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Banjoversary: Seven-Year Itch

March 24 marks my seventh year playing the banjo. In the past, this date would be spent tallying my lifetime practice hours to see how close I've come to that magical 10,000-hour mark.

Ever since taking up the fiddle, however, those hours have become sparser and sparser. My banjo now spends most of its time hanging on the wall. I'll let my son strum the strings as we pass by its place. He's much gentler now. A year ago, I would hold my breath fearing that he'd snap off the strings.

The extent of my playing these days resides in noodling once or twice a week or the even rarer occasion of playing with friends at a party or festival. I'd much rather spend my free time tackling the beast that is the fiddle.

The fiddle should be on top now.

This weekend I began learning "Wagner" from the second disc of Brad Leftwich's Learn to Play Old-Time Fiddle video set. It's been a year and quarter since I began these lessons, and they have given me a good foundation. Only two more tunes remain, and then I'm off on my own. Will my banjo get more action then?

The "seven-year itch" refers to when people grow dissatisfied in a relationship. Psychologists borrowed the term from George Axelrod's 1952 play The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder's 1955 film adaptation starred Marilyn Monroe). And to some extent, yes, I am dissatisfied in my relationship with the banjo.

I find myself dreaming of sexier banjos, one with a smaller pot say and adorned with fewer frets. Or maybe a classic beauty, like an old Vega or Fairbanks. On the other hand, younger prospects by the likes of Buckeye Banjos or Cedar Mountain Banjos sure do catch my eye. Of course, my dreamiest of dream banjos would be one made by Doug Unger. But alas those dreams shall remain intangible.

Then again, maybe it's not the banjo. Maybe it's me.

The most satisfaction I get from playing banjo is in a group. Those instances have become fewer and further between in the last two years. While I've attended a couple local festivals and house parties in the last year, I haven't attended any of the monthly jams in my area, which was among my stated goals in January.

Like so many people who have already broken their New Year's resolutions to get fit, I've fallen short on this goal. However, spring brings new life, a renewed sense of purpose. As the snowdrops bloom so does my desire to emerge from my own wintry hibernation. The front porch beckons, the jams await and the festivals are just around the corner.


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