Sunday, February 5, 2012

a future full of music for all

A few months ago I read a pretty horrible novel about post-collapse America. I'm not going to share the author or title—the last thing I need is that kind of karma on my shoulders after this past week—but let's just say if our future requires us all to become evangelical militia in paramilitary prisons...where do I opt out?

Honestly, it wasn't the extremist view of the future that bothered me. What made my stomach turn was the entire book, not once, did anyone stop to pick up a guitar or fiddle and get a music group going? Not only music, but any sort of natural craving for the arts or real agriculture was in the story. Art, writing, music, all forms of personal creativity was entirely out of these people's lives. They read the occasional book out loud, but no one was writing one. They didn't miss recorded music. They didn't sing. They didn't pick up a guitar and play it in the evenings. There was also no livestock, just rations of pre-bought food in cans. Agriculture was an afterthought, something to "get to" later. No livestock was a part of the story, not even horses until the book was nearly over. The only dogs they had lived outside and was only used as a form of perimeter security. A family with "useless" golden retrievers, ate them out of spite because they didn't attack unwanted visitors. I found this lack of music and working animals so unrealistic it ruined the story for me. I can not imagine a life without these things.

This was a group of people struggling to survive, so certainly they had higher priorities in mind than fiddle lessons. But look at our country's land and history? What group of Americans had a harder time scrapping together a living on poor, sloping soil in a wild place more so than Appalachia? And yet the African/Scots-Irish blend made it the melting pot of percussion and melody that gave birth to nearly every form of popular music today. I guess it is a matter of priority. You preserve and keep on with what matters to you. In this book about fighting UN troops you had sniper rifles and military uniforms in jeeps running on hoarded petroleum people killed each other over....

Yesterdays workshop was very much lessons in self-reliance, even though it was about music. To create music without the need of electricity, recordings, or depending on other voices is such a vital skill to me. It is a form of expression and Independence worth every lesson and minute spent learning your beloved choice of instrument. When you can walk into a field without a single outlet, play a few chords on the guitar slung over your back, you are a freer person than many. Don't like playing instruments, than sing or whistle a song. If something is stopping you, get that checked.

We learned how to teach ourselves an instrument, hear music by ear, and try out different musical adventures. Entertainment of the soul and body is just as important as the labor or planting crops, raising animals, and harvesting food. It is all well and good to weave your own fabric and build your own outdoor firepit for roasting pigs but if you aren't singing every once in a while while you hauled those sows their slop or as you work the loom you are a different breed of person altogether different than I. I love hard work, but I sing while I do it, and there is no better feeling than coming inside to a pint of dark stout homebrew and a fiddle tune or seven.

So this workshop yesterday was not lessons in music, but an introduction to several acoustic instruments anyone with the will and enthusiasm to learn, will learn. We talked about the dulcimer and its place in our musical history (and my own). Next we went through the basics of the fiddle, notes and tuning and how to place your fingers. Will, one of the attendees, had never touched a fiddle before and the first time his bow-hand touched the strings a perfect A note played and I smiled like a mother lion, all teeth and squinting eyes. Within a few moments he knew all the finger positions and I explained it was exactly the same on every string, then patted his shoulder, and congratulated him on learning the fiddle today. It was that simple. The fiddle is the most over-rated instrument in the world. It is cake to learn a tune or two. The hard part is getting good at it, but you have a whole lifetime to mess with that musical freehold. For right now, we'll just tackle the D scale.

Lunch was the usual potluck style, chili and soup, fresh bread and butter, cheese and snacks. Folks ate their fill and just as we were about to sit down in the living room Julie Dugan walked through the front door all smiles in her black beanie, banjo case at her side.

Julie is a natural teacher and instructor. Listening to her introduction to the world of banjo, festivals, history and her songs were a wonderful way to sit back and take in some bright and beautiful sounds. She talked and played for about an hour. Folks were asking questions, taking recordings, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Afterwards we just went at the instruments we were drawn too. I helped someone tune up their new fiddle (fresh from ebay!) while others got together to practice and try out a dulcimer or banjo. I think more than few will end up ordering some dulcimers, and the folks who brought their fiddles seemed happy to get them out of their cases and tuned up. At one point Elizabeth and I played Ashokan Farewell together and it was such a beautiful little moment of the day, afterward Weez, her, and I jammed out with some of Weez's songs she wrote and sang (quite beautifully) in the kitchen. I never lost that lions grin. It was a wonderful Saturday.

