Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Master and Apprentice: Banjo Builder Workshop in Historic Peninsula, Ohio

The 191-year-old Peninsula, Ohio, provided the backdrop to a parade of pedestrians making their way from station to station across the bucolic village for Music on the Porches on Saturday.

Inside the close confines of Bronson Church, founded in 1835, a master and apprentice presented a free workshop on the art of instrument building. That master being the renowned banjo builder and artist Doug Unger and his former apprentice Mark Ward.

Unger and Ward began the workshop by playing several old-time tunes, discussing their work and the music, and taking questions from the audience. Unger then invited the spectators to step up to the front to see the instruments.

Highwoods Documentary Not a Lost Cause After All

So, once upon a time, I tried to drum up support for a crowdfunded documentary project about the Highwoods Stringband. I donated money to help out, and more than a year later I provided an update on the slow progress. Last I heard, there was some old footage of the Highwoods they were trying to acquire. It's been three and a half years now that I first heard about the project, and I still haven't received my DVD.

I figured that's the risk you take with these crowdfunded, Kickstarter-type projects. I had all but given up the documentary as a lost cause. Until today. If I managed to convince any of you to help fund the project, I felt it my duty to pass along this update directly from Highwoods mainstay Walt Koken.
"After several delays and setbacks, we, the members of the Highwoods Stringband and Mudthumper Music have procured the vintage footage and photos in cooperation with the original producers and put them into the hands of another videographer, Larry Edelman, in …

2016 Year in Review / 2017 Look Ahead

Well, it's been a minute, hasn't it? The last year has been difficult on many fronts. Playing music was no exclusion. The amount of time I spent playing banjo and fiddle suffered the most. I didn't blog much either, which you already knew. But it wasn't all bad. Here's a look back at last year and a look ahead to my goals for the year ahead.

2016 Notes
I have now been playing banjo for eight years and fiddle for four years. My focus remains on the fiddle, as I try to learn general technique and tunes. Time spent playing banjo was mostly to keep up with a handful of tunes I like most.

Playing Time: Due to increased work travel and other factors, my playing time was dramatically reduced in 2016. As mentioned before, I log my practice time in the quest to reach that fabled 10,000-hour mark. This last year was my lowest (by far) amount of time spent on banjo and second lowest time on fiddle.

New Tunes: Despite my reduced playing time, I worked through two fiddle instruct…