|Author: Lewis, Trish
Playing music is the ultimate viral phenomenon. Anyone learning an instrument invariably must share their mangled Stairway to Heaven with nearby friends, and eventually begin recruiting bystanders into their obsession.
And it spreads like a fart in a yoga class.
I was no different. As soon as I could hack through “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” I began soliciting my younger brother Byron to take up the fiddle. I just knew there had to be a fiddle involved somehow.
Byron was the quiet and sensible type, and preferred to spend his days bird watching and drawing cartoons. And he wisely declined my offer for him to play fiddle in my new imaginary band.
So I did what had to be done: I went to Mom.
Our Mom was right out of Little House on the Prairie, except it was pretty much all Prairie, and no House. She was the boss of us and our home-school teacher, and we learned what she told us to learn.
We learned music, art, and the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious by Carl Jung. Oh, and the fine art of foraging for wild edible plants…so we could eat.
And, we learned it was folly to oppose her autocratic rule. So when she told Bryon he was going to learn the fiddle, he grimaced and said “awesome!”
Next day knew she ordered one from a catalog, along with a stack of instructional books.
Byron sighed began the long squeaky journey toward fiddle-dom. And it was worse than we expected.
The fiddle is truly a demonic device, created to mimic the sound of a live cat skinning, and there is really no way to lessen the suffering for everyone around. Mom bought a violin mute, but it didn’t help much.
Finally Mom decided there needed to be a special fiddle area, which ended up being a meadow several miles away. So every morning Bryon would dutifully trudge into the distance, fiddle in hand, and come back at sunset with a look on his face I would later recognize as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But he hung in there, and eventually got it. We were all proud of him.
Then of course we needed a guitar player, and a mandolin player. So the next two siblings in line were promptly delegated Guitarist and Mandolinist, and fell without resistance.
Instruments and books arrived, and the cacophony began in earnest. Looking back, I now understand my Dads somewhat distant personality: he was driven away by our caterwauling!
Well, as they say “misery loves company” and nowhere is this truer than in learning music together.
Although we sounded like chimpanzees with slide whistles, it was fun, because we were all in it together! Each instrument became a musical puzzle piece, and we learned to fit in and play in time together.
It didn’t take us long to figure out that the guitar was the backbone, thumping away with the Johnny Cash rhythm, and the mandolin was supposed to hold down the “chop”, that cool backbeat that makes bluegrass so exiting.
We were a team!
In fact, to this day I pester my beginning students hook up with others and make matters even worse. I tell them that learning to play is like practicing swimming in a parking lot, but Jamming is like diving in feet first and then trying to stay afloat.
Remind yourself “I am better than I sound!” and remember that sometimes bad things happen to good songs.
Then one morning over oatmeal and soymilk, Mom made an announcement.
“The time has come” she intoned. “This morning the tarot cards and the I Ching both told me the the band is ready to enter the outside world”.
We nodded in unison.
“But we can’t risk too much exposure to society, so I will have to find the right place”.
We knew the drill. We never quite understood what Mom was talking about, but it was always cosmic and unarguable.
It turned out she had booked us at the North State Senior Living Center.
See, Mom wanted to make sure that we weren’t exposed to the evils of the outside world, like groupies and wild parties, so she booked us someplace safe. So she booked us someplace where people could barely walk.
The next day we donned our Salvation Army finest and piled into the bus. When we arrived Mom herded us single file into the building, down the hall and into the Rec room.
The lavender walls were lined with plastic flowers and the smell of formaldehyde hung in the air. The audience consisted of six ancient beings in wheel chairs, staring at us in silence.
One of them slumped over and began to snore loudly.
All of a sudden it felt like we were about to charge out of a fox hole into heavy artillery fire.
I looked at Byron, but he was staring sightlessly ahead. My 2nd youngest brother, Pavi, was shaking like a leaf. His face was ashen.
In my mind I said “OK, we’re the Lewis Band and we’re glad to be here. We’re going to begin with a great fiddle tune called the Red haired Boy. We hope you enjoy it!”
But instead I whispered “OK-Band-we-play-now”, and we began.
All I remember were my fingers dancing like disembodied spiders, and a continuous hacking cough from the audience.
When we finished there was stone silence. Then more hacking and wheezing.
I turned to the old man with the cough.
“I hope you get better sir” I said, trying desperately to keep my voice even.
The old man looked up, like a mummy coming alive in a B grade movie.
“I hope you do to” he spat.
Later that night around the campfire Mom said the show was great, and that the Gods were pleased. I ate my gruel in silence and vowed never to play for anyone again.
But of course I did. And so will you!
“Music is best when shared”
From whining about sore fingertips to your first messy jams, share your musical journey with family and friends and you’ll have a lot more fun learning!
Copyright © 2002 California
Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
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