Helen Avakian

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What a Week! Day 1 Tommy Emmanuel
September 14, 2014

This past week was a major highlight for me as a guitarist and musician.I am going to cross this bridge? Really? I will play with Tommy Emmanuel? Seriously?

It all started with a trip to Cincinatti OH (sort of on the way to Winfield KS) to see Tommy Emmanuel in concert and to take his workshop the next day. The day of the concert I had a great (albeit somewhat nervous) time walking on a bridge across the Ohio River to my first visit to the state of Kentucky.

The Tommy Emmanuel show was jaw dropping as always. For Mark and Loren (on either end)any of you who do not know his work Chet Atkins called him "one of the best guitarists on the planet." His opening act, Loren and Mark, were new to me and I loved their performance as well. They were excellent fingerstyle players of course, and they had some beautiful songs and harmony as well. I want to learn their original duet Onward to play with my guitarist friends. http://www.lorenandmark.com

The workshop with Tommy Emmanuel was totally inspiring. I made sure to get there very early for a front row seat. He emphasized the importance of using the metronome regularly, saying "The metronome sets me free." He also mentioned that he used to hate using the metronome. One of the many qualities of Tommy Emmanuel's playing that I admire is his rhythm; it is as solid as it gets. He has total focus, drive and consistency. I found it very encouraging to hear that he finds the metronome so useful because it is a tool we can all easily employ to help us improve. It is good to know even guitar stars like him depend on it as a practice aid. My students know very well my advocation of using the metronome regularly. Now it is wonderful to be able to say that Tommy Emmanuel says the same thing.

He also spoke about his career and beliefs about music and performing. One of the biggest messages he gave was "be yourself," and that even he has musical goals he still has not reached. He said he doesn't worry about negative reviews. He quoted Bill Cosby who famously said "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone."

On performing Tommy Emmanuel says, "Show up, dress up, and do your best!" I asked him to show us his wonderful (and fast tempo) composition, "Long Tall Fiddler" as he had talked about going over it the night before during the concert. He kindly obliged and gave us a chance to try it too. I couldn't quite keep up (understatement), but I will get there. It was incredible to have Tommy come right up to me, show me how to play a part then listen to me play it back or try to play along.
Toward the end Tommy said he wanted to go over some tips on how to play with other musicians. Then he made an open invitation to come up and play something. One at a time several men took him up on it. (As often happens in these gatherings, I was the only female participant.) There were a number of terrific duet performances mostly with tunes Tommy already knew except one, a Brazilian samba that he picked up on very quickly. My heart was pounding because I so wanted to play with Tommy but I was also feeling a bunch of stage fright. Five minutes before class ended he asked if anyone else wanted to perform and I shot my hand up. I asked if I could sing and play a folk song. He said "sure" and we did "I Love the Moon." He started off with percussion on his guitar, then did other chord voicings to go with mine. After my guitar solo he took one. In the outro he played those beautiful harmonics that he and his role model/mentor Chet Atkins do so so effectively. It was an experience of a lifetime for me. After I performed he commented "With her Just add water and instant music."
Afterwards Tommy spent another hour signing autographs and posing in pictures with participants. If anyone reading this is considering seeing Tommy Emmanuel play or taking a workshop with him I highly recommend they do so. I know I will be inspired and uplifted by the experience for years to come. I will do my best to share as much of that knowledge and inspiration as I can with my students. www.TommyEmmanuel.com











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