The 30th Mountain Laurel Gathering offers varied and exciting topics to help autoharp players from beginner to advanced, with songs, techniques, and musicianship. 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, we will have daytime guided jams, and many of our featured performers will host a “Hand to Hand Hour” – where they will take on all comers in a non-combative discussion session about their playing, their musical philosophy, or anything you want to know about their musical life!

The workshop listing for 2021 will be announced in the Spring of 2021.  In the meantime, here’s the listing from 2019 to give you some idea of the scope and subject matter normally covered at the Gathering.


“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).

BRYAN BOWERS and the BRYAN BOWERS BAND featuring Danny Knicely and Geoff Goodhue

“YOU Are a Storyteller” (all): If you have ever seen Bryan perform, you know his engagement with an audience is legendary. Very few performers share his gift for capturing the room and mesmerizing it with a story. Your stories are worthy! Come find out how to get started with getting them across to your audience.

“Fiddle Tune Practice” (adv beg/int): Fiddle tunes may end up at a good clip, but the key to learning them is careful, deliberate practice. We’ll learn A and B parts, playing melodically, and practice getting in and out. The final challenge will be to play the same tune really carefully, three times, slowly, in preparation for gearing it up.

“Folk Harmony Singing and Arrangement” (all): The Bryan Bowers Band takes you through all the fun steps required to create dynamic three-part vocal harmony arrangements.  Participants should already have a strong melodic sense and singing ability. Come prepared to sing!

“The Slowest Mandolin Class Ever” (Danny Knicely) (all mando players welcome!): Danny will teach basic right and left hand techniques and chords. We’ll take time to enjoy every note and learn some tunes at a very slow speed.

“Instrumental Harmony” (Geoff Goodhue) (all instruments welcome!): Geoff will teach consonant instrumental harmony lines to accompany fiddle tunes in both major and minor keys. Intermediate instrumental lead playing proficiency and basic chordal theory helpful.


“Creedence Clearwater Revival Grooves on the Autoharp” (all; keys of C, G, & D; chromatic or diatonic): The autoharp makes a great rhythm instrument, having anywhere from 8 to 18 strings in a chord versus 6 for a guitar. We will be playing three CCR songs and learn how to establish a great rhythmic groove while simultaneously playing the musical hook that makes these songs instantly recognizable.


“Finding the Notes” (beg-int; all types of ’harps): A very hands-on look at left-hand techniques for finding melody notes in the chords surrounding I, IV, and V as alternatives to improve ease of fingering, and add variation to your arrangements. Participants should have an understanding of – or want to learn – the concept of playing scales.

“Layering It On” (int; all types of ’harps): This hands-on session looks at a right-hand technique to integrate the rhythm and melody. Thinking of the elements of your tune as different layers that can be added or taken away allows you to more easily add interest and variation while maintaining the heartbeat of song. Participants should have a basic level of proficiency with concepts of rhythm and melody picking.

“Serving the Needs of the Song” (all levels; all ’harps; all instruments): As singers, it is our job to tell the story that the song conveys. This session will help you think about how to musically tell those stories in ways that are true to the needs of the song. Bring a song to share (if you are so inclined) for gentle group critique as time allows.


“From the Holler to Broadway!” (all): Allison will answer questions and share her story of how a small-town Appalachian girl got bit by the acting bug and followed her dream of becoming a working actor!

“Song Interpretation” (all): Learn how to act out the songs in your repertoire! Bring in a song you wish to work on, and discover the nuances and methods of conveying the message of the song!

“Building a Narrative Show” (all): How to construct a narrative concert using songs as part of the structure in telling a story or theme (the way I did a show in New York about my grandmother Daisy Dean!). Participants are encouraged to bring a general idea or theme for a narrative concert in order to build an outline or storyline for the show they have in mind.


“Fun Things to Do with a Pickup” (all; any key): Do you have a pickup on your autoharp that you’ve never used? Wondering whether you should order a pickup for your yet-to-be-built autoharp? Come spend some playtime finding out what a pickup is, how it works, what you plug it into, what ELSE you can plug it into, how to use it to improve your sound, and what else you need besides that hole in the side of your instrument. If you have a pickup on your instrument, bring it along if you want to see how good it could sound.


“Set Up Your ‘Harp for Success” – All: This is a workshop for all you do-it-yourselfers that would like to have the basic skills to change a string or cut a felt, improving your ‘harp in the process.  I will cover those points, plus adjusting your action, tuning tips, and pretty much anything I do daily in my shop for improving and modifying your ‘harp.  Come with questions and I’ll try to show you how to do it yourself.


