With the easing of the pandemic, the summer bloomed with music. Learning to play the tenor guitar was my defacto pandemic project. Three years later I was ready to venture forth with my new skills along with my friend, and neighbor, Kelsey in our newly formed duo “The Ribbon Ridge Girls” the name pertinent to the rural area we live in.
We kicked off with the Tenor Guitar Gathering in Astoria, Oregon in early June, a gathering of 4 string guitar aficionados. Kelsey plays a standard guitar but she was more than welcomed. The tenor guitar came about in the late 1920s when banjo was going out of style. Those out-of-work banjo players had guitars made with tenor banjo necks with the same tuning CGDA so they could still be employed. It’s tuned in 5ths rather than 4ths of a regular 6-string guitar. The sound of a tenor guitar is brighter and a good complement to a regular guitar. It faded away in the late 1950s and currently is experiencing a resurgence. Tenor Guitar Gathering is special as it is the only event in the world that celebrates this instrument.
This was an intimate affair of around 100 friendly participants plus local participation at the concerts on Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday morning we packed the historical Astoria trolley strumming and singing tunes along the waterfront. There were various workshops offered and in between, we sampled the beer, baked goods, and coffee that the town has to offer. Astoria also has an array of vintage stores we visited. At night we jammed in the local motel we stayed in along with the featured musicians. A high point for me was meeting Tyler Jackson in person, my virtual guitar teacher from San Antonio, Texas, who was performing and teaching at the event. We won big in the raffle, Kelsey won a guitar (which she later donated) and I won a year’s worth of virtual lessons from an award-winning musician back east (woohoo!)
After 1 ½ years of silence due to the pandemic, music concerts that were canceled are returning so when a friend said “Hey, I have 2 extra tickets to a Jackson Brown/ James Taylor concert -want to go? Instantly I said “YES!” despite the fact the tickets were almost $140, it was at the huge Moda Center in Portland (I usually avoid large venues), and I would have to attend in a wheelchair due to my knee injury. Sometimes you just have to seize the moment and go, letting the universe work out the details. So on a rainy night in October, off the three of us went.
It only took about two chords of “Running on Empty” on the piano and I was transported back to a much younger me, a college student in the mid-1970s in that living room, that turntable, my friends, a more hopeful era infused in musical talent. Two of my favorite musicians at that time were Jackson Brown and James Taylor, their vinyl albums well worn with use. Looking back it was a time when I had the world at my feet- the music of the time making it all the more exciting.
I don’t know where the world went wrong since then. We were the generation of change, peace, and environmental awareness. I hardly recognize the country I live in now. Still in that massive venue, thousands of us masked gray-haired Boomers let the music of these great musicians bring us back, and boy did they put on a show, visibly grateful to be doing so. “In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina, For a Dancer”, all my favorites. Brown and Taylor sounded just as good as they did 45 years ago.
Maybe it’s my imagination or I’m suffering the prejudice of aging but I thought the music of the 60s & 70s was just the best. Maybe every generation feels their music was but I’ve noticed the younger set actively appreciating this same music.
The attendees of my deep water exercise class at the local pool are all aging boomers. We all look quite inauspicious old gals on the surface but we have colorful histories as young women. The class before Halloween we all “dressed up.” Our Purple Witch teacher had on a playlist of oldies including “Monster Mash” and other crazy music from our era. As we swished and kicked, we sang and shouted to the music trying to guess the title or the artist of the music to win power bars. “The Monkeys, Sly and the Family Stone, Loving Spoonful” we yelled out. Memories let loose. The lifeguards looked on with disbelief at all us old birds having such a good time and one of them took pictures. (At this age who cares about what people think!)
Music has always saved me but in the last few years, it has been such a refuge. Turn down the news and turn up the tunes I say. Welcome back, musicians. Thanks for making the world a brighter place.
I am in my 2nd year of learning tenor guitar – in my mid 60’s. I heard Richard Durrant play “Skye Boat Song” on the tenor guitar about 1 ½ years ago. I was smitten. Something was rekindled down deep within me and I knew that even though late in life, I had to start playing music again on the guitar.
I traded my standard (now vintage) guitar that I played as a teen for a beautiful tenor guitar handmade by the local music store owner. (See my post “Breaking up With my Guitar”for the backstory.) With a neighbor, roughly the same age and in a similar situation we signed up for guitar lessons and attend alternate weeks in the same time slot. Finding we both had a love of traditional folk tunes, we got over our shyness and started playing and singing together. Now we have a repertoire of about 8 songs that we have memorized and informally have played with other folks.
We are still not too polished but looking back but hey, I know the chords and the notes on this instrument. I am learning music theory, am learning how to sing harmony and am performing with another person. It’s a musical adventure.
The most difficult part of being a beginner is getting over the myths of learning as an adult, some of them being- I’m not talented enough, I can’t remember anything, or it’s too late for me. I’m not “good”, (yet) but I am sooooo much better than when I started.
We just returned from attending Wintergrass, a huge 4-day music festival in Seattle that had the best of the best in this genre and beyond. It was inspiring to hear all these fabulous musicians and then amateurs (including children) jamming in the hallways. There will be no fame in the future for us but that’s not the point. It’s but there are fun and joy of the
process of playing music that is what truly is important. An added benefit is keeping those brain cells firing.
