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
||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
|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
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
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.