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Sore Fingers Summer School 2007

Posted by Ian_banjo on Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Having survived and thoroughly enjoyed the Autumn weekend Sore Fingers, I decided to try the full week.  I nearly didn't, as we are about to leave for North Carolina to experience MerleFest and a couple of other fairly major bluegrass festivals.

There were three banjo tutors on the course:  John Dowling (of Frank Skinner fame - that will mean nothing to our US friends, but my UK colleagues will understand!), Janet Beazley and Noam Pikelny.  When I booked, I opted for Janet's class, mainly because I had bought her 5 South album last year and loved her playing and musicality.  As it turned out, this was a very wise choice.  Janet is a lovely person with a remarkably sunny disposition (maybe it comes from living in California): very encouraging, very upbeat, full of humour and always ready to find something positive to say about anyone's playing.  She is very much a traditional bluegrass player, in the Scruggs mould.  What she plays is relatively simple, but she makes it sound wonderful because of her impeccably tasteful timing and tone.

We spent a lot of time working with the metronome on basic licks, exercises and standard Scruggs breaks and backup.  It was amazing how this benefited us over the week, as we started off galloping away ahead of the beat, but by the fourth day, we were pretty rock solid.  This is clearly so important and valuable, it will be an essential ingredient of my practice sessions from now on (as soon as I buy a decent metronome, that is - our old pendulum one is too quiet for me to hear easily).  We also studied some of the playing of Ron Block, to see how innovative he is in moving away from standard Scruggs style licks, while still retaining use of the basic forward roll.  Janet is clearly a fan of Ron's and showed us how we could incorporate some of his ideas into our own arrangements.  She illustrated this by incorporating a Ron Block two-measure C lick into Bury Me Beneath the Willow.   Helping us develop our own arrangements, based strictly around the melody, was another key part of her course.

The week was enlivened by a lot of official and unofficial events, ad-hoc jamming, an organised tag jam (bringing together all the intermediate guitar, fiddle, banjo, dobro and mandolin students), formally organised and tutored scratch bands (I ducked out of this, as I didn't feel ready for it), various drop-in workshops on different instruments, a session on band organisation and song arrangement, the student scratch band concert and, finally, the tutors concert.  Both of these were to a stunningly high standard and every single soloist in the fourteen band line up of the scratch band concert got an enthusiastic round of applause.  The student dobro playing in particular was consistently brilliant.  The tutors' concert was stunningly good and both John and Noam, at different times played absolutely virtuoso performances of their very advanced music.

By the way, although the majority of the students were British, there was an excellent showing from Scandinavia, Germany, Spain and other European countries.

The student scratch band concert was MC'd by Rich Moore, who has a wicked sense of humour, the butt of which was, as often as not, banjo players.  Rich was taking a singing class, so on the last day, Janet decided that we should get our own back.  After a few minutes rehearsal, we invaded their class while brushing vigorously on the strings behind the bridge, to make an appalling screechy din (reminiscent of the fiddle squeeks during the shower scene in the original Psycho!)  Once we had the singers surrounded, Janet explained that we were there to get our revenge and then counted us in.  Then, all together, we played the standard "shave and a hercut" lick - but finishing on the F#, omitting the final G.  On that, we quietly left, to a<

1 comment on “Sore Fingers Summer School 2007”

mrphysics55 Says:
Sunday, December 2, 2007 @11:19:44 AM

Speaking of sore fingers ... that's a LOOOONG Blog ... and quite entertainig to read. Cheers, Eddie

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