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GillaCamp, Florida 2005

by Richard Gilewitz

Richard Gilewitz here once again, and thanks for checking in. Stephen Rekas*, my friend at Mel Bay Publications and editor of the company's webzine Guitar Sessions, was kind enough to invite me to share my experience in conducting my first National Fingerstyle Guitar Camp - GillaCamp Florida 2005. Held the weekend of February 16th in beautiful Tampa Bay, Florida at the Sailport Inn Resort, this successful event drew many local Floridians and folks from as far away as Colorado, Illinois, and Massachusetts.

The beginning of the day

An exercise in slide

To be honest, my initial reaction to the many requests over the years to actually conduct one of these events was greeted with my usual panic! Just like any first-time experience - whether going up on stage, giving a speech, speaking on the radio, appearing on television or simply playing the guitar for friends, strangers (or strange people!), I couldn't imagine that anything would go right. I just envisioned everything that could go wrong. That's when I knew that I had made a good start.

While attending the University of Alabama in the late 1970s, my approach to performing at the local coffeehouse was to concentrate on the other players' performances in order to learn what NOT to do. Don't peek at the audience seeking approval. Don't try too hard and wind up overplaying. Don't nervously reach for a drink immediately following a tune. Don't speak in an off-color manner simply to get attention. Don't play too loud. Don't play too long. Don't play if you're out of tune. Don't sing if your voice could rattle a bag of cats, and don't kill your momentum with long gaps due to a lack of preparation.

Keeping this approach in mind when designing the GillaCamp, I first tried to think of everything that could go wrong including issues related to food, transportation, climate conditions, equipment limitations, sound levels, the handout materials and the agenda.

Looking for inspriation

A quiet reflection

After several weeks of running these issues through my mind, I implored prospective students to share with me what they might like to experience during the workshop. I used this same method in developing the concept for my book, Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop- soon to be released by Mel Bay Publications. Using the premise of accumulating and responding to the most frequently asked questions heard during literally hundreds of seminars I have conducted in seven countries, I felt confident that I could get a good idea of what GillaCamp participants would want to learn.

Many of the students responded that they did not have anything specific in mind of what they expected to learn at the camp. Those who attended the camp later revealed that it was the mystery of what might be presented that had lured them to Tampa.

The universally shared experiences among the students continue to confirm what I have always noticed during my other seminars. Many have the fear of stagnation due to a lack of direction and the inability to develop their confidence or self-motivation. They admit to being intimidated by other players and are confused about the various types of equipment commonly available and used by professional players and hobbyists. Effective shortcut methods such as visualization and the need to practice, even when their busy lives and responsibilities may not allow time for such activities, are common issues. Players want to feel that there is hope that they can propel themselves up to another level in their playing technique or development of a repertoire.

Even the teacher takes notes

More notes and notations

With these observations in mind, I designed a weekend seminar to include 12 separate one-hour topics spread over a three-day period with plenty of time for lunch and dinner breaks. The event was comprised of two consecutive one-hour slots with a total of six segments and a field trip to see a friend and mentor, Gove Scrivenor, in concert at Fogartyville Cafe in Bradenton, Florida. We also had an impromptu special extended evening of music appreciation as we all gathered around a television to watch many of my favorite musical influences followed by an open discussion of the artists, their music and their performance styles.

Getting a better look

Soaking up the information

The agenda for the weekend consisted of many topics including right-hand positioning and technique, fingerstyle patterns, standard and open tunings, slide guitar technique, ways to amplify acoustic guitars, microphones, and pickups. We worked on composition and theory, development of musical themes and performance repertoires, music appreciation, and recording technique. Everyone was exposed to a wide range of instruments from a number of 6 and12-string guitars to a nylon-string Tacoma Papoose and a Gold Tone Banjitar.

The students performed for an audience of stuffed animals as promised, in particular a faithful fan with exceptional auditory skills. Everyone received a "starter kit" of goodies including an agenda, practice exercises and repertoire pieces to consider, plus some extra surprises from my sponsors. The kit also included tremolo and arpeggio exercises and alternating bass pattern exercises. Complete pieces such as "Freight Train" by Elizabeth Cotton, "St. Louis Blues" by W.C. Handy, "Prelude for Lute" by J. S. Bach, "Study in Bm" by Fernando Sor, and the opening segment of my original piece "Daughter of Pete's Feet" completed the package. Each evening we had a drawing for some great gear from my sponsors and the grand prize winner was a high school student who played hooky to attend all three days of GillaCamp.

Understanding how crucial it is to expect and "respect" flexibility, portions of the weekend did not go exactly as planned. To quote Clint Eastwood in the film "Heartbreak Ridge", "You've got to adapt, and improvise, and overcome." Precisely! During the first evening I got off on one of my famous tangents and covered much of what was intended for the following day's first session. Remembering Mr. Eastwood's classic comments, this change in agenda worked to my advantage. Also, in keeping an open mind to other observations, it was pointed out to me that "these people want to play!" and that I was possibly getting a bit too technical for some of the participants. So I decided to extend one of the segments on slide guitar into the open slot. This worked perfectly as we wound up spending the first hour with slide technique (and tuning up!) and the second hour on a simple exercise that I have included in the fingerstyle column of this issue of Guitar Sessions.

Taking it all in

Demonstrating a technique

At the end of the weekend one of the players commented that he wished there had been more time for the players to jam and generally share ideas. In my mind we had achieved precisely what I was hoping for, and this comment proved that the weekend was a success for all. We all came away with a feeling of camaraderie among players, sparks of friendships based on commonality, and a blunt yet comforting awareness that we all tend to make the same mistakes and face the same obstacles. We were all seeking the same goal of nurturing the passion to play the guitar well, all the while enjoying the process and marching at our own pace in striving to perfect the music, which beckons each and every one of us.

Heavy concentration

Intently listening

On a side note:
My sincere thanks to the players for their efforts during GillaCamp 2005 Florida. These participants stepped up to the plate, used their vacation time to travel to Tampa, and risked their precious guitars in the underbelly of a plane. Hmm, I do it all the time! But most importantly, they became a cohesive unit in creating and placing the shared experience of music where it belongs - among the players.

I am humbly grateful for all of the support from my sponsors who assisted in launching GillaCamp. They include Audio-Technica, Breedlove Guitars, D'Addario, L.R. Baggs, Rivera Amps, and Shubb Capos.

Gove Scrivenor Field Trip

A test in playing for others

GillaCamp 2005 Ohio is scheduled for August 12-14 in the quaint town of Troy, Ohio and will be graciously hosted by Sound City Studios. Please contact GillaCamp Headquarters at 352/860-2422 or email contact@richardgilewitz for more details; if you want to be notified about upcoming GillaCamps, signup instructions and details will be available from www.richardgilewitz.com. You may also contact GillaCamp Headquarters if you are interested in either hosting a GillaCamp in your area or plan to attend GillaCamp 2006 Florida next February, again in Tampa. Since there will be a limited amount of spaces available due to the very high interest, it is not too soon to get your name in the hopper.

A happy grandprize winner

Going a bit too far after passing the test!

Learn more about fingerstyle guitar in the Mel Bay Publications' release of the Richard Gilewitz - Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop book which includes both an audio CD and a DVD- Available soon on-line, from guitar shops, and from major book stores.

I hope to see you down the road, Rchard Gilewitz


*Stephen Rekas is a contributor to Richard's upcoming publication Nylon to Steel, a book intended to explore and fuse both the repertoire and technique of nylon and steel-string guitar players .

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