Ultimately you can begin anything at any age if you have enough commitment to PRACTICE. Show up every day and you will improve. having a buddy will help but is not necessary.
Don’t ever think it’s too late to begin and just know that the first step is the hardest.
Two years ago when I purchased a bodhran (an Irish drum pronounced “baren”) during
travels in Ireland, I was also told about Craiceann (pronounced “Cracken”) an annual summer camp for bodhran and aspiring bodhran players on Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands. It sounded like an experience not to be missed. I swore to myself that in two years I would return as a participant. I did just that last week with a much better bodhran in my possession and enough online experience to qualify myself as an advanced beginner.
I arrived via ferry to join about 90 other souls coming together to celebrate this instrument which provides the percussion part of much of Irish music. The bodhran is a rapidly evolving instrument that began as a goatskin over a wood frame, beaten with the hand. Now it’s evolved to a more sophisticated, tuneable drum that is played with a tipper, or beater made from wood or bamboo. Currently, it is finding its way out of Irish traditional music into other genres. The better players perform solo as well as part with of a band.
Ireland is a land full of soul, spirit, rich history and culture. All of that comes out in its lively music often with some sort of combination of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, concertina, accordion, penny whistle, bodhran, singing and sometimes more. I wanted to play bodhran simply to be able to be involved in Irish music sessions, which are informal gatherings of musicians playing Irish music- usually in a pub. As I am not skilled enough on guitar I thought this percussive instrument would be a relatively quick avenue in. Well, yes and no. As with any simple looking thing, there is a myriad of complexities to be mastered not to be seen at first glance.
The week far exceeded my expectations. There were three-hour classes a day taught by some of the finest players in the world, plus special lectures and performances. I met students from all over the world including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and all over the US. Quite surprisingly there were a fair number of older women as myself coming solo. It was an easy place to make new friends. At night if you had the energy the three pubs on the island were full of musicians playing traditional Irish music and you were welcome to drum along. In Ireland music is not just a spectator sport. I saved my energy for the last night and rolled into bed at 3 AM exhausted and bleary-eyed for the last day of classes (as with everyone else).
The island of Inis Oirr was a delight in itself. It is only 4 miles in circumference and has about 200 permanent residents. Irish is the first language of many of the residents. Like the other two Aran Islands, it is made of limestone and is divided by a web of limestone “fences” that serve both as enclosures for livestock as well as places to deposit rocks when fields are being cleared. The weather was fine and sunny during the week giving the opportunity to take many scenic walks and explore ruins from pre-Christian to early Christian times. The wildflowers were blooming, some being only native to the islands like the pyramid Orchid. There was a lovely swimming beach and on the last morning, despite my late night, I went for a swim in the chilly, turquoise water of the North Atlantic – a spiritual end to my stay.
On my return, I am trying to digest the huge volume of information picked up from over 15 hours worth of lessons and presentations. This Tuesday night I will return to the Irish session I’ve attended at a local pub hopefully a better bodhran player. I will never be a great player but that’s not my intention. Learning and playing music with others is the goal. I traveled thousands of miles to become more proficient but also to be with people of like mind who appreciate this instrument and Irish music. It was magical.
Now being a part of the music at home and keeping the beat is enough for me.
P.S. To see videos of Craiceann performances go here
“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” ~ Marilyn Monroe
I thought we were soulmates. A friend gifted me this pretty little Gibson B-25 guitar. “Here, you take it- I’m not ever going to play it.” It had a sunburst finish and steel strings, far superior to the Sears Silvertone with nylon strings that I had been playing. At 17 years old I could not believe my good fortune. It was love at first sight.
I plunked and played that guitar trading songs and riffs with friends until I moved away to college. There really was never another time where I was surrounded by people that played music. My skills languished. Now and again out of guilt I pulled out the Gibson, played for a bit and then put it back. Playing alone wasn’t satisfying, but really, the instrument didn’t have enough base and tone for my ears anymore. Still, I refused to admit I had fallen out of love.
I’ve always loved to sing. In elementary school in my babyboomer upbringing, we always started the day with songs. They were usually patriotic in nature – “My Country Tis of Thee” or “Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies” sung with heart with our bird-like voices. Then there was nothing like those fun songs I learned at summer camp.
As an adult, I have had to hunt for places to sing (other than the shower). Music has become more of a spectator sport in our culture, a solitary experience of earbuds, or just reserved for churches. How lucky I was when a women’s choir started up six years ago within a driveable distance of my rural home. Every Tuesday night my friend Linda and I drive to 12 miles to McMinnville for practice. It’s work and fun at the same time. We are a community of women united in our voices.
There have been studies done on the mental and physical health benefits of singing in a choir. There is something truly healing by breathing and weaving our voice in with a group of other people. Singing unites us. I can gift to others with my voice and it helps chase away the holiday blues.
The culmination of our efforts is our winter concerts. All the worries of mistakes float away. We walk into the hall, confident, our voices blending in beautiful harmonies facing our audience and sharing our songs. I revel when I see eyes close, smiles on faces, and even a tears running down cheeks.
Practice behind me
Audience before me
The piano preludes
The conductor cues
Now our voices pour from our hearts
Wrapping all in a harmonious cloud
The splendor of song filling the room
Infusing our souls
And those before us
“Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought.”
― E.Y. Harburg