Our workshop listing for 2019 will be posted in the spring of 2019.  In the meantime, here’s what we did last year to give you an idea of what to expect.  We hope to see you in 2019!

Last Year’s Workshops:

Our workshop offerings for the 28th Mountain Laurel Gathering offer exciting topics to help autoharp players from beginner to advanced, as well as varied subjects from yodeling to birdwatching! All of our performers and workshop leaders at MLAG are accessible and ready to answer questions, help you with problems, or just sit and play a few tunes. In addition to the workshops described below, our featured performers will either lead a Guided Jam one afternoon, or host a “Hand to Hand Hour” in which you can ask any questions you like or get more up-close information on their playing techniques.

“Boot Camp for Beginners” (beg):  Come for an introduction to playing the autoharp. This 3-hour workshop, held on Wednesday afternoon, is for new players and for those who play a little and might want to brush up on the basics. Phyllis will cover many topics to get you started playing our great instrument, as well as some simple maintenance tips. Come with any questions. Hope to see you there!

“Beyond Boot Camp – Q&A Sessions” (beg and up): These workshops are at 9:00 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, and are student-directed for those of all levels having any questions in general or about anything not understood in other workshops. This workshop began as a follow-up to the “Boot Camp Workshop” for new and beginner players but has evolved to all levels. Your questions dictate the direction of these workshops, and participants are given simple, step-by-step, “hands-on” answers (even for beginners).

“Kids’ Workshops – Get Started Off Right!”An introduction to the autoharp aimed at children. Adult beginners (and observers) also are welcome, but the tunes will be nursery rhymes and familiar children’s songs. Friday morning’s workshop will be facilitated by Les Gustafson-Zook, and Saturday’s by John Hollandsworth.

“Dance, Dance, Dance: Square Dance Tunes for Beginners” (beg/adv beg; keys G, D): Using some basic square dance tunes such as “Sourwood Mountain” and “Liza Jane,” this workshop will stress how to approach these lively tunes on the autoharp by first learning chords and basic strums, and then gradually adding melody notes and rhythmic touches to make the tunes more articulate and interesting. 

“Rollin’ on the River: American River Songs for Autoharp” (adv beg/int; keys C, F, G, D): A repertoire workshop featuring both traditional river songs from the keelboat, flatboat and steamboat eras, as well as songs by composers ranging from Stephen Foster to more contemporary artists such as  John Hartford. Come prepared to sing AND play! 

“Come for to Sing: Great Songs of the Folk Revival” (all; keys D, G, C, F, A): A repertoire and sing-along workshop featuring familiar, beloved standards of the American folk revival from artists such as Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Pete Seeger, as well as a few less familiar songs from this musically rich era. The autoharp is the perfect instrument for these pieces. Come prepared to sing and play; bring a song to share if you choose.

“Doo-Wop Heaven Part II” (beg & up): Last year everyone had so much fun singing and playing their old doo-wop favorites that we have brought it back this year… better than ever.  Come join us for a session of fun! We put together a new book for Part II. No experience needed, but it would be helpful to have the chords G, Em, D, C, and maybe D, Bm, and A. We will demonstrate and explain the Doo-Wop (I-vi-IV-V) progression at the beginning.  Following the brief lesson we’re going to have a sing-a-long. Songs may include “A Teenager in Love,” “Barbara Ann,” “Book of Love,” and many more.

“Learn to Yodel!” (all): It’s fun to learn the old American and European yodeling technique! We’ll sing and yodel together and learn how to use your vocal break to produce that high lonesome sound.

“Hummingbird Tremolo Technique” (all): Learn Ray’s wonderful technique that makes his playing so beautiful when applied in just the right passages. This is one of the things that makes him an autoharp champion!

“Jamming on Pachelbel’s Canon” (beg/int; key of C): We’ll learn to play Johann Pachelbel’s famous Canon, but in C on the autoharp. Chords needed will be C, F, G(7), Em, Em, and Bb. This 17th-century work’s beautiful chord progression is well-known and used frequently in modern settings.

