The new year is here, and we were very happy to sing in our first New Year together, with friends old and new at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop (PSGW) New Year’s retreat. This is such a good deal I want everyone to know about it; food and lodging for four days and nights, and singing/playing  till the wee hours every morning.

These camps attract musicians at all levels, from beginner to professional. There were many guitars along with basses, fiddles, banjos, dulcimers, and the like. There was even a double-strung harp played by a very accomplished musician. The most unique instrument, however, was the ”banjo-bass.” It was constructed by Peter Jones of Port Townsend, who is also known for his racing kinetic sculptures. The bass has a good thump to it and was used for a fiddle jam Saturday night. If you don’t want to drag an upright bass to the parking lot jam, I’d recommend it over a washtub for its volume and portability.
bass banjo, guitar and mandolin players.

Jammin' at PSGW New Year's Retreat 2009-2010: Hank Payne, LarryLeggett, and Zeke Hoskin

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Claire’s four bits: I have often wondered what it would be like to be part of a community where music-making is almost more important than eating, and over New Year’s I got my answer.  This community was not the rarefied environment of a music school where everyone is about the same age and the focus in on preparing to make a living or take the world by storm. It was also not the music theory-oriented environment I knew as the daughter of a college music professor.

This was a rag-tag, pick-up band kind of gang, with kids (and grown-up kids) playing Ping-Pong, Boggle, and Catan when they were not themselves wowing the rest of us with their fiddle or guitar playing.  No planned activities at this camp, beyond a fancy dinner and Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, and a concert we gave ourselves on Friday night. Oh, and there was that whistle choir!

About 40 people total, we convened in groups of 2, 5, 8 or more, scattered throughout the roomy spaces available.  At any one time, except during meals, there were 4-5 separate clusters of music-makers.  Someone would sit down and begin playing: swing, jazz, blues, folk. I was pulled into one group of 6 people who were determined to get the harmonies right in the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tune Helplessly Hoping. We did, too.  Within a few minutes of someone settling down to play, others gravitated like iron filings to a magnet, adding their unique musical gifts and exploring one piece after another, sometimes in the manner of a song circle, and sometimes with no particular protocol. No one was in charge of the music we made.  Someone would get up to stretch or find something to eat, and the dynamic shifted.  All day long, the energy shifted again, and again, and again, until everyone had reluctantly gone to bed, only long enough to rest fingers and shoulders and backs so they could work their marvelous magic again the next day.

So, I like the answer I got about community music-making. I’ll do my small part (with Hank’s help) to carry it on every New Year’s and keep it alive from January to December every year.

This New Year’s retreat is surprisingly affordable as far as New Year extravaganzas go.  PSGW sponsors two more weekend retreats in February and May, as well as three weeklong workshops in July/August. If you have any interest at all in playing, singing, or learning, check them out on-line at  http://www.langston.com/PSGW/.

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