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I am a creative artist who developed some music skills. I create pieces of music "culture". Creative artists need consumers of their creations. Consumers need the creations artists produce. Neither of these roles is more important than the other.
A piece of art doesn't depend upon somebody's opinion or a group's consensus on its quality or meaning in order for it to exist as art. It very simply is the product of one creative artist's abstract expression of emotion. The meaning and quality is subjective according to each person's unique views and tastes. Those opinions about the art's meaning or quality are as numerous and diverse as the individuals judging it.
One person's good art is another person's bad art. There really are no right or wrong opinions about things cultural just as there is no hierarchy of importance for the many ways individuals participate in the experience of expressing feelings with their unique works of art.
We are all art lovers, creative or not. We need each other. Let's respect differences, agree to disagree if necessary, and all get along.
Tommy Thompson stands as a Giant Big Man in American cultural history. He founding fathered the Red Clay Ramblers, an ensnaringly charismatic, musically brilliant, wholistically eccentric, totally in your face, generation 1970's not only strings string band. He also holds a completely non requested non returnable unlimited lifetimes tenured professorship in the unnecessarily exisistentially accredited International Undocumented and Undeclared School of Uncensored and Unrestrictable Philosophical Upspeak, No Bull University(UNOBULL), Planet Earth.
Tommy left a wide load of sorrows and joys in some cosmic dumpster on January 24, 2003 when his undeservedly long suffering sixty-five year old body finished its earthly ramble and died. Tommy Thompson's legacy looms large. He left two genetic offspring, an outrageous and wonderful band, recordings, writings, theater works, and many profoundly inspired human beings. I am one of the inspired, and I offer this macro-rant to honor my banjo guru, Tommy Thompson.
I am a piece of Tommy Thompson's legacy. His
banjo playing is burned into my life's permanent soundtrack along with my
father's accordion playing, my mother's singing, and Bill Hicks' and Alan
Jabbour's fiddling. He is with me when I perform and teach lessons, and my
banjo students echo Tommy's spirit and drive when they play. The Giant Big
Man lives on earth inside all of us.
OK, OK, Allright, Already! I admit it! I'm a genuine 'Sixties Living Fossil! Nineteen Sixties, that is...
My first vocal rant made news in a Brooklyn, NY hospital in 1954. I was ten when Murray the K, a NYC am radio deejay rocked my world. Some big, important musical movement had just started happening, and my young musician ears couldn't get enough of this new music on the radio.
There were many players in this exciting movement--musicians, promoters, groupies, deejays, photographers, roadies, creeps, druggies, producers, publishers, record execs, etc. I qualified for genuine "teenybopper" status --too young to be a real female threat, but able to fall in love with some rock musician, scream at him, faint, or spend my allowance on music items promoting his image.
Nineteen sixty-four was a heavy one, man. The British rock music and pop culture invasion was quite a companion to the massive social upheaval brewing in both the USA and my bloomin' adolescent body/mind. The Fab Four (The Beatles, for those too young to know the nicknames) played at Forest Hills Stadium in my home county of Queens, NY. I loved Paul. I will forever mourn the fact I couldn't go to that concert.
While America mourned its beloved and recently assasinated president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) was prez, and we were thigh deep in the Big Vietnam War Muddy. There was only one place my already consecrated artist adolescent body/prematurely intellectually bent mind could go to help endure its unbearable confusion -- to the musicians, of course!
Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, John Lennon, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tim Hardin, the Byrds, CSNY, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, Rolling Stones, The Fugs, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Laura Nyro, Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Tom Paxton, Odetta, Buffy Ste.Marie, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, I'm breathless now, do you want me to keep going?
Forget it, you can read some dusty Rolling Stone music history if you want more 1960's folk and rock icons--that's not exactly the topic of this rant. Not the human icons. Only the music.
