Thursday, August 11, 2016

Harmonica jam

If there is one thing that Mukwonago does well, and usually does twice a month, is hold a Bluegrass Jam in a large community room at the local library. The Jam is organized by a local musician and brings together people of varying talent playing a variety of instruments from guitars to fiddles to mandolins to banjoes, and my favorite the harmonica.

Mary and I stumbled on the shindig quite by accident early one Tuesday evening when our only reason for being at the library was to do library stuff.  We didn't expect to hear music in the library of all places.  My understanding, from way back in my formative years, was that silence was the preferred behavior when inside the library's hallowed walls. At least that's what the gray haired old lady librarian with that tight little gray bun attached to the back of her head, the reading glasses hanging from a ribbon around her neck and resting officiously on the shelf of her ample bosom, would have you believe.

Being the nosy, no let's make that curious, people we are, we couldn't resist checking out where all that good time music was coming from.  As we reached the door to the "concert hall" my toes were already tapping.  We found at the end of the hallway a room jammed with musicians and music lovers, jamming.  Everyone who brought an instrument was encouraged to play along.  We arrived at the threshold of the melodic sound to hear the closing bars of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" played by the lady with the fiddle as she ended her raucous rendition accompanied by a couple guitars and a banjo who had joined her on her trip, with the background being filled in by the ubiquitous harmonica blowing riffs around the melody.  Then an old guy was making his way to the low stage at the front of the room already strumming his guitar.  Once he reached the stage, he began singing in a gravely, hard used voice, a song about "Rose", the love of his life, who somehow didn't feel the same way about him. His lament went on for some minutes and when he finished with an extended fade, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

The evening continued like that, one musician after another taking the stage, playing a song
he/she had prepared to share at the jam with anyone who chose to listen or, in some cases, singing along with the performer. There were some would-be musicians who shouldn't have been let out the door at the home or who should have been shown the door at the jam.
But overall the good quality of the music was a big surprise.

If given the choice, I will always opt for live music. There is something about having the music originate with a performer standing in front of you, that makes it more real, more enjoyable.
It doesn't matter if the musician hits a wrong note along the way.  That just makes the sound       more believable.  When you can see the effort put forth by the singer/guitarist to entertain you, your appreciation of the music expands beyond the world around you and carries you off to that ethereal place called Heaven.

The Bluegrass Jam that takes place twice a month here in Mukwonago's library, is the most nonjudgmental, inclusive, venue for musicians to get up and perform that you could ever hope for.  No one cares if you play your song perfectly, or if you miss every other note, or if you sing like Reba McIntyre or Ma Kettle.  As long as you have the urge and the chutzpah to stand in front of the audience and perform to the best of your ability, you will be welcomed with open arms and ears. It's always fun and entertaining.

It is so much fun that I decided that I want to get up on stage and play and sing a song for the assembled audience.  I want to have that experience at least once before I die. The fact that I have none of the particular talent necessary to do so is not going to stop me. I vowed to give it my best effort.  To that end I decided that the time was right for me to learn to play the harmonica.  I've always loved the soulful free flowing bluesy sound of a well played harmonica. So I bought a harmonica and a started to noodle around with it to familiarize myself with the feel of the instrument in my mouth.  I then went online and found a series of instructional videos that promised that I would be playing like a pro in no time.  Those videos were actually quite helpful and taught get me a lot.  But there is something to having a teacher giving you his undivided attention while demonstrating the lesson to be learned.  So at the last Jam we attended, I approached one of the participants who played the harmonica to see if he would be willing to spend some time with me teaching me the basics of harmonica playing.  To my delight he readily agreed to give me a few lessons.  We agreed on a price for the lessons that we both thought was fair. He would do it for nothing and I would pay him nothing.  You can't get more  agreeable than that.

Today was my first lesson.  I think he was pleasantly surprised that I knew as much as I did and was impressed with my attitude.  The fact that I was totally serious about this endeavor pleased him. He spent an hour or so on the basics and gave me some exercises to do before we meet again.  I am on my way to crossing off my bucket list:  learning to play the harmonica