Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For the love of the music

I did it. I drove out into the cold, dark evening to a small town high school band room. I walked in, mandolin and banjo cases in hand, smiled awkwardly and introduced myself to the three people there. I noticed there was one other banjo, but no mandolin. Good, I'd rather play mandolin anyway.

"You got a song for us?" My mind went blank for a moment, as it usually does when I'm put on the spot to suggest a song. But then I remembered my old standard, Greg Brown's "Early". I began to sing.

If I had been nervous, I quickly realized that playing with this group was nothing to be nervous about. There were no fast songs, no unusual chord changes, no one even put anyone on the spot to play a solo. As I eased into the music I started adding mandolin ornaments to the melody, tremolos and runs, nothing too flashy. It was noticed and appreciated.

The leader, a sixty-something man in blue jeans and plaid flannel shirt, played the dobro (resophonic slide guitar). He was mild mannered and good natured. In between songs he told tales of jams and festivals and picking into the wee hours of the night.

A woman about my age was playing banjo. Normally a banjo is loud enough (or the player makes it loud enough) to dominate the sound. She played so softly, picking the chords in basic patterns, it seemed as if she wanted to enjoy the music without being heard. We joked about some of the quirks of banjo playing, and I apologized for calling "Soldier's Joy" in D, a difficult key to play in a jam unless you happen to have a second banjo lying around tuned to D.

There was another woman there, I'm guessing in her sixties, who sang and played guitar on a number of old country and bluegrass ballads. She said she used to be able to remember so many more songs, but ever since she had heart surgery, she has had a difficult time remembering them. Some effect of the anesthesia. It frustrates her, but she keeps right on singing and playing an re-learning tunes. My excuses for not playing music more often now sound pathetically lame.

After a few songs I realized that, unless the leader was holding back, I was probably the most accomplished player there. I'm not trying to brag or anything (well, maybe! ;) ), but I realized by mostly playing alone over the last few years, I tend to hear only my own inner critic. I compare myself with mandolin greats like Sam Bush and Chris Thile, and of course when you do that you're going to fall short. I think a steady diet of professionally recorded music, unless it is tempered by real live playing with ordinary folks, can lead to a musical inferiority complex. I suspect this feeling leads more than a few aspiring musicians to keep their light under a bushel.

I am grateful for the musicians everywhere who let their light shine. It's not about the best voice, or the flashiest solo; it's about being there, playing for the love of the music.

I'll be more prepared next time. I'll bring a song list. :)

17 comments:

forest wisdom said...

Good for you, Deb! I love your philosophy here. That's what "folk" music is really supposed to be about: People sitting around kitchen tables playing and singing songs. That's the good stuff.

Val said...

"It's not about the best voice, or the flashiest solo; it's about being there, playing for the love of the music."

And isn't interesting that when this is embraced, all the nervousness just fades away...

Heidi said...

I'd love to have been a fly on that wall! :D

barefoot gardener said...

Yay! I am so glad you went and had a good time.

Pablo said...

Hold on there! You're saying that you did this for the "love of the music"? You didn't do it with the idea of making money from it? You mean people can do things without crass motivations driving them?

robin andrea said...

Good for you for going out there and playing. Sounds like it was a grand time.

Richard said...

Good job Deb. Great way to get rid of cabin fever and the winter blues....Damn that sounds like the makins for a song.

Deb said...

Forest Wisdom- It was definitely the good stuff. I hope there are more people around here that will join in.

Val- first of all welcome here, I have seen your thoughtful comments on Forest Wisdom's blog. Yes, when you realize that these people are here just because they love the music, well, I actually played better than I had in a long time!

Heidi- You may know the people that were there! Maynard Fjosne? Bonnie somebody and her mom?

Barefoot- I'm glad I went too.

Pablo- The music download will be available for only 19.95. NOT!! ;)

Robin Andrea- It was just so great to get out and meet some nice folks.

Richard- "I've got the cabin fever and the winter blues..." Yes, definite song material there!

Robert V. Sobczak said...

Sounds fun. It's always in collaboration that creative spirits are ignited. Followed by solo work. I play guitar, and have written a few songs, and should write more. I have a vague idea of a song in my mind that needs tending to. But my guitar playing is all chords and rhythm.

Deb said...

Robert- That about describes my guitar playing, and I don't even have all the chords down. Keep the song in mind, and I hope to maybe hear it someday.

Anonymous said...

Deb, Early has always been my favorite Greg Brown song (and I've heard them all)...would have loved to hear your rendition!
Kathy in Maine (Heidi's mom)

Jayne said...

Yay Deb!! You go girl! Whoo hoooo! What it must have taken to muster the courage to do that, and then to see that you have so much to offer. I am smiling from ear to ear. Indeed, it's all about being there and the love of the music.

Deb said...

Kathy- Nice to hear from you! I also did "The Train Carrying Jimmie Rodgers Home". That's a hard one to do without crying. Greg is such a poet.

jayne- For some reason I was thinking of you singing with the choir when I wrote this post. :)

Jen said...

Good for you. Some of my happiest memories are not of playing in the professional group but of sitting around with the amateurs and learning. The love of music is the best thing to share!

Seabrooke said...

I've found that that inferiority complex inevitably slips in to any artistic endeavor. As a writer, I compare myself to Scott Weidensaul or David Quammen. As an artist I compare myself to Julie Zickefoose or Robert Bateman. As a musician... well, I never put in the time to become good enough to compare myself to anyone (certainly not Wynton Marsalis or Louis Armstrong). My boyfriend is a more gifted artist than myself and doesn't tend to think highly of his work. My sister constantly amazes me on her violin but stacks herself up against Itzhak Perlman.

As you say, the most important thing is that you enjoy what you do, regardless of how well or not you do it, but second most important is to keep things in perspective, and to always feel good about yourself and the things you excel at. I'm glad you had the opportunity to do both there!

RuthieJ said...

Hey Deb, that's so cool! I'm glad you went and are now excited about going back again.

Deb said...

Jen- Welcome, and thanks for commenting! I have had some great times playing in a totally amateur community orchestra, and picking a few tunes with friends. It's all about the love of the music.

Seabrooke- Welcome, glad to hear from you! What great examples you give of comparing one's work to others. They should be viewed as an example of what to strive for, not as a benchmark of success/failure. But we all tend to fall into that comparison thing. :)

RuthieJ- I feel very good about it. I'm so glad someone cares enough about the music to offer this opportunity.