The energy of music

During these times of shelter in place, there’s one thing that I miss so much. Its something that cannot be replaced with online or virtual substitute. An that is making music with others.

I don’t mean turning on the radio or streaming a concert, but actually playing musical instruments.

Photo from pre-COVID times jamming with friends.

Our family enjoys playing old time and bluegrass music.

I got into playing bluegrass because of a dear friend and colleague when I was in grad school. He put a banjo in my hands, taught me my first three chords, G, C and D and the result was I got hooked! (And probably to my husband’s chagrin!)

Dear Old Bill Watson, playing the banjo I built under his tutelage.

When we jam together, in our case, on stringed instruments, there is a special thing that occurs. I’ll try to describe what I mean.

Music moves as waves

When the strings of a guitar or banjo are picked or plucked, they vibrate the air. These vibrations move as sound waves through the air until they make it to my ear. That’s when I hear the notes.

When multiple instruments played in unison, it creates resonance. It like a bunch of people marching in time. The sound reverberates through the air, fills my head and moves through my body.

What music feels like

Not only do I hear it, but I feel it: the rhythmic pulsing of the bass notes. And the lighter melodic notes of the open-backed banjo dancing between the thumping low tones. It pulls me into a space where I feel connected with the music, and I’m moved like giant kelp swaying with each wave.

I feel as if my cells are dancing with the rhythm and feel in the flow. It’s a beautiful combination of music and community- of individual voices becoming a collective.

It reminds me of a rope- how thinner strands intertwining perfectly to make a stronger rope. The more of us playing together, the stronger the energy and felt connection.

I miss this part the most.

Jamming in these unusual times

But, I am grateful that we have had a good family friend and professional bluegrass banjo player come over a few times now. We sat in a circle on the front lawn with the proper physical distance between us.

From the moment we started to play- even if imperfectly by our rusty fingers, it felt so good. I was bathed by music and felt so alive. My heart felt so happy and I had a smile from ear to ear.

Music is a healing balm, creates community, a bringer of joy- just like nature is.

No technology can replace when people jam live together. It has to be felt in person. I look forward to the day we can have a house full of friends jamming once again!

For now, It will be just me and my banjo!

“The banjo is such a happy instrument–you can’t play a sad song on the banjo – it always comes out so cheerful.” Steve Martin

Here’s my banjo that I built from scratch under Bills tutelage. Maple block rim, figured maple neck, ebony fingerboard. My favorite part was creating and making the inlays on the fingerboard with mother-of-pearl and abalone. Its marine themed inspired by the sea life that I have studied seabirds, whales, jellies, leather back turtle, sea lion, Mola mola, and fish).

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