Thursday, December 31, 2020

Long Overdue Update: Good Riddance to 2020

Hi, folks, you’d think I’d dropped off the face of the earth, huh? It takes a message from Blogger or Google or whatever telling me I need to show some activity on my blog, or it’ll, like, disappear or something. So, here is a post.

Really, honestly, I should have been posting every damn day this year, considering that my original intent with this blog was to cheer myself up. I certainly needed it this year—me and everyone else, except perhaps Jeff Bezos. Back in November 2019, I told my doc that I wanted to try lowering my dosage of antidepressant—a dosage I’d been on for years, with no problems. I certainly picked a hell of a year to halve it!

The most recent grief has been the death of Lorie Smith, owner of Vines on Broadway, about which I've blogged. After a nearly year of pandemic-hampered business, she had to temporarily close, since the weather got cold and her customers could no longer sit outside in the fresh air. We hesitated to go very much as the year wore on, as so many people there were maskless. And the virus numbers were going up around here. And she was having heart trouble. So Vines was closed for over a month. She died soon after undergoing a procedure intended to fix her arrhythmia; apparently, the procedure led to blood clots in her brain, at least one of which was inoperable. She was only sixty. I’m devastated by the news; I’m still in shock.

I believe that at least 75 percent of the people who stepped foot in her business wished they could be the proprietor of such a cool place. I know I was envious. One of my friends walked in there for the first time and within two minutes of meeting Lorie said to me, “I have a big girl crush on her!” I’m hoping against hope that at least one of her many, many friends or family will find a way to continue the business, and keep her dream alive. It was very successful . . .

I could go on and on and on about how much Lorie and her business made our street, our neighborhood, our town much better. She influenced and improved everything and everyone she came in contact with. So much of Vines on Broadway was her. 

I have come to associate her, and Vines, with many of the fun things in life. Things like kicking back on a nice patio with a glass of wine; fixing up a nice, inviting patio to begin with; enjoying cordial, convivial conversations; noshing on attractive, tasty snacky-snacks; warmth and coziness and candlelight in the winter; chillin’ in the misters on the patio in summer . . . even friendship itself. Her disappearance from the world makes me afraid to face these otherwise very pleasant things; I feel as if those things will all come with a pang of emptiness and grief—if we ever even have them again. (When will we ever feel comfortable sitting close again?) If Lorie had been a grouch, or snotty or snarky, maybe I wouldn’t feel this way. But she was faultlessly kind and good-natured, with an easy, ringing laugh that still echoes inside my head and heart. Even though I only knew her for a few years, I can’t imagine how there can be a world without her.

And that’s only the most recent loss. The past year has felt jinxed. Sue’s mom passed away in December of last year, and we can’t help but feel she was lucky, in a way, to have left the world before the pandemic changed everything. Living as she did in a studio apartment in an assisted-living community, she wouldn’t have had company for months; the loneliness would have been excruciating for her (and nerve-wracking for us). And the nurse assistants and other staff would have had to wear masks around her, and with her hearing loss, she wouldn’t have been able to understand much of what people were saying. And then, also, she tended to suffer badly from respiratory ailments, when she got them, so . . . it’s almost like she knew, somehow, when to go.

She always was very intuitive, with a strong faith in her ability to sense things that are not physical; maybe her departure from this plane was an example. Who knows.

And we had a rough summer, traveling three times to Ohio (despite the worry of COVID) to go through things at Sue’s mom’s house. The lifetime accumulations of two people. Furniture. The antique railroad lantern collection. The kitchen treasures. And on and on. As if all that that wasn’t going to be difficult enough, we experienced some shocking interpersonal strife with one of the family members, and because of that, our final trip there—for just a few days, solely to be there when the movers came—really felt like it could be our final trip there.

In September, we lost Patches, the original Opulent Opossum. She had lived with us for seventeen years and was probably eighteen. In recent years, we had made every accommodation for her sweet, elderly self. She had become deaf; and she put the “cat” in cataracts; she also had that old-cat kidney disease, so each morning we puréed special canned food with extra water, just for her. I burrowed my face into her neck and hummed little tunes, like the cadences of my speech, so she could feel the vibrations of my voice. She would purr in response, and burrow her head against mine. She was a good friend, for a long time, and I still miss her.

