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Advanced Banjo Camp: Tip Jar Jammers Shine By Murphy Henry

Posted by caseyhenry on Thursday, June 14, 2018

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Our Advanced Banjo Camp in April was a rousing success! Daughter Casey and the magnificent Tom Adams did the teaching while I did my “little part” by facilitating the concerts and helping to lead the late-night jamming.

The idea of doing an Advanced Camp hit my brain like an arrow last year right after Tom and David McLaughlin and Marshall Wilborn finished their concert at our Intermediate Camp. I immediately called Casey to see if she was okay with the idea and when she gave me the go-ahead I asked Tom right then if he would consider teaching at this as-yet-to-be-figured out camp. In his gracious way he said, “Sure!” Then I said, “You know you’ll have to teach without tab. Are you okay with that?” And again, it was,  “Sure!”

We couldn’t have been happier with his teaching—he concentrated on “rolling backup” done in first position—and how easy he was to work with. Thanks, Tom!

Casey focused primarily on the material from the our new DVD, Key of C & Beyond: Improvising in C & D. Quite a number of students were interested in learning to play in “open C” (no capo), which I wrote about in March. As advanced students, they know from experience what a pain it is to always have to capo up to the fifth fret to play in C and how limiting it is not to be able to play comfortably in D and E and even F. And while those keys have always been used in “traditional bluegrass,” with more women starting to attend local jams and sing, it’s important to be able to play in the keys that women tend to sing in. And women, it’s important for you to sing in the keys that fit your voice. “Say with glee, I sing in D!”

When the evening concerts were over, I led one jam session while Tom led the other. I told the students they could go to whichever jam they liked but anyone who wanted to play Blackberry Blossom should go with Tom! About half the class preferred Blackberry Blossom to Cripple Creek!

My jam lasted almost two hours, ending around 10:00 after everyone had “called” two songs. Almost all of these were three-chord “singing” songs done in whatever key the singer wanted. I retained “veto” power because I wanted everyone to be able to take breaks at least by doing “roly polys.” I vetoed only two songs. One was John Prine’s Paradise, in 6/8 time, a hard time signature to play in off the cuff or “on the cuff,” for that matter! The other was Banks Of The Ohio because, as I told Rick who suggested it, “Nope. No women-killing songs. Choose another one.” He understood and suggested Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms instead. Much better to be rolling in your sweet baby’s arms than to have your sweet baby murder you.

Somewhere along the line, knowing that I had no official duties on Sunday, I got the idea to have the Tip Jar Jammers do the Sunday Morning Gospel Show. Casey and I had gotten into the habit of singing a few gospel songs to kick off the final day of camp because we don’t get any other time to play together! So, I thought, “Why not let the Tip Jar Jammers do this?”

I fired off an email to the five Jammers who were at camp saying Casey had okayed our doing a gospel show Sunday morning (9:00 am) and suggesting the songs I wanted them to sing: When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder (Dan), Prayer Bells Of Heaven (David aka Nellie), Amazing Grace (George), Will The Circle Be Unbroken (Gregg), and Where The Soul Of A Woman Never Dies (Kathy; duet with me). They were all willing, bless their hearts, and so, with no rehearsal, we “gave ‘em a few tunes.” Casey played bass and I played guitar. David wore a Special Sunday Shirt that said, “Take me to church” under a picture of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the Mother Church of country music.

I cannot begin to tell you how proud I was of their performance. Normally, when I lead the Jam I sit--in my Special Pink Chair, which Dolores Umbridge would have loved--in front of the group. At our camp performance, I was sitting in the middle of the group so the players had to work to see me. And since we hadn’t had time to “arrange” these songs, they all had to make eye contact with me to see if it was time for their break. So after every chorus, five sets of eyes would fasten on me and I would give someone the nod. (So much power!) Jamming has taught them to be on the lookout. Constant vigilance! I loved seeing this as much as I loved hearing them pick and sing well. Which they did.

Now, let me remind you of this: three of those performers had never sung before joining the Tip Jar Jam. Never. Ever. Sung. Dan had been told, both as a kid and an adult, that he could not sing. And George, who has a magnificent voice, had never sung solo. Yet here they all were, sitting in front of a group of their eagled-eared peers, singing their hearts out and picking their banjos. I felt like a proud mother. (I was expecting Mother’s Day cards. Alas, they didn’t get the memo!)

Most of these folks didn’t take up the banjo (and singing) until significantly past the middle of their lives. So, YOU CAN DO THIS! I’m using all caps because I’m shouting! I hope reading about the Tip Jar Jammers encourages you to keep at it or to give it one more try. (We have DVDs…!)

If you need a pick-me-up, a little boost, or the encouragement you get from being around other adults who are on the same path, we have our Women’s Banjo Camp July 27-29 and our Beginning Banjo Camp October 26-28.

You can order our brand-new DVD/download Key of C & Beyond: Improvising in C & D taught by Casey Henry.

And finally, a shout out to Yennie Dee, founder of the Handsome Ladies, who came all the way from California to join us! Great to have you! Y’all come back now, y’hear!

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