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Tip Jar Jammers Play First Gig At Presbyterian Church (Also Beginning Banjo Camp) By Murphy Henry

Posted by caseyhenry on Thursday, July 28, 2016

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Banjo-picking Preacher Dan to the congregation: Look at all these banjos. There’s a joke here somewhere. How many banjos do you have to have in church before Jesus comes back? Eight. (Laughter.) You’ll notice we have seven. (More laughter.)

Dan, turning to Murphy: And you said it wasn’t funny in rehearsal.

Murphy: I’m not Presbyterian! (Bigger laughter!)

And so began our debut at the First Presbyterian Church in Winchester. The Tip Jar Jammers played five songs: Somebody Touched Me, I’ll Fly Away, Jesus On The Mainline, I Saw The Light, and Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Two of these were “specials,” which in the Baptist Church is what we called solos that were usually sung by someone in the choir. Our “specials” featured Dan—who also had to do the preaching and praying--singing Jesus On The Mainline and Kasey Smelser singing I Saw The Light. The Jammers harmonized on the choruses. On the other three songs, the congregation joined in, reading the words from huge monitors. All the songs except for Jesus on the Mainline were in the key of C.

“Why are we doing all the songs in C?” one of the Jammers asked during a rehearsal.

“Why do you think?” I answered Socratically.

“Because it’s a good key for the congregation?”

“Well, that’s probably true,” I said, “but that’s not the reason.”

“Why, then?”

“Because that’s where I sing them best!” Bada bing!

We had twelve Jammers at the gig: Me, Dan, Betty, Janice, Lora Lee (fiddle), David, Kathy G., Kasey Smelser, Kathy H. (guitar), George, William (mandolin), and Kristina (bass). And, except for Kasey who gets her driver’s license next month, we are all comfortably middle-aged pickers. Sticklers for truth might point out that some of us, including moi, are somewhat north of the halfway point!

Here’s what I want you to marvel at: Some of these Jammers have been playing for two years or less. The others have been playing for three to four years. This was their first-ever gig and they all took breaks on all the songs and vamped during the singing. We did control the fear factor by having everyone take their breaks together, but my point is: if they can do it, you can do it.

And just so you can get a clear picture of how we performed, we used NO MUSIC, NO TAB, and NO WORDS. I did, at the last minute, write out set lists on giant pieces of cardboard and prop these up against the monitors.  Everyone played seated except for Dan and me, who stood at a couple of mikes in front of the group, and Kristina on bass.

This gig was made possible by the Tip Jar Jam and here’s why:   

It’s a Murphy Method jam, so everyone learns by ear. We also never look at words during the jam so the Jammers memorize the songs they sing before bringing them to the group. When Kasey Smelser was 12, I sometimes let her use her iPhone for words, but now that she’s All Grown Up, she has “put away childish things” and memorizes her words like everybody else.

The Jam spawned the “roly polys.” These “roly polys” are an easy way to make up a break using only Three Chords And The Truth. And the Truth here is a simple forward-backward roll. (I’ve written more about the roly polys here and here on our Murphy Method blog.) So if the Jammers forget their “Earl” breaks, they can fall back on the roly polys. Or they can make up new roly polys on the spot! It helps with the panic!

In the jam, everyone learns to use a capo to play in C. This means they learn to put it on fast and tweak the tuning fast. Essential for performance.

Then—and this surprised the starch out of me—some of the Jammers didn’t like to play capoed in C so this forced me to teach them roly polys in “C without a capo”! This time it was Three Chord Positions And The Truth, the Truth being the Foggy Mountain Breakdown Roll (2121,5215). “It sounds so good!” And it’s so easy.

And finally, most of us have been jamming together once a week for at least two years. So we’ve put in a lot of time on these tunes. And you know what they say about practice!

Was our gig perfect? No, it was not, but no gig is ever perfect. No song in a gig is ever perfect. (Which begs the question “What is perfect?” Other than the original Flatt and Scruggs cut of Foggy Mountain Breakdown…) But the beauty of the roly polys and all the jamming is that the Jammers can recover from mistakes they make and are on the alert for mistakes I make! So during our performance, when the group fell out of time with Dan and me during the kickoff to Jesus On The Mainline, did I worry? I did not. I knew as soon as we started singing, the Jammers would find us. And they did. Because everyone was paying attention to the music, and no one panicked and everyone did what they needed to do to get in sync. (I think that might be a metaphor for life….!)

So, here’s the advertisement! If YOU want to learn to play like the Tip Jar Jammers, you can start by coming to our Beginning Banjo Camp, October 28-30, 2016, in Winchester, Va. Daughter Casey and I do all the teaching. We even offer a novice class, taught by Tip Jar Jammer Kathy Hanson, for you or your friends who have never played. We can even furnish you a banjo. Beginners will learn to jam (slowly), to start hearing chord changes, to vamp, to sing (if you want to), to use a capo, and, best of all, to do the roly polys!

You do the roly polys and you turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about!

(Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

To make sure that everyone at Beginner Camp is on the same page, we do have some prerequisites. (Not for the novices.) These are not hard and you can read about them here. This year, we are offering two levels of classes: Beginning Beginners and Advanced Beginners. Each level has slightly different prerequisites.

What makes our camp different from all the other camps out there? (Which are wonderful, too.) You will be playing your banjo almost all of the time. More playing, less talking is our mantra. You will leave with sore fingers! Looking forward to seeing you!

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