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  • Writer's pictureRobert Gidley

Banged up knees and raffles

May 19, 2023 (Fri)

11:15 pm St. Nicholas Ranch, Dunlap, CA

The “late birdies” have shown up, but it turns out that almost everybody is an Early Bird, so it’s only about 10 more people. (Whew! We were worried about crowds in the lunch room!)

Out of an abundance of caution, everybody is asked to take a Covid test, so we do (well, one of us does, on the theory that if one of us has it, we’re both screwed).

In other news, Robert falls and skins his knee. When he was eight, this was a regular occurrence—so much so that his knee just had a permanent scab on it. But it turns out that when you’re 68 years old, and you fall on cement, the effects are a little more dramatic. He’s done something to his knee and also cracked a rib (how does he know? well , Robert is a bit accident-prone and has been here before). But he’s not going to let that interfere with the fun!

Harvey gets a break from all this travel and relaxes at his campground

2:15 pm Rhythm class

This class all about how to be a drummer without having a drum kit. The instructor (Pete Daigle, who also builds all the best autoharps, but more relevantly, used to be a professional drummer) shows us how to use simple instruments to get a big impact.

He actually shows Robert how to use some drum brushes and a cardboard box to make a drum kit. Gini is not looking forward to the many drum solos that will now fill our house. Still, beats buying an actual kit!

Robert practices playing the cardboard box

After class, Gini wanders over to Pete’s Autoharp Shop (a spare room filled with autoharp paraphernalia) and gets a set of golden fingerpicks. Her old clear fingerpicks look cool, but it turns out that if they fall off, they are next to impossible to find, but these golden ones—yow! Everybody will spot them!

4:00 pm Harmony Workshop

Harmony is when you’re not singing the same thing as the melody (main) line, but it sounds cool together. Sometimes you sing the tune a little higher or lower, and other times you sing something else that fits in with the main line.

It’s hard to do and neither one of us can do it (yet). This class, taught by Meredith doesn’t touch on theory at all. She just starts singing and helps us find ways to harmonize with her and everybody has a good old time. Gini says, “That’s the first class all week where I felt better after the class!”

The high today was “only” 84°, which after the last few days feels almost cool…


One of the students here is from Mexico and she’s blind. Her name is Maria and she’s a youngish (30’s?) autoharp beginner. Since our granddaughter (Zahara) is also blind and a musician, we naturally gravitate towards her and have some lovely conversations.

Today she and Robert talk about how many people interact with the blind (Robert has also worked with blind and low-vision people).

So, as a public service, here’s a few tips about interacting with blind folks:

  • If they’re just standing there, don’t assume they need something or want to be directed somewhere. Maria says she gets tired of people coming up and asking her what she wants or where she’s going. “Sometimes I just want to stand there.”

  • Never assume they recognize your voice. “Hi Maria, it’s Robert” is a good opening statement.

  • If you see a blind person standing there—perhaps looking lost, just go up and say, “Hi Maria, [if her name’s Maria, of course], do you need any assistance?” If she says “no,” accept it. Maybe she’s enjoying the breeze!

She has a couple of CDs for sale here (all of the musicians at the workshop are welcome to bring their CDs and sell them and as a result, there’s about 50 different CDs on the table in the lunchroom). Robert buys them because Maria seems pretty nice (this is something you can do at a music camp that you can’t do at a music store—“What have you got from a group of nice performers?”).

Maria says that one of them got pretty popular in Mexico, it was a group where she was the lead singer. Per usual in the music biz, she never got any royalties and she left the group and the group eventually disbanded. The CD is now a rarity.

11:00 am Another Harmony Class

It’s Robert’s turn to be in a harmony class and he also has a good ol’ time. The guys leading this workshop are pretty good and also believe in the “try it to learn it” theory of instruction. Below is a video of him singing his low tenor part, although you really can’t hear him—that’s the other thing about harmony: it’s hard to hear yourself!

Robert singing harmony

5:00 pm Open Microphone time

Anybody is welcome to get up at Open Mic time and sing. Maria gets up and sings “Scarborough Fair,” and we’re all pretty stunned. Seems that Robert made a good choice buying those CDS…

Maria singing “Scarborough Fair”


The last day of this Autoharp camp!

Robert spends his day going to a Vocal Exercise class, learning how to warm up his voice and exercises to avoid being prematurely gravely. He also attended a workshop on how to use technology to practice (with modern technology you can take a picture of a sheet of music, convert it to audio, and send it to a program that will slow it down and change the pitch so you can learn it in whatever key you want).

Gini went to a bunch of concerts. Turns out that over the week, there were 26 concerts (there was always a concert going on!) all by top-notch performers. Granted, a lot of the concerts were old-timey fiddle tunes, but there was some variety in there.

4:00 pm Bryan Bowers concert

Robert has been going to Bryan Bowers concerts for about 30 years now, which is about half as long as Bryan has been playing. He is basically Mr. Autoharp and still travels around giving concerts.

Well, except for the three years starting just before Covid when he got a shoulder injury and Covid hit and shoulder surgery was not considered urgent.

Basically, he spent three years not being able to play the instrument that defined his life. Imagine that frustration!

He’s back playing today and although he looks like 40 miles of bad road, his voice is still strong as ever and his playing is crisp and quick. Apparently, he always does the last concert of the weekend, and he invites just about all the performers up at one point or another to sing a song with him and everybody has a good ol’ time and the place is just bursting with music. Whew!

5:00 pm The Raffle

One way that the organizers make sure everybody sticks around (aside from the Bryan Bowers concert) is to have a raffle as the last thing—and you have to be here to get the prizes. An autoharp ($1,500 value) is given away, along with an electric violin and a variety of other assorted gift donations.

And Gini wins! She wins some cool looking sun glasses!

Gini in her fabulous new sunglasses

Of course, Gini being Gini, when Maria tries them on and everybody says how great they look on her—well, Gini gives them away to her.

Gini & Robert

Harvey Staff

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