Volume 9, Issue 1, July, 2009

John Doan 2009 Harp Guitar Retreat

by Nate Blaustein

Considering the detailed accounts over the past several years concerning the Harp Guitar Gathering, I felt compelled to share with our community my experience at the Second Annual Harp Guitar Retreat conducted by John Doan.  This year I am unable to attend the Gathering due to family obligations; thus to fulfill my harp guitar needs I spent my birthday on a plane bound for Oregon with guitar stowed safely in a Pope-approved airline case.

I arrived at the Doan residence Thursday, June 11, as the sun was setting.  The Doan house is built on a volcanic plug approximately 150 feet above the main road.  We dined outside on his patio overlooking a stunning landscape of color and mountains.  Deer and hummingbirds looked on as we ate homemade tacos surrounded by lush gardens.  It seems as though that John has developed a barter system with a local nursery: concerts in exchange for plants, trees and flowers. 

Dinner was followed by a surprise cake and John serenading me on harp guitar with “Happy Birthday.”  Then while the other guests arrived I settled into my room which was packed with lutes, a harp mandolin, antique guitars, a classical banjo, an Edward Light harp-lute-guitar and dital harp, Gibson, Dyer and Knutsen harp guitars all tuned and within reach of bedside.  I was instructed to use them all as much as possible in my spare time.  

Morning came quickly and found me preparing for an upcoming concert on one of the decks greeting the sunrise.  John led us on a tour of the grounds and surrounding paths.  After a quick breakfast we started our first group lesson which served as an introduction to the instrument.  Two out of four attendees had never played harp guitar but there were more that enough instruments to go around.  Pope Miner administered a benediction and blessing via speakerphone from Los Angeles, then on to work.  

John handed out a three-ring binder full of music in tab and standard notation.  The first session centered around examining the overtone series and the resulting “chord of nature.”  Theory sheet discussion covered scale and chord construction and how added sub-bass notes to the guitar opened up the fingerboard to be more melodic, increasing facility for melody on the bass strings, mid range, and treble strings where sub-basses implied entire chords.  When adding sub-basses to scales, intervals and smaller chord configurations, bar (or full) chords on the guitar were not needed as before to create a full sound.  We also reviewed chord voicings and the function of each note in the chord (i.e., a major or minor 3rd creates a major or minor chord each revealing a personality to the harmony) and which chords were major or minor within a specific relative key.  We also discussed how chords progressed and how they impacted our choices with moving bass lines in the sub-basses. 

After lunch we began individual lessons, which in my case involved analysis of my composition “Twilight” as well as my cover of “Greensleeves.”  My homework was to rework a section of the melody of “Greensleeves” to introduce the listener to my view of the song.  I was sent into the forest to compose my thoughts (and music) while others worked through their lessons.  A fabulous dinner was composed of salad and pasta with a homemade sauce (Beppe Gambetta’s recipe).



John with fellow students: Nick Vest

Jerry Camp

Clark Pittman

This was followed by a private concert where John would play a song and then dissect it both from a theory standpoint as well as the process of inspiration.  He also discussed various techniques of using the right hand thumb, playing accompaniment or melodic passages in the super-trebles, integrating the basses into the fabric of the compositions and using the capo to create new relationships with the sub-basses and super-trebles.   
The next morning I was pleasantly surprised when Steve Bissell knocked on the door for breakfast with a sixteen-string Gibson and a Style 8 Dyer in hand. In the group class the "Water is Wide" was used throughout, played first on guitar with root basses, alternate basses, then walking bass lines.  We then added melody and finally chords to the bass lines and melody on both guitar and sub-basses.   
After lunch John listened to my “homework” on Greensleeves and then we started focusing on the treble bank.  We then began preparation for the evening public concert at the Doan residence.  After meeting John Westling of Sandpiper Guitars and catching up with harp guitarist and friend Nate Hagan, I was given the opportunity to open the show.  John followed with an outstanding set.  Although the formal concert ended at 10 p.m., music echoed throughout the house past 2 a.m., including John entertaining us on the accordion and various odd zithers as well as performances on Asian instruments played by Nick and Tasha Vest who had just returned from South Korea to attend the retreat.  

The next morning, group lessons  switched gears to scales and intervals.  We studied all the possibilities in C major ending with focusing on 10ths in the key of D and a harmonized scale also in D with root-5-10 voicings so we could apply  these to "Water is Wide."  We also briefly discussed use of modes and cross string scales. 

During lunch a deer stopped several feet nearby to investigate the cuisine and I wondered if I was becoming delusional or not.  Private lessons continued onwards with the treble bank right hand techniques and use of capos to compliment the various exercises I was being exposed to.   Dinner consisted of homemade chicken curry and the last beautiful sunset of this trip.  After dinner we once again strummed the instruments in  a round robin involving students and teacher.  The last thing I remember before sleep overtook me was a sneak preview of the upcoming Doan Celtic video.  

I was sad to leave in the morning.  Overall there was a congenial atmosphere and new friends were made among attendees. The retreat proved to be comprehensive and well-planned.  For someone attempting to expand their knowledge base of the instrument with guidance from a true master I would highly recommend the course.

About the Author

Nate Blaustein has been a loyal supporter of Harpguitars.net and a regular to the Harp Guitar Gathering from the very beginning. He performs and records with a Hewett harp guitar with added super-trebles. 

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