WHAT “HOOT!” | Songmakers brings together acoustic music enthusiasts from across the country – VC Reporter

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Steve Berman can attribute his lifelong love of the harmonica to Woodstock 1969. On his way home from the legendary hippie festival to his hometown of Detroit, he waited by the dusty roadsides to learn the harmonica while playing music. hitchhiking.

Five decades later, the now retired UCLA neuroscientist plays the harmonica a few times a week in welcoming homes, surrounded by fellow musicians at events dubbed “Hoots” or “Song Circles. “. Berman is the president of Songmakers, a nonprofit organization based in Southern California made up primarily of acoustic music creators.

“For me, music has always been a participatory event,” says Berman. “When we went to parties in Detroit when I was young, I used to bring a small bag of instruments, finger cymbals, etc.”

Berman joined Songmakers about eight years ago, around the time he met his wife, Sandy Lessner. Berman and Lessner bonded around a common love for volunteering: Berman as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s in Africa and Lessner having spent over 30 years volunteering for the Topanga Banjo * Fiddle Contest and the California Traditional Music Society‘s Summer Solstice Folk Music and Dance Festival.

Berman took an intermediate banjo class in the latter, and the instructor told him about the Santa Monica Traditional Folk Music Club, which met at its synagogue in Santa Monica. The players there were also members of Songmakers. Berman and Lessner moved north to Agoura Hills in 2010 and Berman began to rise through the Songmakers ranks.

He may have been a part of it for almost a decade now, but Songmakers itself has been around much longer. It started in the late 1940s as an ‘informal jamming group’, officially launched in ’53, and has since evolved into a nonprofit social group of 400 members and 17 board members that supports acoustic music with a very busy schedule.

Almost every day of the week there is a “hoot” (an official Songmakers event) or a “song circle” (an unofficial but supported musical gathering) at someone’s house or at a pizzeria in Ventura County. , Los Angeles or Orange County. There are usually around 20 events per month and the boos range in size from 10 to 40 people. Ventura County song-makers’ hangouts include the Bell Arts Factory, American Legion Hall in Ventura, and a longtime violinist’s private home in Camarillo.

There’s also an annual picnic as well as a handful of camping weekends per year, which are very popular, Berman says. Most of the camps are in Kenney Grove Park in Fillmore. The last camp of the year, “Music in the Mountains,” supports another organization, a Unitarian church camp called Camp de Benneville Pines in the San Bernardino Mountains. The event has a dozen musical workshops and a professional musician opens the Saturday night concert.

The most important thing at the heart of Songmakers is supporting house music, says Berman.

At a given event, musicians sit in a circle, and when it is a musician’s turn to choose a song, he or she tells people if it is a song, to a play or if they only want certain instruments. “You orchestrate it, you are the leader,” says Berman. There is a set of guidelines including taking inspiration from the leader and other rules of etiquette. But there is no skill level required to join Songmakers. There is also no age requirement: while many are retired like Berman, there is also a new group of young players thanks to Songmakers now on Meetup.com.

“I always tell people, Songmakers’ promise is that you might be playing badly, but you won’t know it from us,” Berman says. “It’s part of our mission to only give positive reinforcement and encouragement, and we guarantee that the more you come, the better off you will be. “

Songmakers offers Hoots and Song Circles throughout Ventura County. For a calendar of events and more information, visit www.songmakers.org.

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