“Care and Feeding of Your Autoharp”(all): Chuck will demonstrate most of the routine things that need to be done to keep your harp working right. “Open Harp Surgery” will include changing strings, refelting chord bars, and ways to get dirt and goo off the harp. We’ll cover all the defects that can make that bargain a waste of money, and those that are easily fixed. After attending you will either be prepared to do some of the work needed, or be more convinced than ever to just let me do it for you.

“Jamming Strategies for Beginners” (beg): Getting along in a jam session is seemingly #1 on everybody’s short list of “skills I would like to possess.” Obviously a good ear is important, but what’s between your ears is even more important. There are patterns to discern if you know where to look and listen carefully. We’ll show you how.

“Pinch Me! I Think I’m Making a Hard Tune Sound Easy” (int; key D): Learn a couple of fairly complicated tunes that are not nearly as hard as they sound if you know the secret. (Hint: If you can pinch you can play them!)

“Waltz Extravaganza” (beg, keys G, D): We’ve got a bunch of nice but relatively obscure waltzes that we’ve been collecting over the years and that all sound great on the autoharp. We’ll work on a few in this workshop and send you home with a web link to a number of others to download and develop on your own.

 “A Few Lovely Swedish Waltzes” (all; keys G, D): Learn a few beautiful less well-known waltzes. I have had the had the privilege to be in a weekly jam with Tim Rued, a renowned authority on Swedish fiddle tunes. Swedish waltzes often have a fairly simple three-chord structure, making them easy to learn, and their catchy melodies make them fun to play.

“Let’s Hear the Melody” (all; keys G and D): We’ll try different styles all aimed towards clearly playing the melody. You walk into a group with your autoharp and people expect the “shring shring shring” of just chord accompaniment they heard when their kindergarten teacher led them in “This Land is Your Land.” We will step beyond being accompaniment and percussion to having the melody take center stage.

“A Two-Fingered Approach to Picking Melody” (int; keys G and D): A method for picking faster tunes with ease by alternating between two fingers. When speed of picking is wanted, using this simple technique can help. Markedly increase your picking speed without jeopardizing accuracy. Great technique for playing fiddle tunes up to speed.

“How to Read Music (for People Who Don’t Want to Read Music)” (all): Playing by ear is a wonderful ability to have, but some knowledge about printed music can save you a lot of time when learning a new song. Even if you don’t want to read music, knowing something about the dots and chicken scratches in sheet music can help out a lot. In this workshop we will go over the basics so that you will understand what each squiggle means and why it is important. For all levels of musicians who do not know how to read music and who can count to six.

“Christmas in June” (adv. beg/int.; chromatic): No more three-chord carols! (NM3CC!) J We’ll introduce two wonderful carol arrangements to work on clean melody picking techniques and prepare you to be the star of the holiday party… in 7 months!

“Basic Fiddle Tunes” (beg.; chromatic): We’ll use stripped-down versions of well-known fiddle tunes to work on rhythm, chords, and beginning melody picking.

“Driving Rhythm into the Melody” (int/adv; keys G, D): Experienced autoharpers all know how to play rhythm. After all, we learn that first! We eventually learn how to play melodies as well, but when we compare our playing of melodies to other instruments or to iconic recordings it sometimes sounds flat and uninteresting. This workshop will explore how rhythm and dynamics can be used to make melodies sparkle and flow, and how to vary the underlying rhythm to make our playing more interesting. We’ll dig into some tunes we have all heard many times, seeking to understand what makes them so compelling and what we can do with our playing to capture that excitement.

“MLAG Championship Round Table (with contest finalists)” (all; discussion): Wondering what it’s like to play in the Mountain Laurel Championship and wondering how anyone manages to get to the final round? Come and hear some finalists reflect on the experience of preparing and playing in a competition. 

