music and memories   9 comments

I haven’t written a post here in almost three months. Sometimes I contemplate over whether to continue on with the blog, but it seems worthwhile to be able to go back and look at what was happening in my life on a certain day. One thing that blogging has made me particularly aware of is how quickly time passes. For example, today is the fourteenth anniversary of my father’s death. In my mind, it seems like it could have been last week that I was sitting in his room talking with and caring for him on his last day. However, several times over the years, I’ve written a blog post about him on March 17th, so that’s a concrete reminder of how much time has passed.

I’ve addressed the topic of time and memory occasionally over these years of blogging. Now more than ever, I find that the distance between one event and another often seems very short even though many years may have passed. A blog is useful as it reminds me that a lot has happened in the spaces between some of the major turning points in my life – Don’s death, my father’s death, living on our farm, selling the farm, five continent-wide meandering journeys over five winters, the buying of the old place in Nova Scotia, the seasonal work on the house, the annual changes to the new gardens I’ve been putting in, the death of Sabrina, the getting to feel part of several different regions of the world where I started over not knowing even one person. I can’t really convey to others how it feels to have had so much of my past obliterated through losses, then to travel alone with my dogs for five years, and then gradually rebuild a life that seems foreign and peculiar – even to me. It has been quite a solitary journey. Without meaning to be too maudlin, I often think of how well the line from the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin'” seems to apply to the past few years of my life:

Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.

It has.

Well, anyhow, moving on to today’s post. If you know me on Facebook, you are probably already aware that I’ve been playing a lot of music over the past couple of years. Music isn’t a new thing for me – I played a lot of guitar and 5-string banjo when I was young. However, I let it slip away to the back burner for about thirty-five years while working and also caring of all the different livestock that we had on our farm. Recreation time was mostly spent hiking, snowshoeing or canoeing with Don. Sometimes my guitar would sit in its case under the bed for more than a year before being dragged out to pick a few tunes some evening, then stashed away for another year. Then, about two years ago, while casting about for something to interest me in my solitary life, I purchased a fiddle, a guitar and a very cheap mandolin with the proceeds of a photograph that was licensed for a company’s packaging. I worked on the fiddle a bit that winter, but mostly played guitar and picked at the mandolin a bit. That has changed over time – I do play more fiddle now – not exactly wonderful, but probably somewhat better than a lot of the other bow-scratchers out there. However, it seems that it has been the mandolin that has captured my interest. I’ve always wanted to play one, and in fact, I have owned one since I was a teenager and there’s kind of a funny story about that. My parents knew that I wanted a mandolin and during one of their trips down to the U.S. they saw one for sale in a music shop down in Syracuse, NY. It was originally a decent model, but was reduced to a very cheap price as the neck was split just back of the nut where it goes up to the tuners. My dad, always being a fixer-upper kind of guy, decided to buy it and fix it up to give to me as a xmas present when I was about sixteen. He did a pretty decent repair, but unfortunately, it just didn’t hold that well and the mandolin constantly slipped out of tune within a minute or so of tuning up. Eventually I got too frustrated and put it away. I still have it – stashed at the old house in Round Hill. The funny thing about having the damaged instrument was that it kept me from buying a new one for so many years. I would always think, “Oh, I should get that mandolin fixed” but never did. Then there was that photograph licensing and it was like found money falling from the sky, so I spent it on instruments – including the cheap asian-made mandolin.

Flash forward to this year and things have changed some more. I became increasingly interested in playing the mandolin and ended up purchasing the two vintage flatbacks in the photo at the beginning of this post. The one on the left is an old 1920s Harmony that came to me from Jake Wildwood at Antebellum Instruments in Rochester, Vermont. Shortly after, a 1920s Stella (the one on the right) came to me from Claude Bernier at Guitar/Lézar in Rimouski, Quebec. This winter, a c.1925 Weymann tenor banjo (photo below) joined the other instruments – it too came from Jake at Antebellum Instruments. Just recently, I arranged to purchase a c. 1930 Regal tenor guitar from Claude at Guitar/Lézar. That will probably round out my collection of stringed instruments, at least for awhile – I think.

So, you may be wondering about this sudden interest in music. Sometimes it even surprises me. I’ve had a lot of interests in my life and have always enjoyed learning new things. I suppose that playing music is just another avenue that I’m wandering down at the moment. Perhaps the interest will fizzle out in time. I don’t really know. My guess is that I needed something new in my life as I have not really been much interested in anything since Don’s death. I used to shoot several hundred photos of insects a week, and now it’s really just moths at night. Don and I used to hike or canoe many miles each week, and now that burning desire to find every new trail and navigate even the most tortuous backwater creek has almost dissipated. Yes, I still enjoy going for walks in wild places, but not in the obsessive way that he and I once did. Sometimes I think that doing the things I used to enjoy are just attached to too many memories, making them too painful to experience more than occasionally. For me, playing music doesn’t have so many associations with my past life and so I can seem to do it without dredging up some memory or another.

The other thing about music is that, if you want to jam with others, then it gradually brings new people into your life. That’s probably been a good thing for me as I’ve spent so much of the past five years alone. One thing I know is that it doesn’t take long to make friends when you’re making music.

Making music has become an integral part of my life — at least for now. Who knows whether it will continue or where it will go — but then that’s just how life is in general. I’ve been through enough of life’s twists and turns to know that you can’t predict where any path will lead and whether you’ll still be walking it in a year, a month, or even a week.

