Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another New Arrival

I heard a string quartet for the first time when I was a kid in grade school, and immediately afterwards I yearned to play the violin. Bless their hearts, my folks bought me one at a neighbor's garage sale, and I won't lie: the lessons were torture! I couldn't read music to save my life -- still can't, in fact -- but managed to fake it, probably because I had a decent ear. During that time, I used my allowance to add a guitar and harmonica to my repertoire, and my dad jokes to this day about how quickly I could get a tune out of them on the way home in the car, just minutes after their purchase.

Even though I wasn't particularly good at it, making music back then was a personal pleasure. But somewhere along the line I became too timid to play in front of others. Over the next 40 years I collected dozens of instruments -- everything from tin whistles to drums to mandolins -- and I've managed to coax an amateurish tune out of them all at one time or another, but you'd have to take my word for it. James has begged to hear me play, but I choke every time.

For over a year now I've been desperate to work through my discomfort, and I blame writer Jenna Woginrich and her wonderful blog Cold Antler Farm. Jenna's a scrappy, fresh-faced 20-something living my dream. She's a graphic designer who owns a small homestead teeming with life (a lot of it at the moment happens to be of the newborn lamb variety), and she writes about it in a way that makes my head do the Happy Dance. Over time I've enjoyed posts about her love of mountain music, of fiddles and banjos, and of playing tunes on the porch on an autumn evening. It all made me long to make music again, and the feeling has yet to go away.

So when Jenna suggested recently that we all (meaning her blog followers) consider learning how to play the banjo together, I was immediately interested. We'd start on the spring equinox, and she'd post videos on her blog of lessons she's taking with her own instructor. She made the whole idea sound so down home and charming that it kept me awake at night just thinking about it. I mentioned it to James and he was instantly encouraging and even went so far as to look up instruments on the Internet.

But I know how it is with me.... I have tons of good intentions, but that's about it. The instruments I already own are crying out to be heard and I'm not giving them voice.

It'd be cruel to add another to their ranks....

Days passed. I thought I'd talked myself out of Banjo Equinox. Then James and I walked to the village to run errands one afternoon and stopped in the music store there on a whim. And what should we discover but a used Fender open-backed banjo there on consignment. It seemed like a big old sign telling me to come out of the music closet!

The elderly gentleman there took the instrument down and inspected it, and we talked at length while he turned the pegs and plucked the strings. Then I asked him if he played banjo at all. He kindly said, "No." And then he stopped and looked me straight in the eye. "But you will."


I can't very well disappoint him now, can I?


  1. Wahoo! I know what you mean. I hate to commit to anything! But I admire you so much for taking this first step. And doing it once or twice really isn't committing to it, is it?

    Wouldn't it be so cool, to have some other musicians over and just be able to quietly strum in the background? Sounds like a charmed life to me.

  2. Chris, just being able to quietly strum in the background sounds like a charmed life to me, too! I was the world's worst violinist back in my high school days -- couldn't read music if my life was threatened, but I could almost sort of fake it -- and my whole reason for even continuing on with it was the opportunity to play with a group. There were times the whole bunch of us would just gel, and when that happened I swear I saw sparkles and fairies. Magickal moments.... :)