Helen Avakian

Notes From Helen

What a Week! Day 3 Chef 's Table Show
September 27, 2014

Due to staying out late Monday evening I took it slow Tuesday morning. Slept in some, took a pretty summer walk, visited with the sunflowers...


That evening was our "Music Crawl" show at the Chef's Table. Dave Irwin and I hosted the show and thoroughly enjoyed  appearances from Brian Henke http://www.brianhenkeguitarist.com who played his beautiful and ethereal compositions, Winfield singer/songwriter Julie Sutton who brought down the house with her big blues song and voice, http://www.reverbnation.com/juliesutton and Tim and Myles Thompson who were featured performers at this year's and the 2013 WV Festival. Tim and Myles are a father and son, high energy, virtuoso guitar and violin duo. They also sing, have great harmonies and excellent songs. They are from Nashville TN (where Tim was a staff songwriter for a while). He is also the 2008 International Fingerstyle Champion. www.timthompsonguitar.com They played a lot of songs from their new album and also sat in on some of my tunes. It is so amazing to get to hear and play with these world class musicians! It was an honor to have them come perform.

Once again we enjoyed the excellent food and hospitality of the Chef's table. I had the same meal as the day before followed by the best piece of apple pie I have ever had in my life! I later learned that proprieter Chef Stan has a most amazing and rare knife that he uses to cut these exquisite thin slices of apple. The flavoring and crust were all so delicate and delicious I am getting totally nostalgic and hungry thinking about it. www.facebook.com/chefstablewinfield


Brian Henke                                                    Tim and Myles Thompson                    Dave Irwin, me, Chef Stan Lerner

What a Week! Day 2 Library Concert
September 26, 2014

Arrived in Winfield from Kansas City MO around 1:30 PM very hungry. My friend and fellow competitor Dave Irwin and I decided to get lunch at a restaurant we like to go to in town called Biederman's. But it was closed as many restaurants tend to be on Monday. Just a few doors down was an intriguing looking establishment called "The Chef's Table." It was a large open room with a lot of attractive wood; counters, floors, walls, tables, shelves. It also had a large New York City subway map which took me right back to my Hunter College days. I used to study these maps in the subway in order to find my way around or figure out where I was if I got lost. Although we later found out the owner is from Los Angeles CA.

Anyway, back to the food. The meal  struck me as gourmet fine dining meets comfort food served in a laid back manner with very reasonable prices. I had the bowl of 15 bean soup and a generous half turkey sandwich on delicious homemade bread. Top rate! I am getting hungry describing it. Turns out they get their coffee from a Madison WI roaster called Johnson. It was smooth and energizing. We got to talking with Stan Lerner, the chef/owner and his assistant Caitlin Waits. Mr. Lerner had a restaurant in downtown LA for a number of years, and he decided to make a big life change and move to Winfield after visiting a few times and going to the Walnut Valley Festival.


On Tuesday evenings right before the Walnut Valley Festival the town of Winfield has a "Music Crawl" where local businesses have musicians play from 5:30 - 8:30 PM. We asked if there woud be music at the Chef's Table and since there was none scheduled we offered to come perform and bring some friends. This was met with immediate enthusiasm and the next thing we knew it was posted on facebook and posters were being made. Cool, a gig to look forward to!

Speaking of posters, I spotted a poster for the Monday night concert at the Winfield Public Library in a shop window. I was going to appear in that concert (entitled Wizards of Guitar) with Mak Sganga (international Fingerstyle Champion) and Brian Henke (harp and 6 string guitar virtuoso) that evening. I noticed the time was listed for 5:30. Uh oh, we were all under the impression the show began at 6. I notified Mark and Brian who were a bit shocked and still on the road so  it was up to me to get there, set up sound and be ready to play by 5:30 so that is what I did. It was a lovely evening with a very good crowd. It was fun as well as great practice for the upcoming fingerstyle contest to perform, and as always Mark and Brian played magnificently. We had fun performing impromptu versions of "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" U2, lead vocal sung by Mark, and "All Along the Watch Tower" with the vocal by Brian. I enjoyed singing some harmony and Dave Irwin sat in on guitar as well. So inspiring to be with my guitar buddies!

International Fingerstyle Champion 2014!
September 25, 2014

I was so excited to win the International Fingerstyle Guitar championship this past weekend at the Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield KS.

That little dot on stage is me!

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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