Saturday, May 15, 2010

stop making fun of my banjo

First published on the Huffington Post. July 16th, 2008
I recently discovered this little eco-gadget that let's you listen to all you're favorite music whenever you want (for as long as you want) on 100% renewable energy. It's this amazing nature-based technology that requires no offshore drilling, leaves no trace of Co2, and even polar bears occasionally enjoy them. It's cordless. It's free. And you can paint the tips all sorts of fancy colors. You know where I'm going with this.

Yes, gentle readers, your hands.

It's time we put down our ipods and picked up actual instruments. Stop listening to all that music and start making your own. I'm serious, dust off that guitar you haven't touched since college or finally order that banjo you've been joking about for the last six years and take on the completely green alternative to cds and turntables. It'll help reduce your energy consumption, save you a little money, and possibly help you get email addresses at that next impromptu-bonfire party. Score.

I am not going to follow this declaration with any statistics. Mostly because that would be ridiculous. We do not need numbers to back up the fact that your Martin DM uses less electricity than your stereo that takes up the same amount of shelf space as a bullmastiff. And even if your stereo is attached to a solar panel or a wind turbine - playing your own music still wins. Hands down. Here's why.

You and I, we live in an ear-budded world. Everywhere you go, from farmers markets to subway stations - America is plugged in. I think all that internal rocking out throws us inside our heads and outside of our communities. Something we all enjoy occasionally, but imagine the people you could meet and the kilowatts saved if for just one day every machine that plays music was turned off because people where making their own?

So what if you can't read music, never held a pick before, or think a fiddle and a violin are two different instruments? There are a million books, online classes, DVDs, and other resources out there for wannabe bluegrass kings. Get that used mandolin off eBay and figure it out. Even if you pull off a few simple songs you'll get the very real sense of accomplishment your day job skipped town on years ago. Plus, learning music uses all sorts of new parts of your brain you forgot you had. It requires determination, dedication, and possibly the help of members of your community. You know, actual people, and that's something you can't get from iTunes. There's the guy on Craigslist you bought the banjo from, the kid upstairs who offered to teach you the basics, and the jam you found on that will take you under their wing and then out to the pub. Opting to participate in the world of music instead of passively observing it gives your mind a workout, new friends, and you'll learn a new skill to boot. When was the last time you could do all that without involving paperwork and merit badges?

I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy the recorded music you own. Lord knows I've got so many cds, records and computers blaring here at the cabin, it's borderline indecent. But ever since I started teaching myself the fiddle and banjo - the electronics have been on less and less. When I come home from work the first thing I want to do to unwind is, well, hang out with the dogs. But the second thing, is sit outside on the porch and pluck a few songs on the banjo. Sure, it may look and sound a little...inexperienced. But, all mocking of peers aside, I'm getting more relaxation and general fun out of learning old waltzes then I've gotten from any new pop album in months. The hardwiring is different, and I like that. Plus, it's nice knowing I don't need to recharge it every 45 minutes.

So in a world that's swilling energy like a fat kid sucking back a snackpack, why don't you and I grab our guitars, go outside, and enjoy some tunes without being hooked up to the city grid? We can revel the company of new people, dive deep into a creative outlet, feel something emotionally tangible, and end our day feeling pretty damn satisfied for pulling it off. And those are things we just don't get enough of when our hands are tied.

pickin' print from yeehaw industries


Blogger K. said...

Oh yes, I hear you. My children go to a Waldorf School where they learn to play instruments from the first day on, not because the school believes in creating musicians but because making music is a part of being human. As is movement, doing arts, and academics. Your post made me smile because I can't wait until I have a little time to dust off my guitar and learn some more. Thanks for that!

May 15, 2010 at 9:47 AM  
OpenID lisasfoods said...

I used to think about this type of concept a lot in college. I would watch so many students (including myself) walk around with headphones on (this was in the days of portable CD players). People were in their own bubbles, their own worlds, while life and community kept going on by. I intentionally stopped wearing headphones for many years, because I preferred to listen to the real sounds and music around me.

May 15, 2010 at 9:50 AM  
Blogger coley said...

Absolutely true! I am in the process of trying to hunt down a fiddle. I know how to play a piano somewhat but there is just something about the fiddle that is calling to me. When people sit around with actual instruments, it draws other people in to it.