As I review this stupid year—a year when every trade group’s cheesy annual convention theme was gonna be “2020 Vision,” dontcha know, and a year about which we’ll all be seeing reviews cleverly headlined as “Hindsight 2020” in the coming weeks—I’ve actually been okay, for the most part. I recently saw a thing about how Gen X people like me are perfectly prepared for lockdowns and solitude; how we effectively trained for this from a young age, how we know how to wait and wait and wait, and how we know many ways to entertain ourselves and survive on whatever’s in the cupboards.

But I’m basically lucky in other ways. I’m lucky I don’t work in at a job that requires me to interact with people all day, or even work in an office place among other people (don’t get me wrong: I’d still love to have benefits, like group health insurance). I’m also lucky that this freelancer lifestyle is something I’d already gotten used to way before everyone else had to adjust. Lucky that my major client still wants my services. Also, lucky I’m a pretty okay cook. Apparently, the food I fix is healthier than what we get when we eat out; I’ve actually lost weight this year, without even trying. It certainly isn’t any increase in exercise.

So, this is the end of the calendar year, but it’s certainly not the end of this merry-go-round of pandemic and the political mayhem that will no doubt persist for the foreseeable future even though we will be getting a psychologically stable new president.

Tomorrow night—December 31, 2020—we’ll be eating as many good-luck foods we can find. Pickled herring, mutzens, hoppin’ John, grapes, you name it. We’ll make an outrageous amount of noise at midnight, to frighten away the evil spirits that have pursued this year. I feel like building a huge, round-eyed Jagannath icon and carting it down High Street, with fireworks going off on all sides. Take that, 2020! Good riddance!

In reality, the plan is to make our mutzens first thing in the morning; let them cool a bit for transportation, then drive them to my uncle and aunt’s house and to my parents, along with a bunch of goodies for a New Year’s Eve party: some decorations for them to hang up, some Prosecco to sip at midnight, stuff for a veggie plate, including some dips, some black and green olives, samples of nice cheeses and sausages, pickled herring, shrimp and cocktail sauce, crackers and sliced baguette, and so on. A party to-go!

Then, Sue and I will come back home and let the weather do whatever it wants to do. For a long time, it was looking like it might snow on New Year’s Eve, but that seems unlikely now. Anyway, as we did at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’ll have our own festivities, just the two of us, and we’ll make phone calls to the people we wish we were partying with.

Should you wish to do the same, on New Year’s Eve, the appropriate way of greeting someone you’ve just called is “Hey! This is the neighbors! Keep it down over there!”

This post has already gotten too long and has said too much that I ought to keep to myself. But whatever—as long as the whole blog doesn’t disappear into nothingness.

Because that would really bum me out, too.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

More About Great-Grandma Wilmesherr

. . . and her zither. So don’t you want to hear more about my great-grandma? Pauline Wehmeyer (1875–1950) was born and raised in Kansas. She married my great-grandpa William August Wilmesherr (1872–1936) and lived with him on her family’s farm in Kincaid, Kansas. They had their first three children, including my grandma, Clara (who was born September 17, 1897), while they were farming there. She used to help her husband with the farm work while her mother babysat the kids. William Wilmesherr wasn’t a big sturdy guy; he was “slightly built,” and a childhood bout of what may have been typhoid might have diminished his constitution.

At the end of the 1800s, falling farm prices helped convince the couple to relocate to Washington, Missouri, about 1900. So they moved all their possessions, including a couple of horses, from eastern Kansas to Washington, Missouri, by boxcar. William rode in the boxcar with the horses, to take care of them.

In Washington, they bought an old house on Henry Street, south of a city ballfield in a neighborhood then called “Goosetown” (east of MO 47 and north of MO 100). In addition to a thriving economy, they had plenty of relatives in the city. William worked as a teamster, hauling brick to locations where houses were being built. The brickyard guys would throw a stack of four bricks to my great-grandpa, and he’d catch them and load them onto his horse-drawn wagon. (So much for being “slightly built,” huh?)

