs their whole lives.”

Held this year from July 17-27, the workshop is a series of collaborative group sessions. By the end of the workshop, each student leaves with one original song they’ve written and performed with some form of accompaniment or a cappella at Vandevorst’s casual concerts held previously at the Broad Street Bistro and the Stonehouse Old Brewery in Nevada City.

“We keep it really low key; we invite friends and family; and we let the participants perform material that they’ve just written,” Vandevorst said. “I don’t call it a concert. It’s more like a presentation. It’s for them to show people what they’ve worked on in the workshop, and we do the best with the performance, and it has actually gone pretty well in the past.”

The $180 workshop gives participants an opportunity to sit down and listen to well and lesser-known songs and then analyze them in a group discussion. The workshop also includes a separate one-hour lesson with Vandevorst.

“We do exercises that help improve someone’s songwriting skills, and they receive feedback on their songs,” Vandevorst said.

“It’s a group environment where they are able to feed off of each other, which is really great to experience.”

Valerie Stuart has attended the workshop two summers in a row and said that participants in the group include seasoned musicians, as well as young kids and “newbies.”

“The 10-day process was designed by Toon to act as muse and instructor while being a safe, friendly environment,” Stuart said.

“Toon was really focused in on creating a welcoming lesson while making truly critiquing suggestions. He was neither overbearing nor pandering and quite able to get the best out of his students. We had a lot of creative freedom while being given real perspectives for improvement.”

Also a singer-songwriter and composer in his own right, Vandevorst was born and raised in the Netherlands, and his musical influences range from Radiohead, Jack White and Sufjan Stevens to Randy Newman, Paul Simon and The Beatles. Since 2007, Vandevorst has recorded six albums at home.

As the assistant artistic director for InConcert Sierra and the Sierra Master Chorale, Vandevorst studies Indian classical music with, and is assistant to, legendary composer Terry Riley. He is also the accompanist for the choir program at Bear River High School in Grass Valley.

“Toon was able to make clear things that I had read in books,” workshop participant Guy Tortorici said.

“So he had brought those things to life; he was able to give examples. During the workshop you’re allowed to ask questions, and with his knowledge he was able to explain items and answer questions that anyone had.”

To register for Vandevorst’s workshop, go to or contact Vandevorst at

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email or call 530-477-4236.

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