Sunday, May 31, 2009

wolves howl. dogs bark.

I wrote this last May, but wanted to repost it for the folks taking on the Fiddler's Summer Challenge. I'll be posted an update later for all you new musicians, but in the meantime if anyone has any videos to share, please post a link in the comments!

I do not know of anything that feels better than playing hundred-year-old songs in firelight with pleasant company. I don’t know of anything more beautiful than when you look up at low hanging branches, with green leaves tinted yellow and coal gray by the flames and smoke, and then look beyond them at a deep night and hollow stars.

I don’t know of anything more comforting than understanding that I can sing a verse, and you can sing a verse, and we can sing it together without knowing each other's last names or what cars we drive, or caring about those things. But understanding with complete certainty that those same words were whispered before us by long-dead people and will be sung by those long-alive. Because of this—it is forever.

Us musicians, singers, and storytellers know that every time we gather in the glow of a campfire, we're just a small piece of a bigger story. We happen to be holding the songs for a short time till we pass them on, and we're okay with that mortality. We drink and laugh and dance to it. And between songs we'll sip some libations and talk about the night we heard St. Anne's Reel shake Quebec, or how a stranger asked us to play a tune at a mountain lake in Idaho. And we'll do this like it's the most important thing in the world. Because at that moment, it is.

Wolves howl. Dogs bark. Humans sing old-time songs. These are the sounds animals make. You can disregard this music, laugh at it, or live your whole life without lifting an eyebrow at dorian strings. But regardless of you-it will keep on padding through our culture like a yellow-eyed sheepdog in high grass. Hidden and wild with a unwavering focus. And like a lowline dog in the grass, you can see it if you look for it. It is there.

This all happens, all this emotion and loyalty, because we all know the words. It's a language we picked up here and there. We did it without amps or outlets. We learned it by ear. We play it because of how it makes us feel. Old time music is, and always will be wet rocks and green moss in a shaded creek in Tennessee. It is bonfires in the shadows of Idaho hills. It is being alone in a blizzard in farmhouse owned by woman named Hazel. It is a campfire by a strangers garden in New York. It's Brian. It's Heather. It's Emily. It's Dave. It's even Erin on the indie rock lam.

I love this music. It writhes and quivers and will keep running uphill when I am dead and forgotten like a fast, fast dog. I don’t understand how it can be ignored. I shudder under thick skin when it is mocked. I feel bad, horrible even, for those who can’t hold it in their fists and know what it feels like. Like a clump of grass you just submerged in a creek.

It is absurd to feel this way about Old Time music and the matted old dog that is these songs. But this is how I feel.

And I love it with the all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good morning Jenna. I watched Songcatcher this weekend - thanks for recommending it.

It will be awhile before my violin will be here. Got an email that the one ordered on e-bay was out of stock. They have while, black, green, blue or pink ones in stock, of they could give me a refund. After exchanging e-mails I found out that it would be another week before the naatural wood ones were in. Decided to wait. I've gone this many years without learning to play - what's one more week. So, I'll be getting started a little later than the rest of the group. - J

May 31, 2009 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger MistySeptember said...

Seems we've caused a run on violin's on ebay!

Wayne Erbsen's book arrived today, however my fiddle is set to be delivered Tuesday, so I'll have to wait a bit longer. However, I purchased "Made From Scratch" at the same time as the fiddle book and that arrived as well. I'll be sitting in the sunshine today enjoying your book!

May 31, 2009 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Jenna,
Fiddle arrived Friday and I started trying to tune it yesterday. I think I'll need professional help. The tuner that came with it is confusing and I can't tell if I'm tuning it properly. Fortunately we have a music store in our small town!

May 31, 2009 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger xemefex said...


It came to my attention that your blog is popular! Are you aware of this? Let me explain... as I was googleing around Your blog came up in the top 10 under the keyword Dogs. This is pretty good and you could be making a lot of money through your blog.

Check this out:

May 31, 2009 at 2:11 PM  
Blogger Rhonda Jean said...

Thank you for writing that for me. I sit here with no fiddle but I know what it will feel like when I play because of those words. I feel it deep within me too. You are going to be my key.

May 31, 2009 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Fiddle is going to be delivered tomorrow. I don't usually work Mondays, but of all days, tomorrow I'm working. Hopefully, it will be waiting for me when I get home. If they don't leave it, I'll be heartbroken. I've been reading the Erbsen book to get acquainted with it. Fiancee recently acquired a musical saw, so I'm thinking we're going to be jammin when he gets home next week.

Kristin in TN

May 31, 2009 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger Nire said...

Still waiting for my book and my fiddle :( I'm too impatient for this shit.

May 31, 2009 at 6:47 PM  
Blogger Rita said...

I have received my fiddle yet. I also watcher Songcatcher is week. It was a really good movie and the music AMAZING! I really love Iris Dement.

June 1, 2009 at 12:35 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Mine arrived today! Woohoo!

June 1, 2009 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

When I got home from work, there it was!!!! The little sticker that said, "Signature required for delivery." boohoo.

June 1, 2009 at 7:43 PM  
Blogger MrsL said...

I like that post :)
I'm tempted to join in with the Fiddle challenge - I'm very rusty, so this might be the kick up the whotsit I need.
I already have one playable fiddle upstairs,a nd two that need fixing, so not much of an excuse really! Bean (daughter) is very keen too.




June 2, 2009 at 3:25 AM  
Blogger Conny said...

Jenna, I just stumbled upon your blog today for the first time. I have really enjoyed your posts. I'm trying to find the original summer fiddle challenge, but my internet connection keeps crashing. I'll get there.

I may be late to the party/challenge, but I'm going to jump right into the fray and retrieve my fiddle from the closet. It's been 6 years since I last played; sounds like a confessional (hee, he).

Anyway, thanks for your efforts on such an inspiring blog. Cheers - Conny

June 13, 2009 at 6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog isn't about dogs at all. But I found it by doing a search for Los Angeles dog bite attorney. Is that strange or what. I think so.

June 23, 2009 at 8:41 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home