Camper profile: Kathleen Harris
Oct. 2, 2023
“You get ripped out of yourself. It’s like going to a foreign country, only the foreign country is bluegrass.”
After a 50-year hiatus, Oakland resident Kathleen Harris picked her violin back up in 2021. Did she have any muscle memory left over from her high school and college playing all those years ago?
“I still have the bowing,” she said.
Kathleen, an Oakland resident, attended her first Walker Creek Camp in the spring of 2023, and she’ll be back in November. We interviewed Kathleen about her camp experience, what she learned, and what made her come back for more.
What class did you take at your first Walker Creek Camp?
Kathleen: It was an introduction to jamming, so it was all instruments, all levels. And the teacher taught us how to call a song and how to indicate when the song was beginning, how to set the tempo, how to indicate when people should take breaks, what kind of breaks to take.
We got some practice at just doing things together, which was extremely useful. Because you go to a jam and they want you to know what you’re doing. And you’ve got to learn these things, it’s not something that comes with the instrument.
What made you come back to Walker Creek?
I walked in and people said, “Oh, a fiddle, come over here. Do you sing? Let’s go. Do you know Keep On The Sunny Side? Let’s play.” I walked in and I was a member of the family.
Did you have any particular favorite memories from your first camp?
I had a wonderful memory of the Western Swing evening session. I know a D chord, a G chord, an A chord, and I walked into the Western Swing session and they handed out charts and I was like, “What? You play off charts?” They said, “Yes, it’s Western Swing. It’s actually jazz.”
And there were two wonderful mandolin players who also sang together. I sat right next to them, and it was a terrific experience hearing people who were really good, it was just really cool. I just chopped, did my little scratches and played a few chords and listened, and they let me stay.
Was there any specific music-related thing you learned that stuck with you?
When I was in high school and college I played from sheet music, and so I got a book of tunes and I started playing them. And that’s not how you do bluegrass. It’s an aural tradition, and it goes into the mind differently. And I discovered at Walker Creek that you really have to change your mindset and start doing it a different way.
So now I’m taking fiddle lessons and I’m jamming at the El Cerrito Jam on Wednesday nights. It put me in the bluegrass frame, and it’s different from just regular violin. It’s a fiddle.
What would you tell someone who was considering coming to Walker Creek for the first time?
I would say spend the month before strengthening your hand, spend the month before putting in more time than you usually put in. Get ready physically because you’re going to want to play eight hours a day, and you need to be ready for that or you’re going to get tendinitis, so get your strength together.
You need to keep that in mind that it’s going to be all encompassing. You will think about nothing else. And at first I thought, “Well, no internet, no TV, no email. What am I going to do?” And I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t think about the outside world. I was too busy and I’d fall into bed at night, exhausted and I’d sleep straight through the night and jump up the next morning and say, “What’s the first thing I have to do? Oh, let’s go to the first class. Let’s go to breakfast and talk to some people. Let’s have a wonderful time.”
You’re making me very much look forward to camp!
You get ripped out of yourself. It’s like going to a foreign country, only the foreign country is bluegrass.
Anything else about camp you wanted to say?
The food was great. That’s important.
And I don’t know what it’s going to be like in November, but it was gorgeous (in the spring). There’s a creek, and I was doing some environmental volunteering for Friends of Sausal Creek (in Oakland). And so I went out one day and turned over some rocks and found some caddisflies, and I was very happy, and the setting is beautiful.