I never could have known them, but I can’t visit Washington without thinking of my great-grandparents, and remembering all the many relatives who lived there.

The German community in Washington was very musical, and the various members of the extended Wehmeyer and Wilmesherr families were involved with the pipe factory band, the Elks band, and the Washington Civic Orchestra. Some of them were very involved with music.

The zither dates to about 1900, so we’re not sure if Pauline bought it before or after moving to Missouri. We think she must’ve bought it soon after moving to Washington, though it’s possible she got it in Kansas. No one knows. My mom suspects she might’ve gotten it via a Sears catalog. There was a famous zither manufacturer in Washington, but I bet those instruments were much more expensive.

In addition to the zither, my great-grandma also had a parlor organ, which she taught herself how to play. Mom says she liked to play “lively hymns” like “Heavenly Sunshine.” Before marriage, she must’ve been a Presbyterian or maybe a Methodist, but her husband was German Lutheran, and that’s what she became after they were married. Apparently, she never much liked the dour, serious hymns of the Lutherans, and that was the one thing she really didn’t care for about her new denomination.

Really, everyone likes to have a fun time. Grandma Renner described how her parents would have get-togethers in their home. The Wilmesherrs would have the Fillas, or the Noelkers over. Or the Dennlers, Lohmeiers, Kampschmidts, Schmidts, Kampschroeders, Huxels, or the Stumpes. They’d serve “dishpans” full of popcorn to their guests, and they’d play cards, or people would bring instruments over and play and sing with Pauline’s parlor organ. Homemade wine might be brought out for the guests, too, and everyone would sip the precious, sweet liquid from little wine glasses.

Great-Grandma Wilmesherr must’ve been a remarkable woman. No nonsense, practical, a capable mother and farmwife, yet musical, curious, and creative. She was famous for her ability to make anything green grow, including vegetables and flowers. She had coldframes and sold flowers and bedding plants to people who stopped by. She had a goldfish pond. My grandma, her daughter, followed in these footsteps and had the same talents and pastimes. Even a goldfish pond.

In winter, Great-Grandma Wilmesherr read “Westerns.” Why not? She had known the plains of windswept Kansas in the late 1800s, and the West was a real thing for her. It might have been the closest thing to actual travel she could have. I think she had an independent streak. I grew up hearing stories about how, as a widow, she’d drive, solo, on curvy, hilly Highway 50 from Washington to Jefferson City, peering at the road through the space between the top of her steering wheel and the dashboard.

When I got married, my mom gave me Pauline Wilmesherr’s wedding ring to use in our ceremony. (She also gave me my great-grandma Renner's wedding band, as well, and that's what Sue used.) It’s the most beautiful wedding ring I could’ve imagined, invented, or asked for, and I see no reason to replace it with anything else—it’s such an honor just to have received it.

Sometimes when I practice my trumpet, I play in my office, where the zither rests in an honored position. With its open strings, it sounds with resonance when I play notes in accordance with its tuning—concert Cs, Gs, Fs, and all their overtones. I play the notes . . . and it breathes again.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Story of the Zither, Part 2

So what’s the story with the zither? I don’t know a lot about it, but we’re pretty sure it was my great-grandma Pauline Wilmesherr’s. She died fifteen years before I was born. My mom remembers the zither being in the attic of her mom and dad’s house (218 W. Elm in Jefferson City) when she was growing up. Mom doesn’t remember anyone ever playing it. (For reasons mentioned in my previous post, I can see why it fell by the wayside. Also, at some point, it got out of tune and started losing strings, so . . .) I suspect that one of Mom’s three elder siblings might have had something to do with the missing strings, but who knows; maybe the damage occurred in the previous generation. We were all kids once.

I discovered the zither in an old trunk in my parent’s garage when I was about ten. I don’t know how it came to be in my parents’ basement, except that Mom must’ve acquired it when her parents moved into their new house on Jefferson Street in the 1950s. All that stuff in the Elm Street house had to be gone through. They must have found it in the attic and wondered what to do with it, and Mom must have said, “Oh, I’ll take that; I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but we shouldn’t throw it out.”

