Author: Hendricks, Ralph

The Possibilities Are Endless

A bluegrass jam was just ending. Friends both with and without instruments were all smiles from the last song they finished. The evening had been perfect. Everyone had gathered over a potluck where a long table became covered by dishes of food from the guests. Socializing circles had talked of current events as well as fond past memories. Children happily skipped around the home from room to room. The circles of guests who were chatting mirrored the other circles of musicians who had quickly tuned up and began to play.

One guest at the jam in particular was somewhat in awe looking around the room. This was so great. Only a short time back these folks had been strangers. Now they were friends sharing a unique but common bond centered around the music of bluegrass. Their families were also close and often commented on how great it was they had all “found” each other.

The drive home after the jam was quiet. Music still rang in mind as the evening replayed. The other cars on the road passed by without a sound. The car radio was silent. It would be wrong to have any noise right now that would interfere with this recent memory. It was especially significant to reflect on the night, the music, the jam and the friends because it wasn’t always this way.

It was almost painful to remember the time before evenings like tonight. A prior time, before being a part of the bluegrass community. Sure there was work that took up eight to ten hours a day. Then there were the evenings of mindless TV shows constantly interrupted by obnoxious commercials and depressing news stories. The family watched on with a helpless feeling knowing something was missing but what? Sure work was stressful and life could be stressful too but they had each other. Wasn’t that enough?

There was a guitar in the house. It got played when the mood was right. The same songs and tunes got played over and over again as the years went by. Time didn’t seem to improve the skill of the player as each note felt empty, alone. Sometimes a song would end well before it was over, the musician bored with it. The instrument spent much more time in the case than in the hands of its’ owner. A general malaise had settled into life back then. Tomorrow would be a lot like today so even playing guitar seemed robotic and without meaning. The lyrics of songs had become just words back then. The phone seldom rang and when it did it just meant work was calling. Maybe that is what happens over time. Maybe friends fade away because they are experiencing the same emptiness. Maybe a house could eventually become almost like a prison for just “doing time” as life winds down.

It was one of these melancholy days when someone very special mentioned that there was a local bluegrass jam which occurred each week. “Why not take your guitar over and see what it’s all about?” The question struck a chord and the thought almost shouted “get up and get out”. “Why not?” was the right question at the right time.

The parking lot at the historic old school house where the jam was occurring looked pretty full. Walking into the school room for the first time took every ounce of courage that could be mustered up. There were a lot of musicians already holding instruments. A bass occupied the corner of the room flanked by a large circle of mandolins, banjo’s, fiddles and other guitar players. They all seemed to know each other and were talking not playing. The stranger stepped into the crowded room cautiously so not to be noticed but to no avail. Instantly a mandolin player who appeared to be in charge said “welcome” and everyone began introducing themselves. The entire room was now a buzz of handshakes, introductions and welcoming smiles. The prior fear of being treated like an outsider was instantly replaced by genuine acceptance as one of the jam. Someone waved the stranger over as the circle parted slightly to make room for one more. Within minutes a song and a key were called and the leader kicked off a traditional bluegrass classic everyone knew, including the stranger. Even the family members and visitors who didn’t play an instrument knew their part and sat outside the circle to knit, read or just watch, listen and enjoy. The night was alive with music. The stranger’s spirit was lifted to a new height. Confidence replaced trepidation, an energy vibrated in the room much like the strings on the instruments. The next three hours sped by in a heartbeat and then it ended at the predetermined time. It was over now as new friends exchanged names and phone numbers promising each other to be at the next jam next week.

The months that followed were a blur of weekly bluegrass jams. Life had become re-energized with music and new friendships. A membership in the various jam circles had brought a new life of musical adventures as if transformed like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. A world of infinite song choices emerged with so many keys to play in and a continual growing list of new lyrics to learn. Time at home now included bluegrass too, spent enjoying streaming music from sources like iTunes, Pandora customized to favorite artists and WAMU 88.5 on-line radio. Other resources like Bluegrass provided the words when needed. It was like being a kid in a candy store for the first time. The work weeks would pass in pent up anticipation for the next jam. The circle of friends grew. Other new friends sometimes shared their experience of “awakening” to a new life of music thanks to bluegrass. Festivals, concerts, special events, jams of every kind were available and now sent a beacon of light to follow out of the darkness. Boredom and seclusion were a distant thing of the past now.

The car pulled into the driveway at home. It felt good to be home. It was a calm, peaceful place as it had always been only now it was fully appreciated anew for how great it was. The porch light was on and the front door opened welcoming the returning musician. Each return like this had a greeting with hugs, kisses and even the dog appeared eager to learn about that nights’ jam. Who was there? Did you get to try that new song you’ve been working on? Some missing ingredient had been found that completed the person. Those prior days without music were a faint memory now replaced with so much. How strange yet wonderful that music could affect so many with such an impact.

Just before drifting off to sleep that night, one of the songs from that nights’ jam played in memory. It was definitely one to learn. Maybe it would sound best in the key of “B” or maybe “D” with a fiddle or banjo kick. A stacked harmony would really be great for the chorus. Split breaks would be fun too with one instrument playing off the other. As sleep finally replaced “arrangement” of the song it was crystal clear now………in the wonderful world of bluegrass music, the possibilities are endless.

Posted:  9/19/2011

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