Saturday, February 12, 2011

woven in

A corporate office isn't the kind of place that makes you think of banjo music, but yesterday right in the middle of my pod I was playing some beginner clawhammer. Right next to my computer I was strumming and picking on our lunch break, filling the third floor with an old waltz. Out of those who took notice, no one complained.

My banjo arrived—as most of my mail does—at work. I had been stalking the UPS website all morning, waiting to see when the delivery truck had arrived. At noon the men in brown where here and I floated down to the second floor. The long box marked Fragile was there, as was a slew of other employees, and the UPS guy. All were eating cake. It was the driver's birthday, and Tami, our mail maven had made sure he had a vanilla sheet cake waiting for him. (I adore that I work for a company that remembers the mailman's birthday, and bakes for him). I had my cake (at wolfish speed) and then took the box down to an empty room on the first floor to open it, tune her up, and frail away.

When I was in the sanctity of the little private room I opened the box and pulled out the black case. INside was green felt, a little hydrometer, and a thing of beauty: a 5-string open back banjo. It was a modest model, a Morgan Monroe. (They also make the great beginner old-time banjo, the hobo) and since it was ordered from Knoxville's Banjo Hut: it was ready to play—strings on, bridge set, nearly in tune. I lifted her into my arms. I took a deep breath. What a feeling to have back again.

It had been a while since I had played, but the old Waltz came back to me. I played Down in the Willow Gardens, which I learned from a Wayne Erbsen beginner tab book, and that mountain music was back. I closed my eyes, playing from automatic memory. The same type of motions that get you twenty miles down the road you don't remember driving to. I played that song, clumsily, making mistakes and keeping on. I felt the dark green grass under me, and the navy blue and purple sky above me, and the blesses summer heat of Tennessee. I felt the warmth of a campfire on my cheek. The sting of muscles sore from hiking up Chimney Tops. The flash of heat lightening, the glow of a firefly just outside my line of site, the constant percussion of a cold stream.

Old Time Banjo is all these things, every time. From that first lesson of learning how to frail the timeless clawhammer strum to your mastering of Georgia Buck is Dead: it's that exhale of place and past. It's a postcard and a memory. It's instant smiles and heart-wrenching reflection. It's the music played in camps of the Civil War, and 60s protests, and my own adventures around America. It's a part of me, woven in.

Thank you for this fine gift.


Blogger Patsy said...

Does Gibson like banjo music? He looks like he is smiling that there is a banjo in residence.

February 12, 2011 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Congratulations. What would one do without music in ones life?

February 12, 2011 at 9:27 AM  
Blogger Sewing Machine Girl said...

Sitting in Knoxville, I know that sky, and that stream, and those fireflies. Play on. Mountain voices...soaring spirit. Winter is coming to a close here, and will eventually for you too.

February 12, 2011 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Odie Langley said...

There is "nothing" better than banjo music. I even have a banjo tune for my ringtone. "Foggy Mountain Breakdown".

February 12, 2011 at 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's wonderful! Nurturing our talents is such a good way to take care of ourselves.

February 12, 2011 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger SouthernHeart said...

I'm so happy for you, Jenna...and many blessings to the wonderful person who did this for you. I love banjo music. I love bluegrass and the deep roots from which it came. I'm a Tennessee girl. I may be living in the Pacific Northwest...but my heart is Southern. I can't play, that's for sure...but I sure enjoy listening! Post an audio/video sometime please!

By the way, I'm giving away TWO wonderful cookbooks (one of them Taste of Home's Complete Country Cookbook) on my blog this weekend. Everyone is invited to drop by and enter! It's at:

February 12, 2011 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Robbie Grey said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 12, 2011 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Robbie Grey said...

Had to edit;

"A corporate office isn't the kind of place that makes you think of banjo music..."

But the dichotomy is fantastic...

February 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger City Sister said...

What a wonderful gift. I hope you have a lot of happy time spent playing to all your critters...maybe it will increase yields of wool and meat...after all, waterbeds for cows increases milk production...

February 12, 2011 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Kitchen Mama said...

Is this the one you got?

I have wanted to learn banjo for a long time but haven't been able to find any used around here.

February 12, 2011 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Jason...etc said...

I picked up the banjo recently after playing bass for a number of years. The finger style picking seemed similar enough to learn. Such a happy sound, the tinny twang and hammering of a banjo. MM makes a good one too, they generally hold their tone and tuning well. Have fun!

February 12, 2011 at 12:39 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

I have to say, every time I put in my Carolina Chocolate Drops CD, the first notes of the first tune (Peace Behind the Bridge) ALWAYS make me think of you!

Happy strumming and dreaming!

February 12, 2011 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Somewhere in that description I saw a sepia-toned photograph.... I wonder how that happened.

February 12, 2011 at 2:54 PM  
Blogger Stargazer 2 said...


February 12, 2011 at 3:44 PM  
Blogger -- said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 14, 2011 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Zev said...

I took some guitar and fiddle lessons from Wayne Erbsen when I was in college. He has a way of making the music seem simple. I didn't realize he had books out; I'm glad that knowledge is being made accessible to people outside the Swannanoa River Valley through print.

February 14, 2011 at 2:21 PM  

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