Women’s Banjo Camp–WOW! WOW! WOW!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Casey and I are excited and proud to say that our first-ever women's banjo camp was a tremendous success! We had 18 women and 4 of these were young teens. I came away with a new nickname--AJ--for "Alpha Jammer" and Kathy Hanson was tagged "AJ Jr" for her outstanding leadership in the late night jams (which went on until 1 am on Friday and ended earlier, midnight, on Saturday!).


I was dubbed "AJ" after Casey and Janet and I did a Friday afternoon session on How To Jam. (This will become a standard Friday event at all our camps from now on.) This was more than just a "jam etiquette" session. We talked about "friendly" or "nice" jams and demonstrated what might happen there and we also talked about "not-so-nice" jams or "unfriendly" jams and demonstrated what might happen there.


Note: Many jams are not "unfriendly" on purpose--these are higher-level jams, often with seasoned players, who most always play fast, who know harder songs, and who don't cut newcomers any slack because they don't want the jam to be anything other than "top notch." Players assume other players will know the material so songs are often not even named--they are simply kicked off. You are expected to know what the song is AND THE KEY IT IS BEING PLAYED IN.


I got my nickname when I was demonstrating this "fast jam" procedure. I kicked off Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms as fast as I could play it without announcing the title. It was in the key of A which caused Janet to have to scramble for her capo. (Note: if a major player starts putting on her--or his--capo in a jam, it's a safe bet you are going to be playing in a different key! Get ready!) Of course, Casey knew the drill so she was totally able to come in singing the chorus with me right after I finished the kickoff. I also might have gotten the nickname because I admitted to actually liking some aspects of these fast jams! And for saying that I always wanted to be the only banjo player in a jam!


Casey and I mentioned that, in our experience, jams that featured mostly all women tend to be a bit more "touchy feely" with the drill being something like this. Everyone in the picking circle gets a chance to select a song. So the conversation often sounds like this:


It's your turn to pick a song, Casey.


Ok, what about Shenandoah Breakdown? Does everybody know that?


No, I don't play that one.


Okay, what about Daybreak in Dixie?


What key?


I do it in A.

(Mandolin player): Oh, I learned it in G. I can't do it in A.


Casey: Well, I can do it in G. Is that okay with everybody else?


Nods all around and the song gets played. And afterwards, the next person picks the song.


Some of the jam rules we mentioned were:


Whoever kicks the instrumental off is the one who ends it and puts on the ending lick. For anyone else to do this is rude.


For singing songs, most jams want only the three basic vocal parts: Lead, tenor, baritone. Don't sing along if the part is already covered.


If you are new to the jam and you get the nod to take a break, DON'T PASS IT UP. Even if you can't play something very good, at least play something! You might get one more chance, but if you pass up a break twice you are not likely to get asked again.


After our demonstration (which also included some jam session "role playing" by Martha and Susan), Casey and I were both worried that we had scared everybody off with too many rules and regulations! And these "unspoken" rules can be confusing when thrown at you all at one time. But afterwards, the women said they had really enjoyed the session and almost all of them felt it was better to be forewarned!


Of course our jams at the camp--with 18 banjos--were completely different from what we took to calling "real" jams. We usually had all the banjos playing the breaks together and we WELCOMED everyone singing all the time on whatever part they could sing.


Another highlight of the camp was our Harmony Singing Workshop which we did Sunday morning. Based on what I had learned about teaching harmony singing from the magnificent Janet Beazley (who is on our Harmony Singing Made Easy DVD), Casey and I were able to demonstrate all three vocal parts-- lead, tenor, and baritone--and have the women learn to sing each one. We all agreed that baritone was the hardest! We will definitely make this a part of our Women's Camps but it's almost impossible for women to teach harmony singing to men. (That's why Bill Evans and Chris Stuart are on our DVD!)


Lynn Morris was kind enough to drop by for lunch on Saturday. She mixed and mingled with the women there and I everyone was honored by her presence. We gave her one of our "Pick Like a Girl" T-shirts and she put it on and had her picture "took" with the rest of us. I gave her a copy of my book Pretty Good for a Girl because she has a whole chapter in it. She is truly one of the pioneers in bluegrass and I admire her so much.


banjo campers

Murphy Method Women's Banjo Camp Campers

Friday night Casey and I showed off the playing of our local women with an hour-long concert. Participating were: Kathy Hanson, Kathy Holliday, Kristina, Kasey Smelser, Barbara, Janet, Casey Henry, and moi. Did it go off without a hitch? No it did not, but the hitches were small (although I'm sure they didn't seem small to the hitchees) and I was so proud of everyone for being willing to be up there in front of a crowd giving it a shot. The audience responded enthusiastically and I thought Ben Smelser was going to swoon with pride when Kasey was singing I Saw the Light. Kasey said she even got a compliment from her brother who said, "Good job." She was ecstatic over that!


Saturday night mandolin player Tracey Rohrbaugh joined Casey and me for a concert. After only 7 minutes of rehearsal (!) we managed to pull together 9 or 10 songs that sounded really good. Tracey is an awesome singer and we were able to get some really good three-part harmony. Casey's Skype student, Sydney, one of our teenagers, was our special guest. She kicked off and sang Rocky Top and Blue Moon of Kentucky and did a fantastic job. Sydney actually has some stage experience because she plays in a band with her father and uncle. But I believe she said this was the first time she'd played with any other women. (I did notice Kasey watching Sydney like a hawk, so I'm thinking Rocky Top is likely to be a singing request soon!)


I'm totally out of time to say more if I'm gonna eat my oatmeal and take a shower before my teaching day starts.


Let me close by saying THANK YOU to all the wonderful women who came to the camp. Thanks for making it a success. I think there was a whole lot of bonding going on, and being a woman myself, I liked that!


And a special thanks to my totally awesome daughter Casey who came up with the idea for these camps to begin with and who shoulders the lioness's share of the detail work which I abhor. Couldn't do it without you, Case! You are the woman!


See all y'all next year. And don't forget our Mixed Gender Beginner's Camp October 25-27, 2013.



4 thoughts on “Women’s Banjo Camp–WOW! WOW! WOW!

  1. Kathy Jaeck

    Thank you for an amazing experience. What a perfect place to find my way back to picking again. I learned soooo much and cannot wait to get together again at some point, and actually be able to play in a jam successfully. You’re the best

  2. Carrie Srodulski

    What a great time. I had sooooo much fun and learned a lot. Waiting for the next camp.

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