This weekend was a BLAST. I attended, for only the second time, a small but absolutely fantastic gathering in Irving, TX called the Winter Festival of Acoustic Music. This year, Chuck and Karen Daniels and Charles Whitmer were the workshop leaders in autoharp.
The first year I attended I took workshops with Charles Whitmer. Mr. Whitmer opened my eyes to amazing variations in strums. I learned exercises to take home and practice and I didn’t even have my own autoharp yet! Also, I was fitted with nice brass picks by Chuck Daniels (brass on the fingers and plastic for the thumb pick) and I wandered around asking the names of the many other instruments I saw around the festival. WOW!
I registered for both days and purchased the T-shirt. I planned ahead and had my hotel room right away and printed the flier, directions to the hotel, and workshop schedules from the website, maps from mapquest, and wrote the confirmation number on the pages (This was a very good thing since the hotel had a bit of trouble finding my registration! Still, all turned out well with a nice clean room). This entire packet I then fastened together and displayed prominently in anticipation.
I attended workshops by Karen Daniels. Something she said that really struck a note was how we should be open to exploring. This was good advice and I went off to lunch and purchased two kinds of other finger picks to try! I have no idea what they are called, but I found out that the brass picks I have used this past year are still the most comfortable, but that some other designs encourage me to curl my fingers more and pick more sharply. I found the change in how I held my hand to be extremely interesting.
I continued the exploration theme with the purchase of a bodhran. A friend introduced me to the proper pronunciation (rhymes with moron) and one method of holding the drum and using the stick on it. Not as easy as it looks but fascinating! Sadly, I did not get to take the workshop on the bodhran because it conflicted with the Chuck Daniels workshop. Perhaps next year!
The final workshop on the first day was by Chuck Daniels on the care of autoharps. Perhaps learning to care for my own autoharps is not as frightening as I feared. Removing felt, changing wire, and cleaning were made far less mysterious. Did you know that autoharp felts shed?
SATURDAY: The SECOND day of the festival was the big adventure!
I arrived early, Oscar Schmidt autoharp from the mid-70’s and strings purchased from Mr. Lewis in my hands, and a piece of paper with my limited notes on the plan to convert this autoharp to a Bb-F-C diatonic layout MYSELF. Of course in the end, there were bits of pieces that Mr. Daniels did for me while showing me how to do it but I did the bulk of the work myself under his patient tutelage. He is a very clear and patient instructor.
My dear hubby says, knowledge is a form of freedom. If I can do the work myself, then instead of HAVING to pay someone else to do the work, I MAY CHOOSE to pay someone else to do the work.
We began with the feet. Mr. Daniels demonstrated how to remove the wooden feet. I removed the second and third ones and then he showed me how to put on the rubbery feet and I did the other two of those. I had no idea how big a difference that small change can make!
Mr. Daniels showed me how to remove the chord bar set, and that you can just run tape around it and it really will stay all together! He drilled the new pilot holes and showed me how chord bar sets (I chose a set by Mr. Daniels for this autoharp and they are really pretty!) need to be placed.
Next, he showed me how to remove a string: turning the peg three times, carefully freeing the wire from the autoharp, making sure the hole in the peg faced the correct direction, and how to install the new strings– and I installed the strings myself! It was so cool. I worked all morning but by the lunch break I had all new strings on my autoharp!!
I also learned that the long necked L-shaped tuning wrenches work VERY well to remove strings but that I still prefer the T-shaped ones for tuning. I had NO idea how many times in a row you had to tune the new strings before they seat properly and begin to settle into holding their tune. It was quite the eye opener!
Mr Daniels had lots of practical advice such as adding pictures to my notes by using my cell phone to snap pictures of the tools I used so I could later buy my own. It will be a breeze to find what I need simply by holding up the phone with the picture so that the guy at the hardware store can show me directly to what I need.
LUNCH: Old friends and new acquaintances
I met someone from Cleveland OH! He retired, moved to a warmer climate, and bought himself a hammered dulcimer. It was a delightful surprise to meet someone from my home state.
I also spotted a friend of my husband who was there to enjoy the performances and explore this cozy little festival.
The afternoon was spent following directions to install the felts on the bars, and marking and cutting felt, and that was amazing too. I had a marvelous time learning.
I had thought I wanted three lock bars on this autoharp, but in the end decided to accept advice and go with two more chords and ONE lock bar in the key of C.
For those who don’t know, a lock bar deadens the strings that sound the notes NOT in the key you are using. I find the ringing sound that happens when you strum with the lock bar down beautiful.
END OF DAY
With lots of guidance, encouragement, and well timed help by Mr. Daniels, I finished off the day with a beautifully turned out Bb-F-C diatonic autoharp!
I cannot express fully the gratitude I feel for this valuable learning experience. To all those who helped to advance my education this weekend–THANK YOU!
Next, I must decide between the AE conversion I have planned and the updating of a nice silvertone.
Dear Lord, please bless the people who plan and work to make the Winter Festival of Acoustic Music happen. Please bless the men and women who teach the workshops. Please bless especially Chuck and Karen Daniels for the incredible amount of learning they made possible for me. Thank YOU for these people and this amazing event. +Amen.