Friday, April 8, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Instruments of Love

Internet source unknown

Just when I thought I was making headway, covering some ground, having masteredwith the aid of Banjo Method Book Ithe C, D7, G7, Em and D chords on my shiny banjo, with my now calloused and painful fingers, strumming a strained, discordant version of The Drunken Sailor, and Oh Susanna, along comes this guy with his band of string benders to remind me and my scaly finger pads that I've barely scratched the surface of the very layered, very complex world of stricken and plucked instruments.

Never mind notes. What I know about Christopher Thile is what a gentleman to whom I was serendipitously adjacently seatedin the coffee shop told me yesterday: Thile's a virtuoso who began playing the mandolin at the age of five, formed the band Nickel Creek three years later, and recorded his first album (with original compositions) when he was just thirteen years old. A year earlier he had won the national mandolin championship in Kansas.

This gentleman happened to be a singer/songwriter/ mandolinist himself, who's had his songs played by musicians like Alison  Krauss. He had seen a teen Thile making love to his mandolin at a Carolinian festival. Making love, he said. In a coffee shop. In his radio voice. In No-Place-Special, Massachusetts. We were both surrounded by our respective laptops, books, notepads and coffee. In the sort of spousal disclosure that married people do with strangers, we had both dropped the "H" and "W" words as our conversation rolled along, so there was tacit understanding that discussing the intimacies of music was proper within certain confines. And it was. Confined. And proper. I took furious notes, but I couldn't shake the image from my mind. Making love. To his mandolin.

How does one make love to his mandolin?

You still with me?

It does evoke a certain sensation doesn't it? All that pulling back and thrusting forward of flatpicked notes, the intensely expressive music, the arousal of senses, culminating in a pleasurable and satisfying climax of vibrations...

... I know, how cheap.

So much for subtlety...

But I must tell you that I now understand what the gentleman with the radio voice in the coffee shop in No-Place-Special, Massachusetts was talking about. And as I gaze at my book of chords and quarter notes and forward rolls, and attempt to strum some kind of discernible piece of music from the simplest of chords, I am highly aware of the unfortunate fact that it may be a long time before I can bounce back and forth between Bach and bluegrass. Or make any kind of clumsy love to my banjo. (As if this will ever happen at all.)

It could be a very long time.

And until then, I'm going to keep beating down the path. Callous fingers and sore shoulders. No shortcuts. Straight forward, over the hills, through the potholed valleys, comin' round the mountain... banjo clutched closely to womb... when she comes. A long, long time from now.

It'll happen.

Until then, enjoy Chris and the Punch Brothers.


  1. I always enjoy your Friday Night posts. A story, a few songs and a little bit of hope at the end.
    I wish I had some musical talent. I can't even howl with the neighborhood dogs.

  2. I too love some more these musical posts and NO, there are no short cuts. In the words of my guitar teacher, "Practice, practice and practice." BTW Love the mandolin :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  3. Oh yeah the Punch Brothers get some great sounds out of their mandolin work...nice open stringed and fretted tonal sounds meld beautifully. I believe you can do it on banjo as well, getting a warped or slide sound going.
    But practice my dear is what you need to do to get there. Exactly what I need to do with my new profession as a bass player. Yup, I'm doing some string busting myself and find that soaking my fingers in methylated spirits helps with the sore fingers.
    Great post and love the lovemaking metaphor. It is true, there is a sensual quality about playing an instrument...the right way to use the hands, the touch of fingers on a fret and a gentle strum can bring out some oh so sexy sounds...very erotique ;

  4. Nicely expressed.

    I have never played the banjo but the mandolin is quite fun to play.

  5. Oh Nessa, you're a Texan for god's sake - I know you can sing, woman (and yodel)!

    Jules- When I hear that word "practice" (Aaagh!) it makes me think of my OLD piano teacher. That was a drag. I'm glad I'm pursuing the banjo on my own - I don't want anyone rearranging my arms and hands! ;)
    But you're right, of course, practice, practice...