I was a fifteen year old music student in 1969. I remember singing that 60's music with my peers as we climbed countless steps which began from the NYC subway entrance (West 135th St. and Convent Ave.) and continued up an almost endless hill to the High School of Music and Art (HSMA). My high school had the added education expanding feature of being located smack dab on the campus of New York's City College (CCNY).
The City College cafeteria was great, just great! We'd cut classes and get french fries and burgers and coffee, and hang out in the lounge and pretend we were who we weren't, and smoke cigarettes and dope with the college kids, right in front of the security guards!
I didn't just learn how to be stoned and act straight there, however. Student led strikes about all kinds of worthy humanist causes were plentiful and rowdy back then, and I brought my guitar and began singing songs with the protesting students. The 'Nam war was still bombing along, and my folksinger mentors were in world class socially aware singer/songranter form. I built up a good arsenal of pro and anti anything songs with guitar accompaniments. I also got to practice fearless singing and playing out loud in front of groups of chanting idealists and police sirens. And keep walking and singing. I didn't know it was a dress rehearsal for today.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT RANT.........
I am nocturnal. My big sister is an early bird who lives and works on Long Island. She called me around 10:00am on 9/11/01 to make sure I was OK. "Whaddayou, nuts? Of course, I'm OK-I was sleeping!"
"Turn on the TV--You're not gonna believe this!"
Two cups of coffee finally helped me focus enough to realize what was going on. This was not the advertising trailer for another new special FX explosamovie. Something horrible really had happened to NYC's Twin Towers and all the people....
I'm just like everybody else. After we realize some awful truth, we ask "Why?" When there's no real answer, it seems like many of us dust off our books from some organized religion's curriculum and read the Bible, Koran, Talmud, or something else someone says comes from God. Some of us actually find an answer this way.
The strict Dominican nuns that schooled and socialized me 'till the end of eighth grade helped ensure I'd never pull out the Book of Revelation when I got scared. They executed their jobs with an attitude and style that would put military academy pit bull seargents to shame. Those brides of Christ zealously insisted I learn to read, write, spell, diagram sentences, add, subtract, multiply, divide, memorize, stand up, recite, shut up, sit down, polish my black and white saddle shoes every day, line up in perfect size place in a perfectly straight line, duck, cover, and cultivate my fear of the wrath of God, the priests who bossed the nuns around, the nuns who bossed the kids around, and other authority figures like hall monitors and crossing guards.
I graduated from eight years of this outstanding and horredous non secular education in June, 1967, when dignitariat from the Roman Catholic Church's Christ the King Elementary School, Springfield Gardens, Queens, N.Y. granted me my first meaningful diploma, my glorious ticket to high school.
I was now free to reject my childhood's organized Godogma, and I broke up with the Catholic Church while a crescendo of folk and rock music clanged and rang my teenybopper chimes.
I went to the poetry and music to find answers back then. Now, on September 11, 2001, I needed to sing some of that poetry again to help explain "Why?"
I poured through my '60's childhood's music, and my mind's permanent soundtrack replayed perfectly preserved phrases of each song I sightread. The music uncovered distant indelible phrases of me, like long forgotten browning news clippings pressed between those old songs' printed pages.
I heard the teenaged Diane Maria crying a whole lotta angry "Why?" I saw the young adult Diane Maria asking a whole lotta nervous "What, When?" I felt the middle aged Diane Maria crying and asking a lot less angry, nervous "Why? What? When?'' and wondering a lot more confounded "How?" "How could this happen, today, in the twenty first century?
My mind's soundtrack's album changed. "All you need is Love." "All We Are Saying - - Is Give Peace a Chance." "Come on, people, now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now..."
I thought the songs had fixed all that the first time we sang them. What about the dawning of the Age of Aquarius? Peoples' prayers and hymns? Group drumming and chanting? The Save the Children Fund? The Cosmic Convergence? Crystal work? The United Nations?
