Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A League all their Own

I visited the Guitar League meeting on Monday night, and if anything I enjoyed it even more than the first time. The League is a gathering of Syracuse-area guitar enthusiasts. It has a membership of around 130, plus non-members like me who occasionally attend the meetings. I'd say there were at least 100 people there on Monday to see talented local performer Miss E play some Beatles, some blues and some classic rock for us, while taking audience questions and talking about her love of the instrument. She's an outstanding guitarist, and while I'm not sure how much I actually learned from her (given how far she is above my ability level), it was at least a terrific concert.

Backing up a minute, though, the meeting actually began with one of the group's co-founders, Dick Ward, performing for the audience as they arrived prior to the start of the main presentation. Dick did something cool Monday night - he brought copies of sheet music (lyrics and chords) for some popular folk songs like "Tom Dooley" and "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," then had everyone in the audience take out their guitar and play along. The songs used simple chords and were well within my comfort zone, so I enjoyed the exercise immensely.

Sadly, Dick announced that Monday's meeting was the last one at the Vineyard (which, despite the misleading name, is actually a church), and that's a real shame. Whatever sort of worship goes on there involves lots of amplifiers and the place had a terrific sound system and a nice stage to play on, as well as spacious rooms for the different ability levels to use for the breakout sessions. No word yet on where the new locale will be, but Dick seemed optimistic that they had some quality alternatives that just needed to be nailed down.

After Dick's set, Miss E played for a good hour or more. She started with the Beatles and ended with an awesome performance of Janis Joplin's "Bobby McGee." It was just her and her bass player Paulie, but together they filled the large hall with sound. Her fingers flew on the neck of the guitar and across the strings and it was really impressive to watch her play.

To round out the night, we broke into our sessions and I got to spend 45 minutes with the other beginners (the "rookies") learning to play some more folk tunes like "She'll be Comin Round the Mountain when she Comes" from Bill Delaney of The Flyin' Column, a local and well-regarded Irish trio who were the presenters the last time I attended a Guitar League meeting. It was very educational.

It was also great to see other people struggling with stuff I actually picked up fairly quickly. Not that I enjoyed seeing them struggle, rather it demonstrated that I may not actually be the worst guitar player in the world, even if it feels like it most of the time.

After a year and a half, you see, I don't feel that I've made much progress on getting my fat fingers to hit only one string at a time. They still tend to touch adjacent strings, muting their sound. I still struggle to do anything more complicated than the standard chords - barre chords in particular are a trial for me. And I don't always get my fingers into position on a chord as fast as I feel I ought to. I don't quite "walk" my fingers from string to string, but I come close with some of the chords that I'm not as comfortable with (say, D-minor, for example). It's frustrating, but evidently it's not just me. Perhaps there's hope that some day my fingers will actually start doing what I want them to. I can't be sure of that - it may be that the others in the room who were struggling had just picked up the guitar for the very first time, and in a few months will be laughing at my lack of progress. But I don't know that, so I can at least pretend that it's natural to be as bad as I am.

Most of all, just being around so many talented guitar players felt like it ought to have some sort of osmosis effect on me - like their ability and skill might rub off on me just a little. It helped to renew my enthusiasm and dedication to learning to play, too, and that's always good. I don't get terribly discouraged, but sometimes I don't really feel like going in to practice and a little bit of enthusiasm can really help motivate me.

I'm glad I went and I hope to make the meetings somewhat more regularly, even though it conflicts with my Monday-night Writer's Roundtable. Maybe I'll get lucky and the move to a new venue will force them to change to a different meeting night, but I'm not counting on it. I'll just have to make the choice from time to time and go, because it's totally worth it. And to any Syracuse-area guitar players who might stumble across this, you owe it to yourself to check out the Guitar League. In fact, you'd be crazy not to.

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