I've decided to dive in to the deep end by attending the National Guitar Workshop here in Chicago this week. Its definitely a stretch for me as my formal guitart lessons were minimal and many years in the past. I'll be reporting throughout the week to try to give prospective students the full blow-by-blow story.
First of all, I have to say that the staff of NGW are all top notch. They take good care of their students, whether it's making sure everyone's got an amp, hooking them up with the right instructors, taking care of rooming assignments or even getting an ethernet cable late at night. And despite the incredible talent of the instructors, as has been stressed numerous times, it's about making sure everyone is learning and having fun.
My adventure began with a very early flight from San Francisco to Chicago O'Hare and then a trek it out to Elgin. While Elgin is closer to Chicago than , say, New York, it's still a good 30 miles west of the airport in the middle of not much of anything. (Sing: "I been travelin' so long, I got them deep Elgin blues.") The NGW workshop is held at Judson University a small private university with fairly stict rules against smoking, drinking and (gasp) dancing. (Sing: "You ain't got no rhythm, 'cause you ain't paid your dues.")
Despite all of that, the facilities are quite decent. I chose to bunk in the university dorm for a full immersive experience. Food on the campus is decent, but it's not going to win any awards. It's convenient, reasonably cheap and, hey, it's all you can eat. No doubt that accounts for the famous "freshman fifteen" that gets packed on many new students entering university.
Since we're somewhere near Chicago, I decided to take the "Blues Core" course and see if could lay a foundation that would be helpful for later explorations in rock and R&B. After all, the blues is where it all started. While the NGW attracts a broad cross-section of students, it's somewhat polarized into kids under 18 and adults over 40. I guess most teenagers would rather learn shredding than the blues, so "Blues Core" consists exclusively of middle-age white males. There's a good teacher / student ratio in all of the classes and in our case, the group of eight students with two instructors. So we split into two different groups based on skill and hairline levels. While there are some excellent players, everyone was courteous and there was no showboating.
Today's instruction was just a few hours and mostly informal as we got to know each other. John, our instructor, got to assess our abilities and what we want to learn. So far, I'm doing my best to keep up, but there's a lot of new information and only so much space in my head to retain it all. I'm not overwhelmed, but its clear that it will take a lot of practice to reinforce the instruction.
The evening finished off with a brief concert featuring some of the instructors playing a broad range of different styles of music including classic rock, blues, jazz, bluegress flatpicking etc. While the music wouldn't necessarily be everyone's taste it was good to mix it up. I suspect for some of the younger students it may be the first time they're being exposed to certain genres. And they seemed pretty enthusiastic about.
All in all, it's been a good start. Hopefully tomorrow things will get a bit more structured even more immersive. But I'm looking forward to it. Later in the week, we'll be heading out to Buddy Guy's club to meet the man himself. That promises to be a unique Elgin, I mean Chicago, experience. (Sing: "When you're in Chicago, you ain't got nothing to lose.")
The National Guitar Workshop has additional sessions through the summer in Austin, Texas and at the main campus in Purchase, New York.