Saturday, October 27, 2007

I am now a banjo player

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 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.


pablo said...

You're hooked. I'm envious. I've never shown any ability with instruments or even understanding music. I wish I could be more like you (except for the girly parts, of course).

Floridacracker said...

You think YOU can't comprehend it, you should be in my amusical shoes.
Enjoy your new toy!

Clare said...

Love the banjo. I actually own one, along with several other instruments I can't play. I always seem surprised to find out that it takes work to learn to play an instrument. Sigh.

Deb said...

Pablo and FC- You're not amusical if you can at least appreciate a good song. What would the world be without music?

Clare- I would think, with your endless winter nights, that you would have a lot of time to learn an instrument. However, having small children around does somehow take away from practice time. I only wish it didn't take all that practice!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Deb,
Good for you getting through the Cities traffic! I experience the same thing when we come back from up north. Sometimes I chicken out and take the North Branch exit and go all the way around through Stillwater to get down to Rochester!

I envy your musical talent, but am so glad you enjoy it. It's a wonderful "gift" to have.

Deb said...

RuthieJ- now that's a detour! North Branch is where I stopped to shop at the outlet mall. I used to live in Stacy, the next exit south of North Branch, and we were within listening distance of the freeway. It was not good.

Anonymous said...

What brand and model of banjo did you get? Sounds like a good one!

And referencing your weight loss effort--as a fiddler and a random nibbler, I always try to remind myself that playing fiddle has no calories.

Have fun!

Kate in Indiana

Anonymous said...

..and I meant to say, Josefin's waltz is one of the best tunes ever; we've gotten into playing it at our weekly Irish session, even though it's not Irish (but an Irish band did record it once).


Deb said...

Kate- Welcome! It's a Deering Goodtime, their most basic model. I'll post a photo sometime soon. I chose it mainly because it had the best reputation of any banjo that would fit my budget.

I think I've heard that version of "Josefin's Waltz", but I can't remember who it was. I first heard Natalie MacMaster's version of it. And, a weekly Irish session--how fun! I would love to do something like that, but the nearest one is over sixty miles away.

eric said...

Hey Deb – congrats on the banjo! While I’ve tinkered a bit on the mandolin but never actually played a banjo. I have found that many of the finger picking patterns translate nicely to the guitar. Time for you to pop some Earl Scruggs into the old CD player. Post us up some mp3s of your progress!

Thunder Dave said...

I've always enjoyed the sound of a banjo, played by capable hands not mine of course!

When I retire, and finally have time of my own again, I plan to learn the saxophone. I'm hoping the trees will help buffer the noise for my poor unsuspecting neighbors!