    Dan- "stringed and fretted tonal sounds" - sheesh, Dan, I should have had you write this one! And the bass?! As a new profession? You're certainly the more learned one here. How I'd love to get to the point where I'm not ashamed to play banjo in front of an audience. (Maybe I should try your "spirit" technique? And, do I HAVE to cut my nails?! It might help, eh?) ;)

    Laoch- I admire anyone who can handle a mandolin. There's so little space in which to move the fingers. It's quite amazing. When you see a guy like Chris Thile, you know there's something magical going on there, that comes from deep within. A real gift.

  6. I've also tried to learn an instrument as an adult. I wasn't able to get anywhere important but I enjoyed playing and learning. Good luck to you and take care of your fingers, I was told as adults they are more easily injured.

    Beautiful words as usual too!

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this Jayne. I always thought if I was going to learn a musical instrument as an adult it would be the fiddle.

  8. Shopgirl- It's never easy to learn a new instrument. This is definitely more painful than the piano, but I'll be careful! :)

    Ellen- The fiddle is another instrument I wish I could play. I think I just want to be in a rockin' stompin' bluegrass band! (Should have started when I was much younger.) One can only dream. ;)

  9. Jayne, wonderful post! Loved Nickel Creek and love the Punch Brothers, though I cant play a note of anything. Such a joy to hear instruments played with such a knowing love, with deep attention and pleasure. Thanks for this.

  10. I so enjoyed watching these videos! The mandolin is so beautiful but I haven't had the chance to listen to much. Thanks!

  11. Vespersparrow- Your poems carry all the notes for you. They absolutely sing! (Don't tell me you're not musical.) ;)

    Lydia- It's such a pretty instrument. Seeing it in lots of bands now. Listen! :)

  12. Great post - love the sound of the mandolin. Am v impressed that you're learning the banjo.

    Really liked listening to the all those strings playing together too.

    p.s I'm so behind on commenting (not to mention actual posting.)

    Just to let you know that I do read all your posts even if I leave no written evidence of this!

  13. Thank you, SF. Are you still baking?! It's so hard to fit it all in, isn't it. But we try. Glad you stopped by and enjoyed the music! :)

  14. Hi Jayne, Look at you with musical talent and all. I am "musically challenged" but so love it all the same. I can't evern imagine how difficult it is to learn to play the banjo. I tried to learn the guitar once and was a failure. Great blog. Good luck and hope your fingers toughen up.

  15. Oh, I thought you might like this site:

  16. Cheryl - Oh no--I'm quite challenged! I can carry a tune, alright, but mastering an instrument is another matter. It's driving me crazy... me thinking I'd learn it all within the space of an afternoon. Ha!

    Laoch- Thank you! Excellent link. Now to learn about frailing... ;)

  17. A fine post. I'm not very musically inclined. I can play the radio well enough though. ;)

  18. I love the music and especially while looking at the handsome pic you put up there!

  19. I often make love to my keyboard. I know it sounds wrong, but we have such beautiful babies together. ;)

  20. I love that you're taking on banjo. It is the gateway drug to banjoetry.

    Love me some punch brothers, but also gotta say the haunting lilting drone twangs of Sufjan Stevens make me swoon.....then weep openly. Then swoon and then weep openly. again.

    As far as mandolin....I didn't know what it looked like to make love to a tiny stringed instrument. Until you came along. Thanks for the mandoporn.

  21. Hilary- The radio is an excellent instrument to play!

    Lin Ann- Isn't he dashing? Dashing, sexy mandolist--he's turning the whole world on these days.

    Tana- !!! All in the name of procreation. It's all that matters. ;)

    Kimberly- Sufjan (another heartbreaker) is on my list! Totally get the swooning and sweeping. Glad you enjoyed the mandoporn- oh dear, I feel like I should tuck this post under my bed! ;)

  22. I love this music. You always find the greatest music! Thanks Jayne ;)

  23. I thoroughly enjoyed your piece. You seemed to have captured the essence of your conversation with the Coffee Shop Guy. I have seen Chris Thile live and to watch Chris Thile "Making Love" to his mandolin and "Pleasing" those who are watching him sounds somewhat sensual; and it really is. I felt like we were all taking part in Voyeurism. As a Mandolinist myself, He is an exceptional Musician / Songwriter.