Archive for the ‘music’ Category
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:
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. You can read more about this mandolin here where he wrote a blog post about it. 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, and you can read more about it here if you’re interested in vintage 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.
If you’re curious about the music, I’ve begun making little videos to put on Youtube. They are for Mandolin Cafe’s “Song-A-Week” group where a tune is chosen each week. You learn it – usually rather quickly – make a video recording and put it up online. For me, it’s just a fun thing – I don’t put as much work into making recordings as most people. This is my latest attempt. I played both the tenor banjo and the bodhran drum as a backing track before recording the mandolin (see video below).
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.
I’m back in Canada now. Sage, Sabrina and I arrived back here a week ago tonight. As always, it was a long journey. This year, we made a scenic detour through Utah which extended the trip by an extra ten days or so. As mentioned in a previous post, we visited wonderful places and spent many a night at a peaceful campsite. Often, we played music – on our fiddles, mandolins and guitars. In addition to his many other skills and talents, my friend Larry Ayers is also a luthier and made the fiddle, guitar and cittern which he played during our travels.
I would like to share a few photos which I took of his guitar and cittern. The guitar in the first and second photos is a copy of a 1935 Selmer Jazz Guitar. If you would like to read more about the making of Larry’s guitar, you can access a now non-existent webpage that has been archived in the Wayback Machine. Unfortunately, most of the photos are absent, but the text describing the guitar remains. As much as possible, Larry prefers to use native North American woods rather than what have often become rare tropical woods. For many years, Larry owned and operated his own sawmill in Knox County, Missouri. The woods used in this guitar were acquired either locally, or from other parts of the country, and then sawn in his own mill and assembled in his workshop. The front of the guitar is made of Sitka Spruce, the neck is of local Black Walnut, and the back and sides are of Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera).
The third and fourth photos in this post are of a cittern – a ten-stringed instrument also called an octave mandolin – which Larry built in 2003. The front is of Sitka Spruce, the neck of Black Walnut, while the back is of a Pau ferro (a non-native wood). To read more about the construction of the cittern, visit thisarchived page which did preserve all of the original photos from Larry’s old website.
The final photo in this post is of Larry playing the cittern which he built. The picnic table in the background is a little more cluttered than normal as we were splitting up our supplies in readiness for going our separate ways. All in all, we had an excellent adventure accompanied by much good music!