I taught my fourth annual guitar workshop last week. It was the best yet. There was a 14-year-old from Germany, a 17-year-old one from Ireland, a 22-year-old and a 38-year old from England, all converging on the little seaside town of Girvan in southwest Scotland for five days of intensive learning, playing, and growing musically.
Gerrit had come from Germany to learn more of my tunes (he was already playing 15 of them that he had taught himself). Although his English wasn't good, we never had a problem communicating musically. He left playing three more, with corrections on some of the ones he was already playing.
Tim came from the south of England to learn more about the craft of composition. He left with a new composition -- his own -- as well as an expanded toolbox of ideas and approaches for making his music more expressive and interesting.
Mark came over from Dublin after seeing me play a concert there last fall. He left having learned three of my tunes. More importantly, he left with a new awareness of how to use rhythmic accents and control the tempo in his own music. He's coming back next year.
And Matt had first seen me play in Brighton last year. When he came to see me again at a gig in London last fall, he asked me if I teach. I told him about the workshop. He signed up right away.
When he left he told me it had been the best week of his life. He's coming back next year too.
It wasn't all work. We had lunch and dinner together most days, a cookout on the terrace one evening, and a three-hour boat trip around the Ailsa Craig one afternoon. We had many serious conversations on both musical and non-musical subjects. We laughed a lot too.
We got together as a group every day. We also broke off into separate areas where I taught each student individually. As the week progressed my attention was required less and less as each student locked in on the goal he had set for himself.
I spoke about the craft of putting a concert set together, the importance of tempo consistency, strategies and devices for orchestrating a composition, and the concept of multi-voicing.
I spoke about how my music should be viewed as a starting point, a way of learning to think in new ways, and not as an end in itself.
I answered their questions, and asked them questions.
My favorite part of the workshop was the last evening, when the students played for Catherine and me. I had asked them to prepare anything they wanted, whether it had anything to do with what they had been working on during the week or not.
We were treated to some amazing music by some seriously accomplished players. Getting them to play for us at the end was like giving them back to themselves after five days of intense self-challenge, paradigm-shifting, and wood-shedding.
We took group photos. There was a wonderful, warm, shared feeling in the air.
I was reminded again, as I am each time I teach this workshop, how much I admire the courage, focus, dedication, and stamina of all the students around the world who have come here to Scotland to challenge themselves, to learn new things, and to grow.
They have invested in themselves, and there is no more important investment in life.