As for the end of the world in creepy fiction: not everything is as awful and boring as that first version of the future I mentioned. In the current book series (also a post-oil series) people are living in modern versions of the old Celtic or Nordic Clans alive with music, culture, horses, religion, folklore and ceremony. There's plenty of horror and killing too. Its not a Utopia, but a totally different view of it all, and to me, a better one. A future with music in it still exists. It is necessary, even. These are my people. If the world turns to shit I will be a woman with a fiddle, longbow, and horse with a pack of dogs. Call me Artemis over GI Jane any day.

I didn't realize it when I shared the workshop schedule, but I planned four workshops in February! Whew, two down and two more to go and then there's a short break in my weekend plans until the backyard laying hens class in April. I'm not complaining, I love these events and never regret a single one, but next weekend I plan on hibernating Hedi's-Grandfather style. Just me, my animals, and my mountain.

Oh, and my fiddle and banjo. And dogs.

Okay folks, I'm off to meet up with Brett, butcher Atlas, and then head out to a Superbowl party. This is a normal weekend in my life now.

P.S. Listen to Julie's Music for FREE at banjofrailer.com

22 Comments:

Blogger mdoe37 said...

I think I know of the novel you are speaking. Stuff like that and all the usual swill of problems of the day in my head. . .and then I heard Julie play. Put a smile on my face!!

February 5, 2012 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger michele.h said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 5, 2012 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger michele.h said...

thank you for fostering such great community on many levels!

February 5, 2012 at 2:40 PM  
OpenID chickadeeworkshop said...

I'm with you about the music, Jenna. Music made everything "taste" better. Even the most primitive tribes alive on our planet right now, make their own forms of music and dancing. I think the whole world is made of vibrating atoms and the music we make is a natural extension of that vibration, in the patterns of our choosing.

I don't want to be alive for a post-collapse world if there is no music in it. Just kill me now.

February 5, 2012 at 3:35 PM  
OpenID chickadeeworkshop said...

uhhh, music "makes" everything taste better.

February 5, 2012 at 3:36 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I don't understand the lack of music for working now. Aside from the better known (and quite beautiful) field songs from the plantation era, there are loads of song from traditional cultures to work to. Oftentimes, to keep track of what you are doing. I'm thinking of the Scottish waulking songs and many cultures have weaving songs. I've even seen some rhymes that have tartan patterns in them so that you can keep track of where you are.

My great grandfather always sang out in the fields. I simply cannot imagine life without music. I think I'll go play my dulcimer now. ; )

February 5, 2012 at 4:05 PM  
Blogger bookkm said...

Art kept people alive in the concentration camps and in the frozen wastes of Siberia. Any future that exists without music, dance, visual arts or theatre is grim, indeed.

One of my favorite scenes in "The Hunger Games", a bleak dystopian novel if ever there was one, is when Katniss sings one of her fallen competitors' favorite songs to honor her.

And while we're talking dark - not that you have time on your hands - what's next in Birchthorn?

February 5, 2012 at 4:20 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

If the current series you're reading isn't Dies the Fire, then you need to do two things: first, get the book and read it. Second, tell me the title so I can read what you're reading! Weez and I are totally obsessed with the whole Dies the Fire series. Love it.

So... that was a longbow I glimpsed by the kitchen door, eh?

February 5, 2012 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Elizabeth! I am on book 4! yes!

And YES! I am on my local SCA chapter's archery team.

February 5, 2012 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger JeanineH said...

Well from the description I know the book you're talking of.

It's entertainment in and of itself AND a manual on how you can 'prepare' there was attention to details like specs of gear that you might want to pick over what you can get at your local Wally-world or other discount retailer... applicable entirely in what it is.

Throw some music on and have another read.

I'd be hard pressed to get overseas 'on my own' to get home and then across the country as it is without playing music each night advertising where I'm camping out in the "occupied" areas. Music and art does have it's place... and for all we know they DID tune in to various broadcasts in the overseas boat trip it didn't dwell on details that didn't give you an idea of tactics / how you might have to think / react to situations...

February 5, 2012 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

We are harmonizing, a bit... your post and my post. I keep crossing beautiful paths with music and musicians, with opportunities, and serendipity. Nickel Creek... they're homegrown, from where I live... such fun to see these common interests and threads. I can hardly play, but I cannot imagine not trying, and cannot imagine any time or place without someone playing notes.
http://www.chickenblog.com/2012/02/sunday-light.html

February 5, 2012 at 5:13 PM  
Blogger K. Jean said...

Jenna,
When you had the fiddle giveaway, where was that from? Do you have a website link- thanks!

February 5, 2012 at 5:44 PM  
Blogger pawsfurme said...

