My father had this friend that enjoyed bluegrass music and could play banjo’s, guitar’s and mandolins. I don’t recall what this friend did in his work-life, but in his retired-life, he repaired, bought and sold these same musical instruments. My father had an interest in banjo music. Often, if dad bought something for himself, he would get one for me, I guess, thinking it was a way for us to “connect”. One day dad bought two banjo’s, one for him and one for me. I don’t know how we were going to connect, because I lived in Minnesota (truly NOT a bluegrass state) and he wintered in Florida.
Banjo’s are designed in the four or five string varieties and are usually played by either strumming, claw hammer or 3-finger picking. My father preferred the strumming (the melody) method, similar to what you would see on a “showboat” stage of the 19th century. I chose to take a class to learn the various techniques. The class was important to me, for two reasons, first, I have difficulty tuning-(I think I’ve got a tin ear) and second, I have trouble keeping the “time”. I think I’ve explained in another blog about my keeping time on the up beat rather than the down beat.
The reason I recall this banjo story is that we had friends over the other evening, and the Mrs. brought her fiddle inside…..ok, ok, this is MY bluegrass story, so it’s called a fiddle….she doesn’t play bluegrass, so she calls it a violin!
We were living in Minnesota and our church had monthly theme-related dinners. In February our theme was country. After having successfully competed my banjo training class and boring the daylights out of my family, these guitar-playing-friends persuaded us that we should perform with them for that County Theme evening. (Wow!! I’ve never done a recital–this could be the beginning of many a great thing!) The car was loaded with family, the banjo loaded in the trunk in 25 degree below weather. Upon arrival, I unloated the family, food and checked the banjo was out of tune, so I re-tuned it and set it back in the case near a radiator and went to dinner. When it was time to perform, I pick up the banjo and it was out of tune again!! I quickly re-tuned and went to the stage.
So, by now you must have the picture…cold weather, “shrinks” the banjo neck, warm radiator, increases the length of the banjo neck. We’re up on stage and preforming…….away from the warm radiator, the banjo neck begin returning to its normal position, all the while changing tune along the way. The church friends, the audience, thought it hilarious! They believed the mis-tuning and probably my voice were all part of the great comic relief act!
My embarrassment was without comparison. 32 years ago, I came off that stage, smiled with at the appreciation from friends——but I put that banjo away.
I no longer maintain visions of fame that include holding a banjo before ANYONE…… 😦