I don’t remember how I found it, or why I was snooping around in that old trunk, but there you go. From then on, I was curious about it. With Mom and Dad’s permission, I took it up into my room. Several strings were missing, and it was dreadfully out of tune. Bing! Bong! Thud. Buzz! Twannnng! (So fascinating!)

Not long after this discovery, I carried it with me on one of our many trips to Jefferson City to visit my grandmas. Perhaps this was about the time my Grandpa Renner was in his final illness. Anyway, this memory stands out not only because of what happened with the zither, but also because it was a rare occasion when I was visiting with Grandma Schroeder by myself. If my brother was there, he might’ve been inside reading a book or something. Anyway, my parents weren’t there, so I was alone with Grandma, and with her BFF, Marie Korsemeyer. (Everyone loved Marie.)

And it was nice outside, and we were sitting on the backyard patio enjoying the early evening. We must have had a meal and then remained out there, sitting and chatting as the light left the sky. Like Sue and I do today, in the exact same place.

I don’t remember if they told me to go get the zither or if I did it on my own, but I ended up playing it for them. And those two old ladies sat there and graciously clapped and cackled and encouraged me as I strummed and pounded and plucked that poor old, out-of-tune zither. I played one “song” after another. It didn’t sound like anything. At best, it might’ve sounded like avant-garde music. At best, it was primitive. At best, it was, um, rhythmic. At best, it was emotional. They encouraged me, and they seemed to be having as much of a good time as I was.

. . . I suspect that the more they drank, the better I sounded!

Anyway, I will never forget that evening, and my thoughts often drift to that memory when I sit out in the backyard on pleasant nights.

I rarely (if ever) got Grandma all to myself. As time went on, in my young adult life, the memory of that one evening brought moments of crushing embarrassment, tumbling upon me, once I was old enough to realize how horrid it must have sounded. But today my cringing is tempered by a deep appreciation for their graciousness and their willingness to play along with my childish game.

At some point in my childhood, I tried to tune it, using a pliers—a horrible idea, since it chewed up the tuning pins. And the pins, and the tuning didn’t hold, and several strings were still missing, anyway . . . And so it sat for years, until I moved back to Missouri in the late 1990s, and my parents gave the zither back to me.

And that’s when I was finally in a position to do right by it. In the fall of 1998, Sue and I took it to Music Folk in Webster Groves, Missouri, and I asked them if they could do anything to fix it.

The guy examined it and said it could probably be fixed, but, he reasoned, for the price of fixing it, I could simply buy another zither that was already fixed up, so, um, why bother—? Just hang it on a wall. But I explained that it isn’t just some old curiosity I’d bought at a garage sale—it had been my great-grandma’s. And I wanted to hear its voice.

So I left it with them and returned the next week to pick it up. They did a brilliant job with it! And it ended up not being too expensive, in my opinion. The labor charge of $100 was the biggest single component of the cost; then, the all-new strings cost nearly $50, plus new tuning pins and some miscellaneous expenses for glue and such, since they removed old glue and nails and reglued the pin blocks, glued the side seams, seated some loose pins . . . the total ticket came to $172.46. Do you think that was an outrageous expense? I don’t. To me, it’s like buying art: Follow your heart.

About this time, Mom had a reunion with her Trinity Lutheran 8th-grade graduating class. There, she had chatted about the zither with one of her classmates. And that fellow, Jimmy Sommerer, owned one of the original books of music that had been made for these types of instruments. He gave her photocopies of the book. (Samples are in my previous post.) What a neat coincidence!

No, I don’t play much on the zither these days. I’m not very good at it. (The strings all look alike!) That night in Grandma’s backyard might have been my high point! Seriously, I do play it occasionally in the living room or the backyard, but as I’ve said, it’s only good for straightforward tunes. I can do a pretty decent rendition of “Silent Night” and “O Tannenbaum.” (At least they’re rather slow.)

