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DianeB

News from the Retreat

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Maybe it was intuition, premonition, or just the weather forecast, but it told me to be prepared and keep my head up on this trip. I'm glad I listened.

Monday and Tuesday were beautiful fall days driving through the golden mountains of Virginia and East Tennessee. I settled into my hotel outside Knoxville last night after dinner to watch Steve and Dommie on the live lesson. Okay, I thought, time for one more practice pass on my étude, then I'll watch the World Series. I picked up my guitar and -- Blunngg! -- the D string blew. It's a year old hybrid classical with the original strings, which I figured had just finally finished stretching out. No spares, and I was scheduled to play my ditty in A in 48 hours. Swell.

Today, Wednesday, dawned cloudy, then came the Tennessee Wash. A deluge. Remember how I described I-40 west of Knoxville as an exhilarating downhill run in good weather? This time, it was an X Games water slide competition with UPS tractor trailers doing 70.

When I landed in the foothills for lunch, it was a hour earlier. Either I was hauling the mail at relativistic speeds, or I crossed time zones. I called Gruhn's and threw myself at their mercy. Yes, Julio would be happy to help with the guitar. See you in a couple of hours. Indeed, not only did Julio restring it for me, he patiently showed me exactly how to do it. My hero! He'll be with us on Friday.

As I rolled to a stop and switched off the engine here at my hotel in Cool Springs, Dave White called. What timing. If we were a band, we'd be crazy tight. We scooped up Collin and enjoyed talking shop over an exquisite dinner together. Tomorrow, we'll meet up at Deer Run.

Tonight, I have to figure out a way to get new nylon strings to do a month's worth of stretching in 24 hours. Hmmmm, there's a steam iron in the closet. Use the silk setting?

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Retreat? It sounds more like an adventure!

I tune my classical guitar one semitone high for the first few days to help the strings settle. 24 hours is not long; I hope it all works out well for you, Diane.

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For some reason reading your blog here.

I started singing Take Me Home Country Road..

Don't know why, but that song is in my ukulele set list and I've performed it at least 4x this year.

Enjoy

 

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Great first post, Diane! I am so bummed that I couldn't attend this year... I am in a wedding in another part of the country and I can't project myself there holographically yet so I wasn't able to come to the Retreat. I am already signed up for the summer Gathering next year though, and I can't wait to see everyone again. Good luck with your performance, I will look for the video!

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Our first day began with more cold rain and wind. I made another run to Gruhn's in the morning to practice my homework on a $14,000 Breedlove. What harm could it do? Then it was off to the airport to pick up Patrick, a veteran of the first retreat. The rain relented as we arrived at Deer Run to a full house, found our rooms and roommates, and settled in the now familiar living room for Steve's welcome.

A few of my companions volunteered to get us started with some of their favorite tunes. There are more attendees this year, more women, and some are staying in the freestanding cabins. I counted 32 dinner settings. The opening acts for the evening concert were Carol, Gregg ("with three Gs"), Vic, Dommie, and (gulp) me. Sigh. Nerves got me tonight; it wasn't my best. Fortunately Collin was behind me to clear the air. We have a pro photographer, Chuck, grabbing candids when he's not playing harp guitar in costume as Sasquatch. It is Halloween, after all.

Finally, our featured artist, Van Larkins performed for our evening concert. His set was partly a reprise of the pieces he played at the Gathering, which is to say, jaw dropping. I reached for my phone to take pictures, and found the battery was dead. At least my luck this week is consistent.

We wound down the evening with hot cider and snacks, passed around the harp guitars, bugged Van for autographs, and milled around the fire pit in the back yard. Collin and Gregg were still jamming in the dining room when I headed for the showers. Time to file this with the front desk before deadline. My fingers need a good night's sleep.

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Sunshine returned this morning and defrosted the Franklin countryside, to our collective relief. After a hearty breakfast, we assembled for Steve's exercises: a medley of finger swaps, spider crawls, and the notorious Phil Keaggy digital stretcher. Van Larkins followed with a surprisingly accessible tutorial on left hand hammering, even taking time to roam among us to check our technique and answer our individual questions.

After lunch most of us jammed the upstairs meeting room for Collin Hill's basic workshop. Meanwhile downstairs, Steve taught a session on jazz harmonizing. Collin continued with a more advanced lesson on a couple of his compositions, while I opted for Steve's more basic lesson on "All You Need Is Love" in the dining room. Next to us, my hero Julio quietly went about his business of checkups and setups.

Today's master class was led by Ian Ethan Case. "Give yourself permission to experiment, to try things," said the man who invented a wholly new playing style. "Don't sentence yourself to failure from the outset." We recessed for down time. I desperately needed a nap. During Collin's lesson, sleep deprivation, a ham sandwich, and chicken tortilla soup combined to anesthetize me; I could barely focus on the music.

After dinner, refreshed and recaffeinated, I settled in the living room for another set of delightful student performances. Four lucky campers won Keyser capos. Then Ian took his post at his monster pedalboard for the evening concert. He is a dazzling, modest, articulate, imaginative, and hard working artist. He and his wife Stephanie packed up the double neck guitars, the fretless guitar, the monster pedalboard and all the rest, waved goodbye, and dashed home to St. Louis tonight, only to return for Tuesday's live lesson. I think they like us.

