This is a guest post by Mark Heilman, one of Murphy's banjo students students.
I was invited to attend Bob Mc's Apple Blossom Jam that he has held annually for a number of years and I was thrilled to receive the invitation. The thought of being around other people playing the music I love was very exciting. That feeling never went away but it was only a few seconds before another feeling came over me. Oh my God, this is a jam with who knows how many people and I'm going to be in the spotlight at some point.
Most of my banjo playing is done in my basement (a.k.a. closet) after my family goes to bed. So from 9:30 to 11:00 every night I play my Murphy Method DVD's and try to perfect my playing. At one point I decided I needed to take lessons directly from Murphy and it still took me a few weeks to make the call. I told Murphy that my first lesson with her felt like a job interview because I knew the inevitable words would come out her mouth, "Play something for me." So with all that in mind, I debated whether to accept the invitation to Bob’s jam or not. Ultimately I accepted because I felt like I could do it and I hate the thought of fear preventing me from having fun.
The morning of the jam I was up early because the parking in Winchester during Apple Blossom Festival is scarce. I also wanted to get to there as early I could without being annoying in order to achieve some level of comfort. I definitely did not want to walk into a room full of people already playing. So, Stelling in hand, I arrived before the other musicians, except for Bob of course. As the musicians started to arrive, I made some small talk and started feeling pretty good about things.
At some point it became obvious that pretty much everyone but Murphy was there. Susan was itching to get going and broke out her banjo and started tuning up. Well, that was all it took and case latches started popping all over the place. I have to say that I was almost running to get my banjo out which was a little surprising to me. At any rate, the first song out of the gate was Cripple Creek followed closely by Lonesome Road Blues. This suited me just fine because I knew I had those covered.
Shortly thereafter Murphy arrived, uncased a guitar and took a seat next to me, and the jamming got going in full swing. Almost immediately tunes started coming out that I had never heard before. I took a crack at any break that was G-C-D. As far as I was concerned, I had already jumped off the cliff just by showing up so why not. I think that I played okay considering but not great. Several times I got lost in breaks that I know because my mind went blank. I had to jump back in at the next chord change. At last, the call came for Salt Creek. This has been a personal favorite of mine since I was young and rarely does a day go by that I don't play it. At Murphy's direction, I kicked that one off and I did very well if I do say so myself. I think the last song was Foggy Mountain Breakdown played slow and then fast. Thanks to everyone for making my first jam so much fun.
A note from your teacher: Thanks for the blog, Mark! I thought Mark did very well, although as he said, there were some “deer in the headlights” moments. I was especially proud of his improvising. There were, I think, 11 players in all, including 7 banjo players, 3 guitars, and a mandolin. In addition to the Murphy Method standards, we also did:
Sitting On Top of the World
Banks of the Ohio
Life’s Railway to Heaven
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Somebody Touched Me/This Little Light of Mine/Jesus on the Mainline
Where the Soul of Man [or Woman!] Never Dies
And I probably could think of more but I have to go get ready to square dance! Got a new outfit! Whoo hoo! Allemande left with your left hand!