May 15, 2010 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Miss Music said...

I am a music teacher, clarinet being my major instrument. Learning the banjo has been the best thing to happen in my life in a long time...You can't sing with a clarinet in your mouth. And you can't jam or improvise at a concert band rehearsal. Yay for banjos!

May 15, 2010 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Rois said...

I have been teaching myself to fiddle.I am proud to say I now have calluses on my left hands finger tips.You would have to pry my fiddle from my cold dead hands at this point.It gives me so much joy to play.

May 15, 2010 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Debi said...

You always seem to have the right post to light a fire under my butt and get me motivated again! I've had my fiddle for about four months, but have hardly played it because I get so frustrated trying to make it sound right. I did manage the first few lines of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" but that's as far as I've gotten. Thank you for reminding me that learning to play an instument takes time and patience.


May 15, 2010 at 11:55 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

DEBI! go to right now and order old time fiddle for the ignoramus!

May 15, 2010 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Emma said...

I'm a lifelong musician (harp, mainly), but I wanted to tell you that after reading your book last summer...I bought a banjo. FUN!!! A lot has happened in the last year and I haven't really spent much time with the banjo yet, but that's one of my projects for this summer.

There's something about a banjo that just makes me smile. :)

May 15, 2010 at 4:39 PM  
Blogger Stargazer 2 said...

Again a great post, & I'm postive you already know it!!!
How about picking up a pen, trying your hand at writing original song material after you
learn to play that banjo, fiddle,
or guitar, & really challenge your-self!!!
Just joking, I get the point,
& you've just given me a very gentle shove to purchase that back
pack guitar, & learn how to play!!!
Then maybe, just maybe I can
help my friend with an original song catalog of over 300 original
songs makes something happen after
we both begin to learn how to play
our guitars!!!

May 15, 2010 at 8:57 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Weird. I just bought a banjo off of craigslist, after joking about it for... about 6 years.

May 15, 2010 at 9:20 PM  
OpenID said...

You are SO. RIGHT.

I work in a very busy, very noisy place. Have for the last 3 years. I find that I want to hear even my favorite music less and less, and just want to hear the sounds of my chickens, the whir of my spinning wheel, the low clacking of my loom, my cats, my family, and--of course--my guitar. If I ever get done with my bachelor's I'm going to dust off my little mandolin I got last summer and learn to play that too.

I'm honestly not sure when I last listened to a radio station other than the BBC or PBS (which has excellent music shows!)

You write very well. I really enjoy reading your posts.

May 15, 2010 at 9:21 PM  
Blogger Leiflet said...

I have a t-shirt with the pickin owl. I love him. He looks so sad!!

May 16, 2010 at 1:17 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

Hmmm. Now I want to start guitar again, but I can't ask for one because so many other things need to be done around here (plus I could easily spend a LOT of time with it, kind of like getting lost in YouTubeland). And I already asked for a lawn sweeper and an electric chipper/shredder for my birthday this fall, so maybe Santa could bring it? Hey, wait a minute! Didn't I ask for a guitar like two years ago?

May 16, 2010 at 2:15 AM  
Blogger Story said...

jenna...I wanted to tell case you didn't know that The Carolina Chocolate Drops are coming to North Adams Mass on May 29th. You introduced me to them here on your blog and we are all going up to see them. They are my new favorite band! It's making me want to scratch on my fiddle again...and of course dancing is required when those three talented folks get to stompin out some serious tunes...just can't help it. You rock...and maybe we'll meet up at the event if you get there.

May 17, 2010 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Mountain Man said...

Brilliant illustration by the way

May 17, 2010 at 8:39 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Music unplugged (meaning live and acoustic) is THE THING. Sound guys hate me when I show up for gigs. They're just dying to microphone the heck out of my harp and I won't let them. I hate the distortion, the unnatural ring, the way the mic picks up all the noise of the harp (fingers placing on strings, the occasional buzz, the sound of my feet on the pedals changing key) and none of the beauty. Here's to instruments on porches and in gardens and heard as nature intended!

May 17, 2010 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger cpcable said...

Beautifully written, Jenna! I have my great grandfather's fiddle, which is currently in the shop to make it suitable for playing. Thanks for the inspiration to actually do so!

May 18, 2010 at 11:41 AM  

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