Well, as mentioned up above, today is the fourteenth anniversary of my dad’s death. I have about the same things to say today as I did here on this date last year. This year, I’ll be spending the evening playing celtic music with friends at a St. Patrick’s Day jam session here in Bisbee. Somehow, that seems like a fitting way of celebrating his memory.

A couple of weeks from today, I’ll be on my way back north – I suppose I could say I’ll be on my way home, but I rarely use that word these days. Where is home to a nomad? I suppose it is wherever I am at any given moment — in which case, I’m already there.

Written by bev wigney on March 17th, 2013

9 Responses to 'music and memories'

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  1. I love knowing the history of your love for stringed instruments. It’s wonderful how they have come back into your life. It is so good that they provide a lovely means of bringing other musician/friends into your life as well. Roger and I know from moving around as much as we have in our lives how difficult it can be to really connect with like-minded souls.

    I’m glad you are going to keep the blog. I have found no matter how infrequently we post, the important things really do wind up there, and it is an unbelievably reliable record of our lives. I can’t tell you how often I have gone back to check something, and there it is. It’s not chatty like Facebook, it’s a wonderfully deep and thoughtful log of our lives as we live them.

    Love hearing your music.

    robin andrea

    17 Mar 13 at 1:21 pm

  2. Nice post, Bev. Beautiful instruments!

    Skye Sutherland

    17 Mar 13 at 1:23 pm

  3. I have no musical talent at all, but I have been tempted to buy a guitar or banjo just because I like the way they look. Imagine the added bonus of actually being able to play one!


    18 Mar 13 at 12:58 am

  4. wondered when you might be heading back – hope it is a good trip and that the snow will not interfere with your journey. seems like the NE just can’t get a break. glad to see you’ve had a fun retreat with music and friends while in AZ. looks like st paddy’s day was a big celebration! 🙂


    18 Mar 13 at 7:41 am

  5. robin – Exactly my feelings about keeping the blog and trying to continue writing posts. I often go back to see what was happening at some particular time, or to try to figure out where I camped, etc.. In a way, it’s particularly good for someone like me whose life has been so fragmented as the blog holds together so many threads.

    Skye – Thanks! These are beautiful instruments. I meant to write a bit more about them as I find these vintage mandolins, banjos and guitars to be fascinating. I always wonder who owned them and where they have traveled, what tunes they have played. Most are somewhat banged, scratched, worn, but have so much character, and that makes me love them all the more.

    Mark – As I’ve just commented above to Skye, the old instruments from the early 1900s are so full of character. It is almost enough to just enjoy the look of them, but playing does add another dimension as sometimes the fret board is worn down where someone’s fingertips pressed down on the strings for so many years and I wonder about that player. My 1925 Weymann tenor banjo is like that — deeply worn up high on the A and E strings, so I imagine someone playing jazz in a band. Maybe you should pick up an instrument or two and next thing you know, you may be picking out a tune!

    Sky – Yes, I’ll soon be on the road and will (hopefully) manage to dodge the snow. It is definitely late leaving in the northeast! I’ve had a great winter of music down here with my friends. Last night’s St. Pat’s jam was a blast. Such fun.

    bev wigney

    18 Mar 13 at 9:43 am

  6. “Sometimes I think that doing the things I used to enjoy are just attached to too many memories, making them too painful to experience more than occasionally. For me, playing music doesn’t have so many associations with my past life and so I can seem to do it without dredging up some memory or another.”

    You’ve given me the impetus to look deeper for more things I used to enjoy that aren’t attached to memories that I can’t yet revisit easily.

    Thanks so much for the photos of your stringed instruments. Beautiful. My dulcimers and ukulele keep me in the present, too. I don’t play well enough to play with other people, though!

    Music is a wonderful way to be in the present as well as to be connected to the past and the future. It’s a universal language of the heart.

    Good to hear from you, bev, and to remember our fathers on St. Patrick’s Day.


    19 Mar 13 at 4:34 pm

  7. am – There are certain things I cannot do now – and places that I am not able to revisit – at least, not yet. It is still about not disturbing wounds. Better to look for new pursuits, or ones from early on, that are not weighted down by too many hard memories. Fortunately, there are plenty of new places to explore – new pursuits to follow! And, yes, music is a good way to connect to many things – time, people, places. I’m glad you’re playing your dulcimer and ukelele. Playing music has become very important to me.

    bev wigney

    21 Mar 13 at 10:41 am

  8. Hi Bev,

    I don’t comment often – but thought I’d let you know your blog is still linked at the side of mine and I’m always happy to see that you have posted. I guess it’s because you write so honestly and you make me think about things and your photography is always so compelling and bottom line is that I care how you are doing. Funny thing, this internet. I retired from teaching music (band and choir) and now have the time and energy to make my own music again. I loved your video and reading about this history of the instruments you have known or are getting to know. My dad was a “fixer” (we lived in the church that he renovated) so the story of the mandolin was especially endearing. All the best

    Carol Carson

    27 Mar 13 at 12:35 pm

  9. Hi Carol,
    thanks for your kind words. I have made a good many friends over the internet. I think some people underestimate the depth of the friendships that can develop. I hope you will make time to play music just fr music’s sake. It can make such a difference to our lives. take care, Bev


    2 Apr 13 at 7:05 pm

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