Another thing I’ve liked about it is that when I play my trumpet in the same room as the zither, it rings in sympathetic vibrations with the trumpet. (Musicians have taken advantage of this effect with brass instruments and pianos, where the piano’s sustaining pedal is kept pressed down while a trumpeter or trombonist points her bell into the piano’s raised lid and plays. The effect is eerie and rich—it’s the same principle as with an Indian sitar.) When I play a loud note, especially pointing toward the zither, every string capable of harmonizing with the overtones in the trumpet note vibrates lightly, and with so many strings sounding, the zither exhales a cloud-chord in answer to the trumpet, like an echo. I have always loved that. An echo—in so many ways.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Great-Grandma Wilmesherr’s Zither

My recent post about the rebirth of my old guitar, and reuniting with its voice, reminded me of a similar triumph of heart and intuition over conventional economic thinking.

In this case, it’s a much, much older instrument—a Columbia Special model no. 2 fretless zither, ca. 1900, which has apparently “kept its value.” Thanks to a small investment from me. On ebay, I’ve seen similar zithers (same brand, about the same size, model, and vintage) that are pretty crapped-out (cracked, no strings, missing parts) being sold for around $30 or $50.Ones in decent shape start around $125 and go up from there, depending, in large part, on how fancy or unusual they are. And mine is in pretty good shape. Hey, you can tune it, play it, and all the parts are there.

I’m betting this zither dates to about 1895 to 1908, and there’s a good chance it was purchased via a Sears catalog. Zithers were also often sold personally, for example by door-to-door salesmen, apparently often by college students making money over the summer. Also, naturally, music dealers also sold them in their shops.

Columbia zithers during this period sold for between 4 and 8 dollars. An old ad I saw online has the no. 3 model selling for $6, so the no. 2 (which this is) was probably at the lower end. If you bought music with it, it would’ve cost extra. Adjusted for inflation, $4 in 1900 would be worth about $124 today—see what I mean? It’s held its value.

Specifications. It’s a “Columbia Special” zither no. 2, manufactured by the Phonoharp Company based in Boston. People today call these types of zithers “chord zithers” or “fretless zithers.” This name distinguishes them from so-called guitar zithers, which have a guitar-like fretboard on the long side that makes a portion of the instrument capable of being fretted and strummed something like a mountain dulcimer.

This is called a “chord” zither because there are dedicated groups of four strings on the long side, and each of these groups is an entire chord that can be strummed at once, as an accompaniment. In this instrument, there are four groups, thus four chords. From left to right (or outside to inside), the chords are C, G7, F, and Am. Which is to say, I, V7, IV, and vi. And that’s all you need to play songs like “Silent Night,” “Yankee Doodle,” “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” “Old Hundred,” . . . hmm, even “I See a Bad Moon a-Risin’.” If you’re singing (and not trying to play) the melody, you can accompany yourself perfectly well with just those four chords. Ta-da!

We know how the strings are to be tuned because there’s a cardboard label attached along the base of the instrument that shows the note for each string. More on this in a second.

To the right of the four chords are fifteen melody strings—two octaves of C major scale, C to C to C: Do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti, do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti, do. It’s like having two octaves of just the white keys of a piano. Sorry, no sharps or flats! You’re pretty much stuck in the key of C major (or A minor), or maybe you can kinda fake it in the keys of F or G, if you skip the B flats or F sharps that are required by those keys. Or, you could retune those notes. Anyway, these melody strings, true to the name, are for plucking the melody with one hand, while you strum the chords with the other hand.

I should note that you can also pluck certain of the chord strings so you can add to the number of low notes you can play, but they’re out of sequence, and you have to know what you’re doing to descend below the C on the melody strings. You’ll have to pick the low B out of the G7 chord, the low A out of the F (or Am) chord, low G out of the G7 chord, low F out of the F chord . . . and whatever. It’s kind of cuckoo at some point.

These zithers were incredibly popular in the early 1900s. As ever, people loved music and wanted to be able to play an instrument in their parlors. Remember: homes had parlors in those days, because people entertained each other in the evenings. Family, friends, neighbors. There was no radio yet, so people had fun by reading, singing, acting, reciting poetry, you name it. Anyone who could play an instrument had a valuable skill!

One big attraction of a zither was that it offered chords as well as melody, something like a tiny piano, and everyone wanted a piano! But it cost a lot to put a piano in your parlor. Not only were pianos expensive, but also they took up a lot of space, were hard to move, required a specialist to tune (and repair), and everyone knew that you needed to practice like crazy to learn how to play it. And pay for lessons. Or, as one zither advertisement put it, “receive a musical education.” Sounds daunting, doesn’t it!