“Use Your Ear to Make a Good Beginning”(beg; C, G, D):Forget about the paper and think about playing with others without written music! We will cover some common chord progressions and related chords within a key. Learn how to recognize major, minor, and seventh chords, and also chord changes within a tune. We will play tunes in this workshop, so bring your ‘harp! Multi-chord chromatic tunes will also be covered.

“Meet Your Cohen-Grappel Recording Endowment Winner” (all): Jody Kruskal was our 2017 Cohen-Grappel Recording Endowment winner, and his CD is completed and ready for you to enjoy! Come spend an hour with him, hear about his experience making his first recording, and hear some of his music.

“Highly Chromatic Melodies in 3/4 Time” (int; chromatic; keys F and Dm): Few melodies we play use more than a handful of the 21 chord bars available on most chromatic autoharps. This hands-on workshop focuses on familiar, highly chromatic melodies that literally take your left hand from one end of the chord bar assembly to the other. Learn tips and tricks to develop accuracy and confidence negotiating unusual chord progressions, no matter how distant the next chord bar in the sequence may be.

“The Andalusian Cadence” (beg-int; chromatic; key Dm): The Andalusian cadence (diatonic phrygian tetrachord) is not as complicated as it sounds. It’s a four-chord progression, descending the scale stepwise, Dm, C, Bb and A7. It’s been one of the most recognizable chromatic chord progressions in western music for centuries. In this hands-on workshop we’ll get comfortable playing this familiar chord sequence that is the basis of familiar melodies from “Greensleeves” to “Hit the Road, Jack.”

“Melodies by Paul McCartney” (beg-int; diatonic & chromatic; key G): Ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney is the composer of one of the three most recorded melodies of all time. And he wrote some of the most memorable Beatles songs without his collaborator, John Lennon. Sir Paul’s tunes work very nicely as autoharp instrumentals. In this hands-on workshop, we’ll learn several of his well-known compositions. Learn how to make the autoharp sing the melody clearly, freely, and with feeling.

“Diminished Expectations” (int; chromatic): Introduction to diminished 7th chords and their use to expand the autoharp’s horizons.

“The ’Grass Harp” (all; chromatic): The autoharp is the Rodney Dangerfield of bluegrass (it gets no respect). We’ll discuss the history of the autoharp in bluegrass and how to adapt your playing to fit into a bluegrass ensemble (and perhaps gain some of that respect!).

“Nature’s Music” (all): An early morning walk to listen to bird songs and other natural sounds and learn about them. If you have binoculars, bring them, but they are not required for the workshop.

“Introduction to Chord and Release Autoharping” (key G): For chromatic and diatonic players who play melody a little or a lot. The Chord and Release (C&R) method of autoharping fares best on diatonic autoharps, particularly when depressing the chord bars, which will be presented in this workshop. The hands-on content is designed especially for curiosity-seeking chromatic players, and for diatonic players unfamiliar with or needing a review of C&R.

“Will the Real Charles F. Zimmermann Please Stand Up?” (all): This presentation will give us lots of little-known details about the man who gave us the instrument we love to play—even if he didn’t invent it!

“Jazz-Era Goodies” (adv beg/int; keys A, C): “Wabash Blues,” “Dr. Jazz,” “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” “When the Saints Go Marching In”… these are popular songs with so many Dixieland bands! This workshop will really exercise the chords on your 21-chord chromatic. You’ll be using majors, sevenths, and minors, and will go beyond just the use of I, IV, and V chords.

“The Nashville Number System” (all): What this system is (and isn’t). How to apply it to songs you already know. How to use it to learn new music. Where to learn more about it. Where to use it in a jam situation (requires some technology).

“Lap Style Melody Playing: From Plain to Fancy” (all; chromatic & diatonic welcome): Lap style playing offers a fresh approach to playing melodies using techniques ranging from plain to fancy. This workshop will provide a quick introduction to basic lap style playing and then go on to explore the techniques you can use to play melody. Players at all levels will get to learn numerous techniques, from strumming to finger picking, to make anything you play sound better when you play it lap style.