It is tough to come up with ideas each year to try to educate and entertain the first-time attendees, while keeping things fresh and interesting for those who come back, year after year.  Luckily, there is so much going on in the harp guitar world, that we manage to find plenty to cover the entire weekend.  In fact, the main complaint is that people are too exhausted after the weekend (too  bad!).

The first Saturday segment was certainly a first.  John Thomas presented “Harp Guitar Security Check (x-rays and harp guitars)” – as you saw in the newspaper write-ups here.  John got up at 4 in the morning to quickly turn the previous day’s files into jpegs, then powerpoint, to share the findings.  As he plans to do his own blog and a print article or two on this, I can’t show you all the cool stuff, just these snapshots (we’ll add all the details to the site at a later date):

The diagnostic imaging professors at work on Stephen Bennett’s Big Mama

One of the expected (and brilliant) surprise gags from John in his slide show

Dyer Type 1 harp guitar serial #125, kindly brought and shared by the Workmans

We had a rare chance to finally see inside the infamous Stahl “Goiter Guitar”!

There are several surprises in this image…we’ll publish it all eventually (but you can guess much)

This is Steve Farmer’s old 21″ wide scroll-bridge Gibson

I took the opportunity to ship out my Maccaferri.
There is a lot to show about the innards of this one (for a later presentation)

Next up was “Arranging for Harp Guitar: The On-the-Spot Challenge.”  This was another first, and quite exciting.  As planned, “A trio of players (Stephen Bennett, Andy Wahlberg and Muriel Anderson) will be informed of a song chosen by and known only to Frank Doucette.  They will then have just 15 minutes to woodshed a brand new arrangement.  At 10:30, the three return and get 20 minutes each to explain their process, choices and results.”  During their 15 sequestered minutes, Frank gave a presentation on the song he had selected, namely:

“Coilsfield House” by Nathaniel Gow.  The text explains how the name “Coilsfield” apparently came from the grave of King Coil, who has come down to us today through the nursery rhyme “Old King Cole.”

An engraving of Coilsfield House and grounds, with inset of Gow

Frank then played us a lovely recording of the song as performed by the traditional Scottish band, Ossian

Time’s up!  First out was Stephen, who blew us all away with what was essentially a CD-ready performance of the tune, from his quick gleaning of the music.  Perhaps he does it with mirrors.

This candid photo apparently shows Stacy ready to catch my jaw, which was about to drop

This Bennett fan of course hears it all the time at home but is still his biggest fan (Nancy B)

Next up was Muriel, who offered her own unique thoughts on her harp guitar arranging process, including adapting for her super-trebles.  Again, we have no idea how they came up with so much, so quickly.

And finally, Andy Wahlberg, who was (understandably, under the circumstances) charmingly shy and nervous for perhaps the first time on stage.  Yet he managed to show off a couple of impressive versions in jig tempo.  Overly so in fact – this reaction shot may have been from my crack “Hey Andy, the joke’s on you – Frank just played it, and it’s an air!

This was a really fun segment – I just wonder how many virtuosos like these 3 we can get to volunteer next time.

Bob Hartman and John Thomas then gave us a Larson Brothers update, including some recent instrument finds, and some more x-ray magic.

The rest of Saturday you already know about – the Featured Performer blogs on Ed and Jim, and the luthier panel.

Sunday morning, we again tried something brand new…something we’ve been brainstorming about for years now: concurrent workshops on in-depth playing techniques.  The trick is to have A) variety, which we did in Stephen, Muriel, and Mike Doolin, and, B) enough attendance to go around, which I think we finally did in this record-breaking year.  In any event, all 3 private group lesson rooms were well-attended, and there were even people in the Open Mic room during all this…so, something for everyone!

Muriel holds court

Me, I’m un-trainable, so just prepared for my own segments – “Harp Guitar: What’s in a Name?” and “365-ish Days of Gregg’s Blogg” (I was great – sorry you missed it).

No, this wasn’t it, this was after Sunday night’s dinner…another impromptu “Droopy Dog” moment (hey, Stephen always seems tickled by it…)

Before I close out the report on HGG9 (the best, as always, is the last), I can’t forget to thank all the folks at the Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, the staff at the Hilton Garden Inn, our hosts, Stephen and John, and as always, the League of Extraordinary Ladies: Jaci Rohr, Nancy Bennett & Linda Morgan, and all their volunteer helpers.

Linda, Susan Taylor, Jaci

P.S: Sunday night, we announced that Joe Morgan (our Assistant Gathering Director) has volunteered as host for our tenth anniversary next year.  Details are all TBD, but we’ll see you all in Texas!