These zithers promised to be more affordable, and they were less expensive, more portable, and came with a new (new-new-new!) method of learning to play that (supposedly) bypassed the drudgery of learning to read music. Each of the melody strings was labeled sequentially with a number (the low C was “1,” the D above it was “2,” C an octave higher than the low C was “8,” etc.), and the zithers came with music notated especially for them. It was basically a sort of tablature, coded so that you could start learning “Yankee Doodle” by plucking the following strings in this sequence: 8-8-9-10-8-10-9, 8-8-9-10-8-7 . . . It’s basically a coded solfège system, with numbers 1, 8, and 15 as “do,” 2 and 9 as “re,” 3 and 10 as “mi,” etc.

Also, to show people which chords to play when, the four chords were numbered 1–4, and those numbers were marked below the music staff in the appropriate places.

To get people started even more easily, there were special cards printed and trimmed to fit underneath the strings that gave an even more visually intuitive way of learning.

So whatever happened to these zithers? They sound so pretty! Here’s what I think.

First, the autoharp, a closely related instrument, is a definite improvement, if all you want is chords. Press a button and then strum all the strings. The strings that don’t belong to a chord are simply dampened by the button mechanism. Press the “G” button, strum all the strings, and you hear a nice, full G chord. You don’t need much skill to figure it out, plus you get a lot more different chords to choose from, so you can play in lots of keys, and with other instruments, too.

Second, playing these fretless zithers is not as easy as their manufacturers made them out to be. You do have to practice a lot to get used to the distances between strings in order to play the melody you want. Which is to say, accuracy is a challenge. Also, the chord strings are grouped so closely together, it’s easy to accidentally pluck adjacent strings.

Additionally, it was probably a pain to tune these zithers. Today, you can use an electronic chromatic tuner that tells you when each string is in tune. In the early 1900s, you had to tune by ear (difficult for an amateur), and you had to get at least one of the notes correct with a tuning fork, pitch pipe, or some other instrument. If you had a piano around, you could tune it to that. But then, if you had a piano around, you probably didn't need a zither. Obviously, if an instrument is not in tune, it's not much fun to play.

Third, they made a confusing variety of zithers—even from the same company. Among Columbia Zithers, there were the 2, 2¼, 2½, 3½, 3¾ etc., plus the Guitar Zither, the Mandolin Harp, the Marxaphone, Celestaphone, etc. All with different configurations and capabilities. The play-by-number system meant that you had to be sure the music booklets you got would work with your instrument you had. Or else it meant that a big book of music might not have many songs that would work for your particular instrument: “Aw, shoot, this song only works for the Zither No. 3¾, and I have a 2.” How frustrating.

Fourth, and perhaps the biggest reason: musical tastes changed drastically in the first few decades of the 1900s, and a younger generation came of age. Zithers were great for playing simple folksongs, hymns, popular sentimental ballads, and so forth, but starting in the 1920s Americans were getting radios and beginning to love jazz! Tastes were changing; people were swingin’!

The Jazz Age is one reason why ukuleles became so popular in the 1920s: with just four strings, you can strum darn near any chord you want, even “weird” chords like diminished and augmented chords, and chords in unusual keys that require barring. These chords make amateur guitarists kind of flinch, but uke players have little problem.

So, while zithers were great for playing earnest, straightforward songs like “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” and “Be It Ever So Humble, There’s No Place Like Home,” people were going nuts over tunes like “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo’-Bye),” with its C#°7, G7#5, Eb°7, and other spicy chords. You just can’t play “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” without a bunch of accidentals.

Anyway, that’s what I think. Regardless, the zither is a treasure to me and a valued connection to my ancestors. More on that in my next post.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Sue’s Adventures in Luthiery, My Gain

I have to say this first: Sue wants me to tell you she is absolutely not a luthier. She doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a person not afraid to try fixing a guitar that’s otherwise destined for the dumpster.

