Thursday, February 21, 2008

Musical memories - warning: long!

In the last little bit, I've started to become obsessed again with guitar. Because, don't ya know, it's always when I've no spare time whatsoever amongst my many hobbies - crocheting, calligraphy, baking, writing, biking - that I decide to cram another back into my life. I always end up picking up old hobbies in November during NaNoWriMo, when I have no spare time. Go figure. (Incidentally, both times above when I typed hobbies, I first typed "hobbits". What that means as a Freudian slip, I have no idea....)

I'm seriously thinking about slapping down the credit card and attending Steve Kaufman's Flatpicking Kamp at Maryville College, TN this year. I went once before, back in 2001, before 9/11 and before Mom's illness. It was one of the best weeks of my life. I was surrounded by music crazed lunatics, many with out-of-this-world guitars and mandos that they let me play to my heart's content: old Martins and Gibsons; new Collings and Santa Cruz and Bourgeois and Gallagher guitars; fabulous beauties from one-man or very small shops like Dudenbostel and Merrill. And there was jamming, classes, jamming, workshops, concerts, jamming, and a tiny, tiny bit of sleep. Mostly, I listened. Everywhere you went on campus, there was music. Some of the attendees were serious could stand outside the dining hall for hours just listening in on folks standing around playing music under the trees there. Someone was always ready to offer tips, or let you pick something at your own pace. I came away dazed, still hearing tunes ringing in my ears, with more material (both mental and in books and tapes and things) than I could get through in a lifetime.

I planned to go the following year, either for guitar or mandolin classes, and for the rest of the experience outside of class. I was signed up. But around March or April, we found out that Mom had terminal cancer, and would likely pass away by summer, or in the summer. She died in late May, a few weeks before camp would have taken place, and of course I didn't go. I couldn't. Later that year I lost my job and things just...changed a lot.

This year, I'm finally in a position to go again, I think. I'm terribly rusty. I've hardly played guitar or mandolin since moving to Washington, and for the last little while, I've made little effort to seek out other musicians. For the last few days I've been practicing guitar - fiddle tunes, mostly, as those are what typically get played in the easier jam circles. The jazz tunes are left to the more advanced crowd, generally....

Tonight, I got out some CDs of old playing sessions back home. A number of us used to get together and play a night or two a week, and one of the guys had recording capability. He'd make CDs of the night's playing and give us copies. Partly it was for those who learned by ear, partly it was just so we could hear ourselves. We weren't very good. But it was fun. And, important for practicing along, we played slowly. I found a CD that had many of the tunes I'm working on, popped it into the computer, and started playing along. On the very first one, I noticed the cello in the background and had to stop and listen. It's very bittersweet.

Most of us kids learned to play an instrument at some point, at least in a basic way. Some of us have stuck with it more than others, but almost all of us at least enjoy playing casually. Mom, bless her heart, put up with the never-ending racket for years, without ever joining in. She didn't think she had any musical talent. A teacher when she was in grade school told her she would never be good at music. I wish I could go back in time and throttle the creep. In any case, it wasn't until about a year or a year and a half before she passed away that she finally decided she wanted to play music. She chose cello -- she loved the sound of it, and the feel of the wood singing, and the movement of the bow -- everything about it. She couldn't play anything very complicated, but had started playing along with us toward the end, just adding bass notes to fill in the background. It sounded really cool. And's such a beautiful thing to hear. I've been thinking a bit sadly about the fact that I never saved letters she wrote to me, not knowing I'd want them so soon. I have very little of her in that way. But there she is on these old recordings of poorly played, limping music, proudly adding her notes to the bass to hold the tunes together. It makes me smile and tear up at the same time.


Duffy Moon said...

That's very moving.

I tried playing a musical instrument for a while as a teenager, but just never had the self-discipline. I thought that since I really loved music I'd be automatically good at playing it.

We have a neighber that plays bass in a bluegrass quartet, and he's offered to teach me. I think mostly it's that he's getting old, and has some type of Parkinsonian neurological condition that makes it increasingly harder for him to play, and feels like he'll be letting the other folks down if he doesn't find a replacement.

Duffy Moon said...

"neighber" obviously means "neighbor". All other typos and grammatical errors are exactly the way I intended them.

Elizabeth H. said...

Bass isn't a bad instrument to learn if you like acoustic music in general and bluegrass in particular! It's as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, and a decent bass player will never want for folks to play with. They, along with the mando folks, hold the rhythm together in bluegrass; at least in my opinion.

The downside, of course, is that they practically require a tractor trailer truck to transport. And at festivals, the bass players aren't typically the ones meandering from jam to jam, for obvious reasons...

One of these days I want to learn just the basic notes,'s a good skill to have!