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!)
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
I came across this lovely prose by Charlotte Eriksson as I perused the Goodreads website today. There is no title and is probably an excerpt from an essay. It is so appropriate for anyone who is traveling the creative path…..
“… so this is for us.
This is for us who sing, write, dance, act, study, run and love
and this is for doing it even if no one will ever know
because the beauty is in the act of doing it.
Not what it can lead to.
This is for the times I lose myself while writing, singing, playing
and no one is around and they will never know
but I will forever remember
and that shines brighter than any praise or fame or glory I will ever have,
and this is for you who write or play or read or sing
by yourself with the light off and door closed
when the world is asleep and the stars are aligned
and maybe no one will ever hear it
or read your words
or know your thoughts
but it doesn’t make it less glorious.
It makes it ethereal. Mysterious.
For it belongs to you and whatever God or spirit you believe in
and only you can decide how much it meant
and will forever mean
and other people will experience it too
Through your spirit. Through the way you talk.
Through the way you walk and love and laugh and care
and I never meant to write this long
but what I want to say is:
Don’t try to present your art by making other people read or hear or see or touch it; make them feel it. Wear your art like your heart on your sleeve and keep it alive by making people feel a little better. Feel a little lighter. Create art in order for yourself to become yourself
and let your very existence be your song, your poem, your story.
Let your very identity be your book.
Let the way people say your name sound like the sweetest melody.
So go create. Take photographs in the wood, run alone in the rain and sing your heart out high up on a mountain
where no one will ever hear
and your very existence will be the most hypnotising scar.
Make your life be your art
and you will never be forgotten.”