We scattered for s'mores around the fire pit outside, shopping at the store, and jamming in the living room. I curled up under a wool throw in the lobby while Patrick serenaded me with "Autumn Leaves". Eleven o'clock, and Steve was a blur, helping Ian haul his gear, dumping trash, unpacking magazines. I was toast, so I said goodnight to my roomies Nancy and Marion and returned to the, ahem, editorial desk.

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After warm ups today, almost everyone crowded the living room for Collin's lesson. I took a chance and checked into Steve's cozier session on jazz voicings. I knew I had no chance of playing those progressions. But I held my own with the music theory, so I extracted a morsel of satisfaction.

We enjoyed an afternoon workshop on ear training -- identifying the I, IV, V, and vi, that is -- then Don Ross arrived to get us psyched for the evening concert. After a bit of baritone funk, it was time for recess.

I was roused from my nap by the familiar riff of Orleans' "Still the One" filtering up from the dining room. The source was Gregg and Steve, rehearsing. I stared, mesmerized.

After dinner, we had time for a few more student performances. But to my ear, these were too polished and proficient for the word "student". Gregg and Steve performed their duet of "Dance with Me", then Steve officially announced the dates for next year's retreat (Halloween week again). Next we made room for virtuoso Don Ross, with his fan fretted guitars and harp guitar. Don fought off a cold and sleep deprivation (airline issues) to put on a killer show.

We took a break for ice cream floats. I plopped into a couch with my nylon and discreetly shadowed Vic's progression for a few bars. Dave appeared with a new Maton fresh from Artisan's, and Collin helped him break it in. Vic and Patrick took turns, then Carol gave us an impressive "Classical Gas". The music went on until we were all exhausted.

We pick up an hour tonight but have to start a half hour earlier in the morning. Forgive my brevity, but I'm fuzzier than year old Elixir Polywebs. The finish line approaches.

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Thanks for taking the time to post this for us Diane!!! 

Sounds like you all are having a great time!!! :) 

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I hope the retreat ended as grandly as it began, and congrats to all you campers on all that you learned, and the memories made!

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Eat, tune, play. Just as we get settled into our rooms, adapt to our new routine, and get acquainted, it's time to wrap up. We started with an early 7:30 breakfast, finger exercises, and a bit more ear training. Our final lesson was a kind of panel discussion with Van Larkins, Collin, and Steve in the living room. They offered their thoughts on real world guitar learning. The practice world: mechanics, metronomes, scheduling, goals, motivation, and dealing with frustration. And the performance world: focus, automaticity, dealing with the unexpected and stage fright.

I sat in a literal corner, still wearing my metaphorical dunce cap from Thursday night. Don't you dare wear that home, my teachers implored. As I listened, I imagined myself reaching up, snatching the thing from my head and heaving it away into the lobby.

Finally it was time to leave. The sweet music that had filled the lodge was now replaced by the bass of thumping guitar cases and the treble of excited goodbyes. Hugs for all, from all. This is my guitar family. As Steve said this week, we leave no one behind. We're on the same mission, no matter what our skill -- to bring some beauty, some love, some magic into the world.

I found Patrick. We loaded our gear into my car, and set off for the airport for his return flight. In a few days, my new friend will be in the cockpit of an Air Canada jetliner somewhere over the Pacific on his usual run. Later, he will check into his hotel in Shanghai, retrieve the guitar he keeps there, and add another layer of polish to "Autumn Leaves".

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, I will pick up my guitar, with her new spandex-ey nylon strings and prop her up on my left leg. I will recall Steve eagerly coaxing, "Diane, come on, get up here." I'll be back. I haven't been left behind.

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Many thanks to our intrepid on scene reporter @DianeBfor your coverage and insights. It sounds like a memorable timd was had by all.  (Did anyone take any video? It would be nice to see/ hear  some of the sessions and performances on the GG Channel)

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Diane B, thanks again for a very melodic report on another great Family Gathering.  Sounds amazing to be there in the midst of such nice folks and great music.  Hope to go next year.

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Diane,

Your gift of capturing the heart of the moments we shared and writing them down is wonderful.

I'll submit a full recap once I catch up on my sleep and dig out from the mound of audio gear, snacks, and guitars in my garage.

I was telling Paulette yesterday that I regretted not being able to spend a bit more time with you hanging out and catching up.  We'll make it up next year.

Honored that you are part of our guitar family.

The thought of a Delaware trip has crossed our minds more than once!

- Steve

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Truly a class act.. thanks for sharing!

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Hey Diane- Thank you for keeping all of us home bodies tuned in and up-to-speed with the Retreat. I always enjoy your guitar editorials.

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Well, gang, I'm finally home. Thank you for reading and for all your kind words. Correction: the song Steve and Gregg (on the far left in the group photo) played that roused me from my nap so sweetly was Orleans' "Dance with Me". Don Ross is third from the right. The only persons not pictured, I think, are Collin, who was off to do a podcast that afternoon, and, of course, our photographer Chuck. The winner of the big prize, a Fishman Bluetooth-equipped Loudbox Mini, was my roomie Marion, a mere 9,000 miles from her home in Brisbane, Australia. Now, that's dedication.

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Congrats Marion on the Loudbox Mini! I hope you put it to good use!

For those who haven't been to a Gathering, Marion is the nicest person ever and is super fun to have around the Gatherings, so I'm glad she won a big prize 🙂

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Sounds like a wonderful few days in spite of your initial misfortunes. You always have a gift for sharing the essence of the events with great flair and humor. Thanks so much for your colorful journal of the retreat.

 

Greg

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