I was remembering Bob Dylan's "With God On Our Side" when my collective unconscious folksinger red alert light started to flash. The words burning my mouth and tune sizzling in my hands electrified me the exact undaunted intense way they had a long time ago. I realized that my stunned, confused friends, music students, and local community neighbors probably also needed to hear those same songs now. I sang and played them again, only they came out much better this time.
They told you you're too young or too old to take music lessons, so now you think you should stop listening to that little voice. You know. The nudge that keeps picking organized sounds on guitar, or banjo, or fiddle, or voice, or tuba, or whatever in your mind. Or your young kid's mind.
You don't need to give up finding the right playing buddies or instrument teacher. There ARE music teachers and social pickers out there who will evaluate and relate to the person, and not the age group. I have taught 6 year old kids to play folk guitar, as well as 75 year old ladies to play really mean tenor banjo!
Be persistent in your musician search, be obsessed with music, sing instead of speak your mind, practice in earnest, and have fun playing every day every chance you get--you'll play within a year, no matter what your biological age!
I was so excited the day I bought my first professional grade steel string acoustic guitar. I was a 16 year old fingerpicking folksinger, and had been playing on a nylon string classical model. I'd practiced for two years with the fire of nonstop musical inspiration, conscientiously saved money in a new guitar fund, and now it was finally time to upgrade my instrument.
I questioned other musicians and read the guitar geek magazines for information on acoustic guitars. Martin Dreadnought body guitars were hot at that time. The D-28 and D-35's big wide Brazilian Rosewood bodies supported a huge and beautifully balanced sound. The booming bass end and warmly bright treble strings blended evenly with a solid mid range. Nice and loud, too! Great teenage angst response in a guitar!
I bought a brand new Martin D35 and though it was large and difficult to handle, I persevered and managed to play that guitar "pretty good for a girl!"
Years later I realized what many frustrated guitarist wannabes never learn-- My beautiful dreadnought guitar was too big for my 5 foot small body. I had experienced more physical pain and technical frustration and was working harder than the average sized guitar picker did while playing on the same kind of guitar.
Most guitar builders, salespeople and pickers were and still are men who are larger than me. It didn't occur to anyone to advise me that smaller people need instruments that fit their hands and bodies just like the smaller shoes on their feet!
I'm sorry to say that 30 years later, things haven't evolved much in the guitar sizing department. I still see smaller than average female and male guitar students come to their first lesson with huge unplayable instruments, and it's my sorry job to tell them their guitar is wrong for them.
Most beginning music students are clueless when they rent or buy their first instrument, and must trust a salesperson's knowledge and judgment to help them choose an appropriate and playable instrument. It is a rare merchant who pays attention to instrument sizing, and if you are female, you probably have few role models to help with this issue.
Pay attention to how the instrument feels when you hold it. If your first impression is that it is too big, then look for a smaller scale instrument. Bigger and louder is not necessarily better, and you will learn to play with more facility and less tension and technical frustration if the size is right!
You know you want one. You love the sound. It feels right when you hear it. You want to buy one and learn how to pick. You're now ready to expand your knowledge of banjos before you invest in your first one. Here are some facts about about banjo types and styles to get your shopping trips off to a well informed start:
There are 4 basic types of banjos:
A frailing or clawhammer banjo has 5 strings and an open back. The strings are set a little wider apart and and the action a little higher for the percussive old timey clawhammer banjo style.
5 string Bluegrass banjos look much like the old timey banjo, except they have resonators on the back to make them louder. The strings are set closer together and the action is set a little lower for bluegrass 3 finger picking styles. These banjos are usually played with two fingerpicks and a thumbpick.
Tenor and Plectrum banjos have four strings, either open or resonator backs, and are played with a flatpick. Plectrum banjos have a longer scale neck than the Tenor. Many people flatpick Irish or Jazz styles on these models.
There are also the hybrids--fun, quirky banjos like the banjo-uke, banjo-bass, guitjo, piccolo banjo, banjo-mandolin, electric banjo......the list goes on!
Consider these important points when buying that exciting "first love" of a banjo:
1. Musical Style
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