I know my goats are sick of hearing me belt out old sea shanties with my mp3 player plugged into an old CD player at the barn. It makes the work go smoother and lifts my mood, whatever it may be. I never became accomplished with my French Horn in high school because non-existent self esteem kept me from wanting to be heard practicing. I would love to give it another go when I get my own place when it's just me, my dog, cat and goats. Life without appreciation of art is no life for me.

February 5, 2012 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger Lyssa said...

This is inspiring me to pick up some music again! I got a guitar a few years ago intending to learn, but it never quite grabbed my attention. Maybe I'm meant for fiddle? It sounds awesomely fun.

February 5, 2012 at 9:41 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

Grew up in pretty extreme evangelical church setting so I got my fill of “doomsday” by the time I left home and try to maneuver clear of it due to the overkill. However I did read Witch of Hebron and that wasn’t bad at all because it was more about the oil and trying to get on without it. Yes, no matter what happens and when got to have that music. Would rather spend my last dollar on some picks or new strings vs. gas to fill the tank any day!

Longbow…I’m impressed!

February 5, 2012 at 11:41 PM  
Blogger The Sprouting Acorn said...

Love listening to Nickel Creek.... are they still making music? Such a talented group. Good luck with the next two workshops! Sounds like you're gonna be busy! :)

February 6, 2012 at 12:40 AM  
Blogger Jake said...

It's far from traditional, but I plug my MP3 player into an old set of computer speakers while I'm working outside. In the spirit of feeling a little more anachronistic, I'm building a playlist to exclude favorites like Muse and Red Hot Chili Peppers in favor of my Time Life Country Classics collection, the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, The Dukhs, and Mumford and Sons.

I think I might need to take up the banjo as well.

February 6, 2012 at 1:54 AM  
OpenID jessieimproved said...

I love Dies the Fire. I'll take my post apocalypse new age Celtic clan-style any day.

February 6, 2012 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

" These are my people. If the world turns to shit I will be a woman with a fiddle, longbow, and horse with a pack of dogs. Call me Artemis over GI Jane any day."

yes oh yes.

also, hibernating Heidi's grandfather style>> woman, you have a way with those words o' yours!

February 6, 2012 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger farmgirlwanabe said...

Reading your post and the comments accompanying it makes me glad I gave in to my daughter's request for ukelele lessons. My daughter is totally into music and it makes me happy because I definitely remember the days of doing chores plugged into my 'walkman' - (some of you out there should remember those) belting out whatever was playing on the cassette tape. SHe received a little set of bongs for xmas because she loves banging drums and now wants to take up ukelele (she is learning to play the piano but you sure can't strap that to your back when walking in the woods). So starting in march she will get ukelele lessons offered at lunchtime at her school - it might also have something to do with the different colors the ukelele comes in - she picked yellow and surprise surprise not pink.

Now if I could get my hands on a fiddle and learn to play along I would - I pluck on a guitar but afte reading all these posts about fiddles I am tempted - anyone know where in Ontario I could pick up an inexpensive one?

And I also realize I have not been singing too much these days - yes winter blahs and accompanying darkness because we live north of the 50th have something to do with it - stumbling this blog and the others that I have signed up since has been a true blessing for me and uplifted my spirits tremendously.

So seriously where can I get a fiddle?


I hope to come down your way Jenna this summer with my kids and show them all that can be done when you believe in yourself)

February 9, 2012 at 10:41 AM  
Blogger farmgirlwanabe said...

Reading your post and the comments accompanying it makes me glad I gave in to my daughter's request for ukelele lessons. My daughter is totally into music and it makes me happy because I definitely remember the days of doing chores plugged into my 'walkman' - (some of you out there should remember those) belting out whatever was playing on the cassette tape. SHe received a little set of bongs for xmas because she loves banging drums and now wants to take up ukelele (she is learning to play the piano but you sure can't strap that to your back when walking in the woods). So starting in march she will get ukelele lessons offered at lunchtime at her school - it might also have something to do with the different colors the ukelele comes in - she picked yellow and surprise surprise not pink.

Now if I could get my hands on a fiddle and learn to play along I would - I pluck on a guitar but afte reading all these posts about fiddles I am tempted - anyone know where in Ontario I could pick up an inexpensive one?

And I also realize I have not been singing too much these days - yes winter blahs and accompanying darkness because we live north of the 50th have something to do with it - stumbling this blog and the others that I have signed up since has been a true blessing for me and uplifted my spirits tremendously.

So seriously where can I get a fiddle?


I hope to come down your way Jenna this summer with my kids and show them all that can be done when you believe in yourself)

February 9, 2012 at 10:41 AM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

Prob. my first time posting on your blog... but nothing gets me to creep out of the shadows like the talk about hill music and banjos. They say that music is like praying twice. I say it now, too.

February 11, 2012 at 9:23 AM  

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