My music teacher in elementary school was a big, buxom woman with dark eyes and even darker hair that she kept piled in curls on the top of her head. She’d go from classroom to classroom, tapping out rhythm, encouraging us to sing, rallying the boys in the back of the room. I loved her. I especially loved her on the days that she brought the instruments – a cardboard box full of triangles, tambourines and wooden sticks. But the best instrument of all was the one that came in the odd-shaped box. The Autoharp. I always volunteered to play the Autoharp, and Mrs. Soldridge always chose me. Maybe it was unfair to the other few who could manage to keep time, but I didn’t care. I wanted that instrument. I wanted it bad. It was heavy and wonderful and all you had to do to make a sound like angels calling was press a button and strum the felt plectrum across the strings. And there were so many strings they were impossible to count.
By the time I was in high school though, I’d forgotten all about Mrs. Soldridge and her Autoharp. I was too busy failing in my attempts to play the opening of Stairway to Heaven on my guitar. The Autoharp was old-fashioned and silly and so were all those traditional folk songs I loved as a kid.
Flash forward more decades than I’d like to count and enter Evo Bluestein. Evo brings traditional folk music and dance to schools across the country. His ability to charm even an introvert like me into believing she’s musical is legendary. I could take a few pages to sing Evo’s praises but it would be easier for you to just click here. On Saturday Evo offered an Autoharp Workshop at Gryphon Music in Palo Alto. With my friend Sarah’s encouragement, I signed up.
The workshop began at 1:00 when I pulled a 21-bar Evoharp (Evo’s custom built version of the Autoharp) from its case. By 1:15 Sarah and I were playing our first song. Knowing he had two (cough) extraordinarily talented students in front of him he decided on a more accelerated course. By 2:00 he and Sarah – a music teacher with a classically trained voice and her own 14-bar Evoharp – were playing exquisite melodies while I attempted to keep a steady rhythm (pick strum pick strum pick strum…). Our voices rang out in three-part harmony. By 2:30 Evo was introducing me to more complicated strumming patterns and by 2:45 my left arm was ready to fall off.
He ended the workshop by playing a Bessie Smith blues number. It was unbelievable.
Music transforms you. It alters the beat of your heart and the way blood spills through your veins. I walked into that workshop a bit blue and more than a little nervous. I left two hours later knowing there had been change on a cellular level.
Today music was my Yoga and every cell of my body was filled with joy.
I loved every single minute of that time spent with my friend, with Evo and with music. I’m no Mother Maybelle, but damn that was fun!