Monday, June 1, 2009

Wood & Steel


In junior high I took guitar lessons for a while and gained a basic ability to play chords and a few songs. It was fun, but it never really went too far.

Fast forward to the late mid-nineties and somehow the desire to play the guitar again was clear enough that I went out and bought one.

Largely influenced during this time by the guitar playing of Luka Bloom, and soon after, my discovery of contra dancing and the traditional music that is basis of the dance, I started moving in the direction of learning and playing traditional/Irish/celtic music. I discovered the deep and shimmery sound of the DADGAD tuning and made it mine. Over the years there have been periods of domancy, but the guitar has basically been a constant friend since I started playing again. The guitar hangs on the wall of the yurt next to the bed and is close at hand.


I'm not a natural when it comes to musical ability, but I'm not a disaster either. I've found through the years that I've developed an ear, some technical facility, and a rudimentary understanding of musical structure. The progress is slow, but it is there. One of the most satisfying steps in this process was starting to accompany tunes by ear rather then by relying on books or written-out chords. When playing by feel/ear I find that my approach is more confident, sounds better, and is actually sort of easier since its coming from within me rather then from an outside source. I also remember the structure of what I'm playing more readily then I would if I'd played it from a book. It is my suspicion that playing this way engages a different part of the brain.

Some of this progress is due to the generosity and patience of my friend Joanne, who, among her many talents, is a stellar fiddle player. When we first started playing together I was just feeling my way and she was willing to stick with it, despite my baby steps. Over the years Joanne has been something of an informal music teacher in that she's helped me hear things out, explained musical questions, and made informed suggestions that are usually quite helpful. Beyond that, its always just felt fun and comfortable playing together and that may be the most important thing of all. I think feeling safe when doing something creative is crucial, and Joanne has always been a sport, even when my portion of the musical offering has been a little weak.

When a tune comes together with other musicians and I feel sure of where I'm headed, its one of the most exciting experiences I can imagine. It just makes me really happy in a kid-like excited way.

The picture shows Joanne and I playing during a very snowy weekend trip Nance and I made to visit her and her fiancee Michael up in Montreal a couple of years ago.

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