[Harp-L] SPAH 2011

Wow. Just, "Wow."

Oh, okay, some details:

This was my second year attending SPAH. As the old scout camp song goes, "Make new friends, but keep the old... one is silver and the other is gold." Elizabeth (EGS1217) had it right when she said that the best part of SPAH is the people. I made some new friends at my first SPAH last year, and I made some new friends this year, but the very best part of SPAH was reuniting with "old" friends from last year. There's just something about that spark of recognition when you see someone you haven't seen in a while, and see that same spark of recognition in them. And it happens tens of times. (Perhaps hundreds of times for some -- lucky them.) Last year I felt thoroughly and utterly welcomed. This year I felt like I *belonged*, and what a wonderful feeling that is. So for anyone who was at SPAH for the first time this year, go again! And for people who haven't yet made it to a SPAH convention, go twice! It's never too late to start.

I would like to share two high points and one regret:

The first high point was the morning beginners' blues jam or "Beginner's Mind" blues jam, hosted by Michael Rubin. I'm kind of a cooked beginner, myself, but it's not so long ago that I was a raw beginner, and having a jam where new players are explicitly welcome was, in my opinion, a good and also a very important thing. I believe the future of any organization lies in bringing in new blood, and the way you do that is by actively welcoming and nurturing new blood. I took advantage of the beginners' jam to try out new things that I'm not ready to debut in the more established jams: I played an XB-40 that I had gotten my hands on. I tried playing in 5th position for the first time. I found my threshold of risk and dwelled there, for a bit. Michael took a few minutes at the beginning of each session to state some rules of "jam etiquette", and taught a different thing each day to give new players some traction on *how* to jam. It's easy for more experienced players to forget what beginners need. Michael remembers, and SPAH remembered.

My regret is that I didn't attend the youth showcase. I just didn't have my head screwed on right at that moment. Just as we need to support beginners, we need to support young players at every level of ability, and some of them are amazing. I hope that SPAH does another youth showcase next year. I won't make the same mistake twice.

My second high point was more personal. I went into the Ballroom for Joe Filisko's Teach-In, thinking that I would join David Barrett's group. David has been on my radar for quite some time. There he was, promptly at the top of the hour, surrounded by at least a dozen people -- easily more. And over here on the left was Brandon Bailey, surrounded by seven or eight chairs and no people (yet). For those who haven't met me, I role-play a respectable middle-aged lady, and I really, really do not see myself getting into this whole looping, harp- boxing thing. But I had heard Brandon play the day before and was truly blown away by his performance, had heard is NPR interview and was blown away by how personable and smart and gentle he is in his way of speaking, and decided to take a flier. "Who knows? I might learn something I didn't know I wanted to know..."

Brandon showed me the basic kick drum, snare, and high-hat sounds, and a little bit of how he integrates them with the harp. I thought, "Okay, I get it." As so often happens, the good stuff happens when you hang in there. So, I tried *doing* it. And maybe I got a bit of the basic thing. Then a couple more people arrived, and Brandon showed *them* the basic move, and they tried it, and I hung in there and tried it some more. Then Brandon showed something *else*, and it started to get interesting. People came and went, and there was a flow to practicing the basic stuff, trying to sort out the next-most- basic thing, and just having a truly charming conversation in a relaxed setting when it was just the two of us. I was awed when Peter Madcat Ruth spoke of his lessons with Big Walter Horton. I can see myself in the nursing home someday, saying, "I spent an afternoon chatting with Brandon Bailey, and..."

Am I likely to set myself up on a street corner (or in a recording studio!) with a looping box? Doubtful. But I don't mind saying that I spent a fair bit of my drive home going, "Boomp! CHAK! Boomp, boomp, CHAK! Boomp-tsst-tsst-boomp-CHAK!"

Thank you, members of the SPAH board, Joe Filisko and friends, members of the Virginia Beach harmonica club (clubs?), and volunteers for putting on another truly outstanding convention. Count on seeing me at the next one.

Elizabeth (aka "Tin Lizzie")

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