my banjo mentor
Julie and I have been in touch on-and-off since I moved to Cambridge, but we never really got together like we planned. She knew I was interested in becoming a better banjo player, and that I had a fiddle here too. But finally after a week of banjo posts on this blog she and I couldn't put off hanging out any longer. So we made banjo-brunch plans.
She lives just 6 miles away from my farm, on her own 30 acres of gardens and music. There, her and her husband Dennis collect antiques, garden, build log cabins and acquire and restore old banjos. She also teaches art in Cambridge High School, paints, does pottery, and plays a bevy of other folk instruments to boot. She used to travel and teach at camps and festivals all over America, but now lives a quieter life (if a banjo player can have a quiet life) here in Washington County. That video posted above is Julie playing Cluck Ol' Hen. It's a favorite fiddle tune of mine, but you can really see her fly on that 1800's pot. She's certainly got the gift. You can listen to plenty of free recordings and videos on her website banjofrailer.com.
As soon as she walked in the door there was an instant sense of familiarity. After all, this was a woman who knew about that sweet music, played fiddle tunes, loved dogs and horses and appreciated small farms. We got along so well we didn't actually get a chance to play anything till the last 45 minutes or so of her visit, but she explained things perfectly. She's a natural teacher, and she showed me techniques, tricks, and hints to help me get started. After years of books and videos I finally had someone really explain, in person, the way to frail the strings. How my hand should feel, how my thumb should work. It will take weeks before I am used to the clawhammer motion, but at least now I know exactly what I am working towards. My homework: one simple lick she called Alligator, which is more or less a lesson in motor functions.
We'll barter for lessons. I'll be providing her with eggs, honey, knit goods, and help with some projects (no meat, she's a proud vegetarian but supportive of small-scale meat farming). I'm beginning to barter more and more, it's swiftly becoming my favorite economy.
She was frank as hell, too. She basically explained I'll be as good of a banjo player as I'm willing to work for. If I play 15 minutes a day, I won't progress as well as if I was playing 2 hours. I nodded in understanding, and when she finished a particularly beautiful version of waterbound, I asked her how long it would take for me to get to something like that? Her answer: about 2-3 weeks with real practice. This blew my mind. I told her I just wanted to get there by summer. She laughed, shook her head, and said "Stick with me, Kid."
As if she could get rid of me now...