Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The lament of the classical guitarist

Mr E Man and I visited his mother on BC's Sunshine Coast at the weekend. As usual, the days were filled with good food, wine, reading, crosswords, Scrabble, and the occasional short hike (the weather was not living up to the promise of the region's name).

It seems that we're getting to know more and more people who live up there, including my brother-in-law's hilarious new girlfriend (HNG) and her friend, who also used to work with Mr E Man and his father. (It's that kind of place). On Saturday we were invited to their regular music night. We drove a short distance, clambered up a very dark and hilly driveway, and found ourselves in a semi-finished one room shack filled with a smoky blue haze and rockin' blues music.

As I've mentioned before, my BIL is a roofer by day and a rock star by night. He'd brought his guitar and was giving it his all as usual*. There were 3 other guitars (no bass though, which was the only thing missing), a harmonica, the host at the drum kit, various others (including us - no passive spectators allowed!) on assorted percussion instruments, and BIL's HNG on flute. The host's wife, an award winning professional singer, was persuaded to belt out a few songs, with various other vocalists taking their turn. There was the occasional break for drinks, smokes, and a stumble in the dark to the scary steaming outhouse, but apart from that the music was continuous until we left at around midnight. It was just fantastic.

I was so jealous. I play the classical guitar, but unlike others (such as Wayfarer!) who start to play with the aim of being able to play around the campfire, I was taught very classically from an early age and while I can read music, I've never learned to improvise. I tried to jam with BIL once, with disastrous results - I don't know the songs that people expect me to play, and I can't just "transfer it to E minor, it'll sound better". I've got the wrong kind of brain or something, which is a shame because I just love playing music in a group.

I've spent a fair amount of time and energy recently trying to persuade some friends who play various instruments (flute / clarinet / trumpet, violin, and another classical guitar) to get together for a music-reading, classical version of the evening described above. I painted a picture of a small group of women who hadn't played in a long time getting together once a month or so in a low stress, no guilt, wine infused setting to play music. I even offered to host, and Mr E Man had (not very reluctantly at all) agreed that he would go to the bar with his BFF on those nights. Naturally, everyone thought it was a great idea, but no-one actually wanted to do it just yet as they were "just so out of practice". My assertion that we're all in the same boat fell on deaf ears and I ended up telling people to practice for a month and I'd get back to them.

BIL's HNG is really keen to join us, so I think it's time to resurrect my idea. Maybe people will be more likely to come if I tell them that the two of us are doing it anyway, here's the date and time, come if you want to.

Campfire optional.

*I'm proud to say that I beat him at Guitar Hero at Christmas!
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Appearing now at a Nature Network blog near you:
The effect of a peripatetic scientific lifestyle on friendships
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15 comments:

  1. Dude, I want to be your friend -- your life sounds so fun and interesting!
    EGM is like you, playing only classical guitar, except that for some reason he thinks it's lame to play songs people know. whatev.

    I think you should get your friends to play. You know they're only saying they are out of practice because they are being shy.

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  2. I'm just like you--I play classical piano and prefer to have notes in front of me. I joined the jazz band in high school and had to learn how to improv. Oh, the horror! :-)

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  3. Oh, I can totally relate! I had a very classical instruction in violin, and never did figure out how to improvise. Haven't played in a decade though and don't own a violin anymore (mine was hand-made a century ago, couldn't take it out of Ukraine since it is an antique - stupid laws!), so it is unlikely I'll play again.

    I hope you pull this off - it'll be great to hear all the fun stories!!

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  4. Dude, we're not friends?

    ;)

    BTW, it's worth bearing in mind that I don't blog about the week nights when we watch Survivor and fall asleep on the sofa at 9.30!

    It sounds like we could get a pretty decent music evening going between us! Mad Hatter, we'll have to come round to yours unless you want to cart your piano around. Did you learn how to improvise eventually?

    ScienceGirl, that's such a shame about the export laws. Instruments can become so personal. I bought a cheapish guitar when I moved out here, thinking I'd only be here a couple of years, and ended up getting my parents to bring my beautiful favourite guitar out here for me in the summer. I play a lot more often now that I've got my old friend back! (It also helps that we live in a house now, so there's more space to practice in than in our old tiny 1 bedroom apartment).

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  5. Yeah, good point. That's one of the bad things about playing the piano...lack of portability. Mine is a ~600 lb monster, which probably will not fit nicely under the seat in front of me or in an overhead compartment. :-)

    I did get slightly better at improv, although that's not saying much given that I couldn't have gotten worse. Part of the problem was that I hadn't really listened to any jazz at all, so I was unfamiliar with the style, syncopation, and chord progressions. And needless to say, I was totally at sea when we moved on to blues and funk. I suspect I'd be better at it now that I've had more exposure to jazz, but haven't had the guts to test the theory.

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  6. I am so jealous! That sounds like a lot of fun. I'm like you... I played saxophone in middle/high school and can't play anything except with notes in front of my face. This is kind of a bad thing for a saxophonist :-)

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  7. If we can find some sheet music for guitar, piano, violin and sax we're in business!

    I wonder if there's a connection between female scientists and the inability to improvise. It seems like more than a coincidence that we're all in the same boat!

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  8. I play classical guitar too! I usually play by myself and for myself, rarely daring to let others hear what I play. Like you I couldn't transfer a song to save my life, so sadly I wouldn't be much help.

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  9. Ooh, another classical guitarist! Got any good music? I'm going to look through my stash this weekend for some beginner level music for Wayfarer, what kind of level are you at?

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  10. What kind of level? Well, uhmmm, I don't know. I started playing when I was 12, took private lessons until I was 18. Then I broke my wrist in a T-shape, and it took years to heal. I've picked the guitar up from time to time since then, and I can still play some of the old music that I have on yellowing old sheets and books. I still have every piece of music that I was given by my teacher decades ago. But I'm horribly out of practice. As soon as I graduate I vow to play several times a week. Whenever I'm in Vancouver, we should hook up and play! I'll dig up whatever music I have, maybe we can swap some? I'll e-mail you.

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  11. I'll email you the stuff I scan for Wayfarer, and you can let me know if it's too easy or hard. I have my graded exam books (level 1-6), which have some good stuff in them, plus some other bits and pieces. It's been a while since I got any new music!

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  12. p.s. I have a spare guitar (the cheap one I bought when I arrived) so you can play that if you come to Vancouver! I'm going to give it to my nephews eventually but they're still a bit too small for it.

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  13. Awww...believe it or not I was once trained classically on the piano but it feels like it was another lifetime ago and I'm trying to do this time around from a totally different perspective - campfires and potlucks during long winter nights. I'm definately a beginer on the guitar but having the piano (not to mention the classical ballet training I had for eons - I actually danced professionally!) I have some background and hoping it will stead me in some good!

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  15. Hey CAE, by all means e-mail me the music. I'd be so happy to pick it up again. Wayfarer, you should be fine, with piano and ballet as background, you'll be strumming along before you know it.

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