 “What’s This Open Noting Business?” (basic diatonic, key of D): Starting with a tune we probably know, we’ll work on getting the notes in between chord changes, allowing playing the whole melody and up to speed. Will examine the strategic chord choices and the technique for best effect at full tempo. (Limited opportunity to borrow an instrument. We can at least pass a loaner around to those in need to give this a try.) Temperaments used in tuning should be within 6 cents of standard (equal temperament), A440, the default on most tuners.

“Get Off That One-Trick Pony” (beg-int): Varied picking patterns to match the rhythm. Basic diatonic (no locks needed) or chromatic in C, basic chords, so we can focus on picking and strumming varied tunes we likely know for a good sound, being recognizable, and with solid rhythm.

“Oh My, All Those Chords!” (int-adv; chromatic, key of C): Navigating the chords for Victory Rag in C. Instruments should include F, C, G7, D7, A7, E7. This will be a fun challenge, given our varying chord layouts, but let’s see if we can get this great tune moving without losing our place among lots of chord movement. It will be more than stabbing around with one finger. Uses thumb and three fingers, no pinky unless you prefer that or find you really need it with your layout.


“Becoming a Better Player: Lessons Learned” (beg; keys of D & G; chromatic or diatonic): Not everyone can be a great player, but everyone can be a better player! The beginner phase of learning to play the autoharp is the ideal time to evaluate the innate movements your body uses in its approach to the physical aspects of playing. Achieving the proficiency and enjoyment we seek as instrumentalists begins with proper technique and the identification of those personal physical quirks that plague our practices and limit our success… or as my German mother-in-law called them, our “Bubermeisters!”

 Concert/Competition Prep: The Stage Is Yours! (beg-int; keys of D & G; chromatic or diatonic): Preparation for a concert or a competition should serve to allow you to play in a manner that honors the music, the instrument, and the contract with the audience. The topics to be discussed will help you develop a process for consistent and effective practice, selecting material, creating and refining arrangements, and coping with performance stress and distractions.

“Unique and Lesser Known Songs of the Carter Family” (all; keys of D & G; chromatic or diatonic): The uniqueness and familiarity of the songs recorded by the Carter Family is in the mind of the listener. We’ll discuss and play a few that I find interesting based on subject matter, lyric choices, musical structure, and use of humor. Come sing and play a few tunes in a casual jam and even suggest one that you find particularly interesting.


“Meet Your Cohen-Grappel Recording Endowment Winner” (all): Muriel was our 2018 Cohen-Grappel Recording Endowment winner, and her CD is completed and ready for you to enjoy! Come spend an hour with her, hear about her experience making her first recording, and hear some of her music.


“Autoharping in 1948” (first-time melody players & up; keys G & D; chromatic or diatonic): We will explore Oscar Schmidt International’s super-easy method for playing harmonized melody, from 1948. Bring a thumb pick or flat pick, or to be authentic(!), a large, felt, flat pick. (No bare fingers, please.)

“The Hammer-On for Autoharp” (adv beg & up; key of G; chromatic or diatonic): Maybelle Carter championed this guitar technique on the autoharp, to be taught using her signature tune, “Wildwood Flower.” Bring a thumb pick and at least one finger pick (no bare fingers, please).


“The Art of Playing the Old-Time Waltz” (beg-int; keys of G & C): We will learn the techniques and rhythms needed to make a waltz sound old-time. We will use basic melody techniques and add some usual ones for variety. We will try smooth and syncopated rhythms and throw in a little leg slapping for something different. Just some old-time fun.

“Slow and Sad” (int-adv; keys of G & C): Expressive melody playing is different from the rhythm melody playing we usually do. We will try the playing techniques that make your instrument cry, weep and sigh. Come and express your inner-most emotions. Kleenex optional.

“The Thumb Matters” (beg-int; keys of G & D): Your thumbpick can be used for more than just scraping out rhythm accompaniment. Involve the thumb in harmony and melody and get all your digits involved in the fun. Thumb-plucks, restricted pinches, and stretched pinches will keep your thumb happy.


“YES! You Can Really Play in Minor Keys!” (adv beg & up; chromatic): Using your chromatic autoharp, I will show you how to use a foolproof I, IV, V formula for playing in minor keys! We’ll learn to use this formula to play three or four good songs… “Summertime”… “I Love Paris”… “St. James Infirmary”… and maybe one more! And then, by using this formula, you’ll be able to fearlessly explore and play minor tunes and songs on your own!30