Sorry that I don’t have any “before” pictures to show you, but when something is so depressing as my old guitar was, you just don’t take pictures of it. My old guitar was indeed destined for the dumpster. Or—perhaps—a ceremonial cremation in a backyard bonfire. The bridge had broken completely off of the top of the guitar; it was flopping around, dangling from the 5 strings that hadn’t yet broken. Also, the headstock had some scary cracks and looked like it was about to pop off the neck. The guitar was a goner.

But it was only a goner because it wasn’t worth fixing. This is an inexpensive, beginner’s classical guitar, made in Korea. Although the sound is pleasant, and I like it, it isn’t remarkably brilliant or resonant. No self-respecting guitar repair guru would touch it, because the fix would have been double or triple the worth of the instrument. So, the guitar sat around in its case, and I felt sorry for it. It didn’t ask to be made an inexpensive beginner’s instrument.

Indeed, this is the guitar my parents got for me for Christmas when I was in junior high school. I guess about 1981. I can still picture it, in its odd-shaped cardboard box, leaning against the wall next to the Christmas tree. (That was back when my parents used to put their tree against the north wall of the living room . . .) I would eventually get guitar lessons from a local bluegrass musician, who tried to teach me how to flatpick. (I didn’t quite understand it then, but it wasn’t my style, and it wasn’t the guitar’s style, either. But I learned stuff, anyway, and the lessons helped overall.)

Interesting fact: I’ve Googled this instrument—it’s a Lotus model LC-30, an entry-level classical guitar made from 1981 to 1989. Spruce top, mahogany back and sides, amber finish, black binding, rosewood fingerboard. (Back then, beginner's guitars were made out of solid wood, at least, huh?) Used, they sell for up to about $100 dollars. Most are $10 or $15, “as is,” or “for parts or repair.” There truly aren’t many of these left. I think it’s like a 1985 Ford Escort: everyone who had one, drove it until it fell apart.

But I have an attachment to this guitar, and I respect all musical instruments. They are each unique voices, each a potential channel through which music may sound. Golden potential aching to be fulfilled, even for a few moments of sweetness.

Sue has spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos of various luthiers doing their thing. She finds it highly entertaining and interesting. So after she had watched about 2,000 of these videos (I exaggerate the number), she felt confident enough to at least try fixing my poor ol’ guitar. She hesitated to do so. I had to remind her: Look, this guitar is worthless as it is. You might as well try. If you don’t fix it, it’s no good to anyone, and it’s just taking up space. We have nothing to lose! Have fun with it! Blah, blah, blah.

So, she took it into the basement and went to work. It was basically a gluing procedure—a heavy-duty gluing procedure. That’s a lot of pressure the glue needs to hold!

In addition to regluing the bridge, she worked layers of glue into the cracks in the headstock. Then, she used finer and finer sandpaper to smooth the seams. It’s as smooth as a baby’s butt. (As they say.) She relacquered the headstock and made it shiny again. It’s not perfect, but this guitar has plenty of miles on it. I don’t care what it looks like (much). It matters more to me that it doesn’t fly apart and hit me in the face and put an eye out.

I’d say it’s like a new guitar—but, by golly, it isn’t. And that’s the real magic of it.

Because you see, this guitar has a unique voice. It doesn’t sound like my newer guitar—the one I bought the day I was told by a professional luthier not to bother trying to fix my old guitar. Indeed, my newly fixed guitar sounds exactly like it used to sound!

As soon as I’d put new strings on it, I recognized its voice. Wow, just wow. I hadn’t heard it for years. It’s the voice of the guitar I played in high school, tryin’ to impress my friends. It’s the voice of the guitar I wrote songs on, when I used to do such fanciful and fearless things. It’s the voice of the guitar I used to play out on my parents’ front steps on summer evenings when I was young—learning how to play songs by Carole King, Joan Baez, and Cat Stevens. I played it at the Wilkes Boulevard Methodist Church one Sunday with my friend Karla—we played and sang “Morning Has Broken.” I bet we we warbled adorably. I had a lacy, cotton white dress I used to wear back then, an off-the-shoulder, below-the-knees, broom-skirt, Boho-type thing from Penneys, and I probably wore that. I can't tell you what we might have sounded like (ergh).

