By Jim D’Ville
Imagine six days of music immersion in the beautiful environs of a Pacific Northwest pine forest surrounded by like-minded musicians. That’s the idea behind one of the most prestigious music camps in America, the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop. Though the PSGW is not an exclusive ukulele retreat, this magical musical summer camp is seeing a larger number of ukuleles.
Now in its 43rd year, PSGW offers three separate six-day sessions each August at an idyllic lakeside retreat across the Puget Sound from Seattle, near Port Orchard. Although PSGW is primarily a guitar camp, top-notch instruction is available in other acoustic instruments, including fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, and ukulele. Peter Langston, co-founder of PSGW told me about when he decided to add ukulele instruction to the camp curriculum. “We’ve had ukulele as part of the PSGW curriculum virtually since the beginning of the camp in 1974. Ukuleles are a natural choice for teaching about music—they’re inexpensive, easy to carry, unintimidating, and fun.”
A typical day at PSGW starts with a hearty breakfast in the main-lodge dining room, followed by two morning workshop sessions. After lunch there is an additional lesson session followed by a daily slow jam, which gives newer players the chance to try out their soloing and jam skills in a supportive environment. The musical activities continue after dinner, with camp dances, more jamming, a student concert, and an instructor’s concert.
Being a first time attendee to the PSGW, I was amazed at how quickly I was welcomed into the family. With my first morning period free, I was able in participate in a “Singing Harmony From Scratch” class taught by Portland singer Mark Bosnian. In a mere five hours of instruction over the course of four days, what began as a class of scared harmony newbies transformed into a twenty-person ensemble that performed flawlessly at the student concert on the fourth day of camp.
Many of the ukulele students in my classes were also guitar players, so it was a blast to welcome them further into the ukulele fold. Since guitar and ukulele share many of the same chord shapes (albeit in a different key), the guitar players took to the uke like ducks to water.
It’s not all music at the PSGW though. There are kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards for use on the lake, a swimming area, ping-pong and all the other fun activities one would expect at summer camp. Many of the folks I met have been attending the PSGW for years, if not decades, and in the process have made lifelong musical friends. PSGW sells out quickly every year but you can monitor their website for 2017 registration information www.psgw.org