I made the journey 100 miles south today to a certain music store just outside of Minneapolis to pick up my banjo and get my first lesson on what to do with it. It was quite an experience; I was making this trip solo, which meant instead of pushing on the imaginary brake in the passenger seat, I had to deal with city traffic, something I find increasingly difficult to do. I also made my first trip through the I-35W detour, bypassing the infamous bridge collapse. The detour went smoothly, but traffic piled up at 35W and 62 (The Crosstown). I made it to the store just ten minutes ahead of my lesson.
My instructor, Russ Rayfield, was wonderful. He was delighted to find out I already played several stringed instruments, so I wasn't starting from scratch. By the end of the lesson he basically gave me a few picking patterns to learn, saying "if you know these, you can play any song!" That is exactly what I wanted; not a plodding, song-through-song introduction to banjo, but a license to experiment and find out what works best for me. I won't be able to make it there for lessons very often, if ever, but at least I have a good start.
After the lesson I made a trip to Trader Joe's to pick up a case of Three Buck Chuck (good wine, incredibly cheap) and some other goodies, then on the way home, a stop at an Old Navy outlet store because Starflower desperately needed more jeans to wear to school. I found them, and a couple cute T-shirts for myself. I almost didn't buy them, because I have this terrible self-denial frugal habit I inherited from my parents. But then I thought, heck, I've spent over $300 on myself today with the banjo, what's a couple $15 shirts? I never do this.
After dinner, I excitedly got my banjo out of its case. I tried to play a couple patterns from the photocopied sheets my instructor had given me, but my mind wandered, my fingers followed, and soon I was just winging it, playing whatever came into my head. I picked out a nice rendition of "Amazing Grace" (which is probably THE most perfect melody ever written; "Ashokan Farewell" (Jay Ungar) and "Johsefin's Waltz" (Roger Tallroth) come close) and did some other amazingly melodic stuff.
It is a gift I cannot comprehend, that I can pick up an instrument totally new to me and, within an hour, be making music. I am totally mesmerized by the sound of the banjo. I don't have one of the loud ones with a super heavy resonator. Mine is open backed, quiet but somehow more resonant than my other, wood-topped instruments. And the close open tuning of the strings...you don't have to stretch like you do on guitar or mandolin to play a melody. It just happens, once you know the intervals of the strings. I just may spend the day banjoizing tomorrow. I'm that hooked.