I was writing a blog entry on Texas fiddle music, but ended up with this. It’s very personal for the tone I was using for this blog, but it’s what came out. Deal with it… :} I’ll try to collect myself on the Texas fiddle music research I’ve done later. This entry is hella long, so skip it if you don’t have time, or just click the links and scratch your head.
It’s hard to think about when I first arrived here, with barely enough for my first month’s rent at the incredibly cheap sublet I had two months that ended almost a month ago. I moved here to challenge myself, to shake off old skin and bad habits and learn to experience the world a new way. It’s been far harder and more depressing and more instructive and intense than I ever ever thought. I am changed, and while the process was one of the toughest things I’ve done, I am changed for the better. I’ve cut through all the things environment and ill use by others surrounded me with, and I can see myself and the world much clearer. The things that led me to move here seem so unimportant now, but I have the payoff of knowing what things *are* important to me. Now.
My life has been a series of realizing that the amazing things people I admire do are things that I can do. I have a friend who often blogs about her complicated relationship with where she’s from, and how it inspires her now that she’s far away. When she lived there, all she could think about was getting out. I can relate. Reading her blog has helped me to articulate to myself my feelings about where I’m from; my complicated relationship to Texas.
What ties the above two paragraphs together is where I’ve ended up: music. I’ve always played around with sound, and have built electronic instruments and played them before, but never know how to play a traditional instrument or anything about music theory. I approached sound always as an enthusiastic amateur.
The last two months of 2005 and first six months of 2006, I worked in a bookstore where we couldn’t play rock music. I had what was at the time a rather ignorant and casual occasional interest in folk and traditional music, with a tiny knowledge of world music from a sound class I had taken. I knew jazz pretty well, but felt a lot of it sounds too cloyingly familiar. I benefited from my co-workers’ knowledge of world music, old-timey traditional musics, and avant-jazz; some of their tastes I shared, some I didn’t, but I learned. I got really deep into thinking about the instrumentation and the decisions musicians make, and how music evolves in cultures. I started to feel drawn to specific types of music, some of which was kind of a surprise to me.
As I left Berkeley this past July, my visual arts practice (which had been dormant in any important way, although I made a few good pieces in an illustration class that semester just passed) had evolved into a writing practice, and yielded about a short story and a half. I read a lot about writing, and was trying to figure out what really drove me, what I was interested in writing about. I ended up staying on couches in DC for a month. When I moved into my sublet here, I was somehow writing lyrics for songs. Some slowly, most poured out of me like I had a current of expression seething just under the surface. All seemed ready for traditional instrumentation. I had been wanting to learn how to play a real acoustic instrument since forever, but especially since building a cigar-box guitar in the spring of 2006 (or was it 2005 and it sat there for a year before going into storage?).
The past few months, I’ve been watching the videos at Tangier Sound in odd moments, when I feel like I need a connection to making music but feel overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge. It’s led me to look for other sites like it, and listen to different instruments to see if I liked the way they sounded enough to want to learn them. I knew it would be hard, and I’d have to love something to stick with it. I was on the verge of settling on banjo, with maybe ukelele as a backup, when my mother casually mentioned that she’s loan me her very nice, very expensive, great sounding violin if I ended up taking violin or fiddle classes.
Somehow researching the fiddle led me to the mandolin, and on one of my trips to guitar center to fool around with guitars, banjos, and ukuleles (really, I know so little it’s like a cave man picking them up, minus intuition or confidence), I picked up a mandolin and tried it. It sounded beautiful even in my ignorant hands. I was sold – it also appealed to my sense of obscurity and perversity, like the fiddle. In my web-searching, I came across a place here in Brooklyn called Jalopy that gives classes in traditional music (in addition to their plays, concerts, jam nights, etc.) Logistics determined that I end up in Mandolin 1, of which I have had one class. I’m pretty awful, but I hope to be posting videos of me playing to YouTube in a few months. We’ll see. I don’t want to rush it.