Ray Choi was born in Chuang Ju in South Korea in 1959. When he was a teenager he taught himself to yodel and went on to start a yodeling club and began a yodeling and singing career, winning a national competition in Korea. He found he had a natural ability for music, theory and perfect pitch, and soon taught himself guitar. In 1968 he heard his first chromaharp, and was so impressed by its sound that a few years later he got his first autoharp, teaching himself strums, finger and thumb picking. In 1984 he followed Jane to California, where they later married, and had two children, David and Esther. Together Ray and Jane own and operate Grace Music in Tustin. After collaborating with mentor Paul Cramm, a luthier in Orange County, Ray also became a luthier, building beautiful, rich resonating tones with full volume into the warm and exotic woods of his own autoharps. Currently Ray has built over 650 autoharps, each taking about 100 hours to craft. Through the years Ray has given lessons to as many as 600 students. Ray is also Music Director of his church, performing at many other churches and public events, including weddings, funerals and celebrations. Ray conducts autoharp workshops and concerts and currently has two local autoharp groups that he meets with monthly. In his spare time Ray is compiling three new books for autoharpists: one of approximately 650 hymns, and another of approximately 1000 popular, folk, religious, western and classical songs, all in authoharp tabluature, a booklet illustrating his finger techniques, and a book/DVD for beginning autoharpists to be published in early 2018. Although Ray plays woodwind instruments, mandolin, and guitar, he lives and breathes the autoharp. “I think autoharp all the time, all day, when I wake up and when I try to sleep,” he passionately states. Over the years he has developed a new technique, dubbed “the hummingbird tremolo” because of its incredibly fast flutter of fingers across the strings, similar to the sound of a mandolin, a skill that took 1000’s of hours to perfect. In 2011,using this new skill, Ray Choi won both first place championships at both the Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gathering and the Walnut Valley International Music Festival in the same year, a feat only a few other autoharpists have ever accomplished. In 2017, he again won the Mountain Laurel Autoharp Championship.. Ray has sold 1000’s of Oscar Schmidt autoharp through the years and the company calls him “Mr. Autoharp.” His passion for the autoharp resonates not only through his own handcrafted instruments, but also through the intensity of his skill, passion and dedication to his students and the autoharp community as he teaches, sings, yodels, and plays the songs we’ve all come to love. Ray truly lives and breathes the autoharp! Ray’s instruction will teach you efficient ways to add musicality to your songs. His performance will demonstrate many techniques, some achieved by only Ray Choi!
Tina Louise Barr is a virtuoso performer of the autoharp, and her amazing clarity on the autoharp has won recognition in her field. Tina Louise Barr has both performed and given instruction at the Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gathering in Pennsylvania, the Willamette Valley Autoharp Gathering in Oregon, the Glendale Folk & Heritage Festival in Arizona, and the California Autoharp Gathering. Tina Louise Barr is a staff member of the international music publication Autoharp Quarterly Magazine, and she is a recipient of the Modesto Area Music Association (MAMA) Award, the California Bluegrass Association Service Award, and the California Autoharp Gathering Lifetime Achievement Award.
John Gwinner is a versatile musician who plays mandolin, fiddle, dobro, electric lap steel, and guitar. His music draws from a diverse range of musical styles, rooted in a rich mix of Americana. John and Tina’s interest in music had them both involved in radio broadcasting at community FM stations, and John continues to host a folk and bluegrass program at California State University, Stanislaus. John has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about the pioneers of country music, and he is an avid fan of early jazz-influenced western swing groups led by band leaders such as Milton Brown and Bob Wills.
Tina Louise Barr and John Gwinner perform as “Hot Wire” and will be featured during our Cambria Picking in the Pines autoharp festivities. Fasten your seat belt, it will be a lively show!
Igor the Jazz Cowboy is a lively entertainer performing on stage for large audiences and for intimate concerts in private homes. With a 4-octave voice which includes skilled yodeling, his story songs cover the U.S. borderlands from the Deep South to the Wild West.
Igor was a professional accompanist for musicians including Benny Goodman and John Denver. His show band, the “Jazz Cowboys” toured the United States and throughout the world in Australia, Asia, Canada, Europe, Israel and Mexico. National television appearances include five appearances on the hilarious “Gong Show”. Each December, he entertains as a real-beard Santa Claus.
Igor is available as a solo act or with musicians of your choice.