Well, here I am, once again teaching banjo during Bluegrass Week at Augusta Heritage in Elkins, West Viriginia. As you know, Casey is also here and we are sharing a room in one of the college dorms. Here is a picture of my side of the room. Along with a picture of our food stash.
Murphy and Casey's room at Augusta
I have a wonderful intermediate banjo class of seven students, all adults. Six men, one woman. The first day we also had 17-year-old Jake in with us, but when we found out he had learned from tab (and could actually play!) we kicked him out! In truth, he was way too advanced for us so I sent him up to Tony Trischka’s class. (Along with a note that he was a tab reader!)
Slight digression: At the staff meeting Sunday night, the instructors were told that the college would Xerox a certain amount of tablature for the teachers, ten pages per student. Tony immediately asked if he could have my tab allowance! Naturally, I said yes, but I made him kiss my ring first!
On Monday night Tony did a History of the Banjo presentation, solo, at the Elkins Art Center where I was startled to see a lifesized poster of my son Chris playing his mandolin! It was positioned facing the
Murphy and Casey's food stash.
audience so while I was watching Tony, Chris was watching me! Slightly surreal! Tony was gracious enough to ask me what he should start his show with, so I suggested his original tune “New York Chimes” (a wordplay on New York Times) which I love. The whole show was wonderful, including Tony’s story about calling Pete Seeger on the phone to ask a question about how to play “Coal Creek March” and talking to Pete while he was in the bathtub! The mind boggles....
But you might be wanting to know what we are doing in class. Monday we began working on improvising! We started with “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” (of course), playing the entire tune with forward and backward rolls. This then became our “lousy level” (Casey’s term from John Hartford) to which we could then return when the other stuff we added (pulloff, slide, tag, etc) became too difficult. Or if we just forgot what we were doing! Tuesday we put on the capo at the second fret, to play in A, and did the same thing with “Bury Me Beneath The Willow,” adding a rather difficult C lick (the double square roll). Today it was back to BRCH, only this time we were doing it in the key of C—without a capo. When we finished with that, I sensed brain fatigue so we filled out the rest of the class time by picking. Each student suggested a song so we did:
Washed in the Blood
I Saw the Light
Old Joe Clark
Lonesome Road Blues
There were a few trains wrecks along the way, but all in all I think we done good! Everyone in the class is very brave and jumps right in and does the best they can. And we are getting plenty of practice vamping!
After class every afternoon me and my fiddle (or, if you prefer, my fiddle and I) have been joining the throng of students on the giant wrap-around porch of Halliehurst Mansion for Casey’s Slow Jam. Casey came up with the brilliant idea of jamming each day in a specific key, so no time is lost fooling around with capos. Monday it was G, Tuesday it was A, and today, Wednesday, will be C. Which my class is now well-acquainted with (to use more bluegrass grammar!). Casey and I are both looking forward to the Key of C which is where we are more comfortable singing, G and A being too low. Although we were getting some nice duet harmony yesterday on “Amazing Grace” and “Mountain Dew.”
As I wind down this blog, it is pouring rain outside, so I am skipping the after lunch concert in favor of a small nap. I’m pretty sure I will drift off with the sounds of today’s lesson in my mind. “There’s a well-beaten path on that old mountain side....” In the Key of C, of course!