Mostly, I bought the thing to remind myself I have zero — zilch, nada, none — musical talent. This has long been a source of angst for me, because my brother Tom appears to have sucked up all the musical talent in our family, and I thought I might wrestle some back.
Of course, saying he has musical talent in no way acknowledges the hours he’s spent strumming his guitar and plucking his banjo. I’d prefer not to focus on that, because that would mean if I applied myself fully, I might be half as good as he is by the time I’m 113.
I know. I did the math.
Originally, I was offered piano lessons as a girl, but I declined because it seemed too girly a thing to do, at which point Girly Tom, Football Star, stepped up and said, “I’ll take those lessons,” and he did. Meanwhile, I perfected my curve ball and my diving catch, and I ran really fast in track.
I sure showed them. You can take those piano (pronounced, in the vernacular, “pianer”) lessons and stuff ’em. Tomboys don’t play pianer.
That was short-sighted of me. Turns out, you don’t often have opportunity at my age (closing in on 113) to show off your curve ball (mine has deteriorated immeasurably, anyway), or take off at a sprint for a medal (at which point my right knee would completely leave my body, it’s attached that shoddily).
Years ago, I was driving around Vermont with my son and I popped in a tape and the song above played and I was struck. I listened to it over and over again, the interplay between the banjo and the violin and though I was miles from home, it felt like home.
(It must be said that I have absolutely no belief that I’ll ever be anywhere near Bela Fleck, either. He’s a banjo god who actually creates instruments to match the music in his head. I have no such music in my head. Mine’s far more pedestrian, the hillbilly music we made fun of as kids.)
And here I am, cradling a banjo (banjer) in my lap. I can’t read music. I can sing harmony. This hasn’t helped me much. I have played the DVD that came with the thing (Learn to Play Banjo! In 47 Easy Years!) — pause, replay, watch, try, fail, pause, replay ad infinitum. Mike, the affable guy on the DVD with just the right amount of twang who is talking me through the basics seems to believe in me, and so I’m trying to believe in myself. I’ve teased a niece that I’ll be happy to play at her July wedding, and she’s game enough to pretend that would be OK. At the rate I’m going, I should be ready by the time she’s 78.
At least I’ve got math skillz.