The old guitar has a mellow voice, but I learned how to strum brightness from it. It’s the guitar I learned my first real song on—“American Pie”—I remember practicing it in the backyard at the picnic table. G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D . . . After ten thousand verses of “American Pie,” G, C, and D chords were always easy.

I had to play a few choruses of “American Pie” to celebrate this reunion with my old friend.

It’s such a gift to have it back.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Album Thing: Jonn Serrie, And the Stars Go with You

The album thing! It’s a Facebook fad that’s going around. Since I’m going to the trouble to share it on social media, I might as well share it here, too. Today is another New Age selection.

Jonn Serrie, And the Stars Go with You is an early and all-time classic of the New Age/space music genre. If I’m ever having trouble sleeping, this one fixes the problem. It’s also good for meditation and relaxation—that sensation of deep space! I saw one review that listed it as a top soundtrack for massage. Plus, it makes my inner Trekker happy. One of Serrie's early jobs in music was as a composer for planetariums.

As usual, here are some links to YouTube samples:

Gentle, the Night

And the Stars Go with You

Stratos” (This is the one that really gets me to sleep. It’s a total no-no when I’m driving!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Album Thing: Kevin Braheny and Tim Clark, Rain

The album thing goes on, and on! It’s a Facebook fad that’s going around. You’re supposed to stop at ten or something, but I’m going on and on, perhaps to kill the fad outright. And since I’m going to the trouble to share it on social media, I might as well share it here, too.

I’m shifting gears today. The theme may be appropriate for our coming weather. This here is a “deserted island disk” for me, and it has been for a long time. A brilliant gem. Listen to it at night when you’re winding down. Sound turned up.

As before, I’m giving you links to samples.

Here’s the opening track from the album Rain, “Sun Showers.”

I don’t talk about it much, but I love New Age and space music. I listen to it pretty much every day, or every night, or both. “Tidepool” is a favorite.

I love Tim Clark’s music. In this track, “Monsoon,” you can easily hear some of the results of his studying music composition in India.

Two more samples: “Falling Like Tears” and “Green Umbrella.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Album Thing: Maria Schneider Orchestra, Allegresse

The album thing! It’s a Facebook fad that’s going around, and I’m sharing it on my blog. Why not? Also, I think by going on and on and on with this, I’m singlehandedly killing off the FB “album challenge” thing. Ha ha ha!

Seriously, though, anything by the Maria Schneider Orchestra is a keeper.

“Hang Gliding” is one of my favorite pieces, ever. Maria Schneider is pretty careful not to allow unauthorized copying of her recordings. If you want to hear her music/albums, you have to buy them from ArtistShare. But this live video is available (so far) on YouTube. Here, Ingrid Jensen has the flugelhorn solo.

You’ve never heard of Maria Schneider and her jazz orchestra? Well, then you haven’t been keeping track of the Grammys. She’s won several!

Here’s another sample of this orchestra’s work: “Bluebird” at the 2021 DC Jazz Festival. Seriously, check it out.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Album Thing: Dave Douglas, A Thousand Evenings

Another entry for the Album Thing! It’s a Facebook fad that’s going around, and I’m sharing it on my blog. Why not? The deal is, share a bunch of albums that you really love, or that really influenced you. You don’t have to say anything about it, just post a picture of the cover. . . . But I say, Hey, I’ll write things if I want to. Also, I’ll share some links to YouTubes so you can hear some of the music on the album.

As usual, I’m sharing links to some samples. Here’s the title song, “A Thousand Evenings.” The beginning of this piece stopped me in my tracks.

Goldfinger” (Gooollllld fingerrrrrr . . . yeah, you know this tune.)

The Little Boy with the Sad Eyes” is another fave.

It’s not from this album, but here’s another from Dave Douglas: “Emmenthaler.” For those of you who remember our cat Earl, this was his theme song. God help you if you ever have a roommate like Earl.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Album Thing: Gilberto Gil, Quanta

The album thing continues! It’s a Facebook fad that’s going around. Someone tags you, and you’re supposed to comply. Since I’m going to the trouble to share it on social media, I might as well share it here, too.

Like a previous selection, this album, too, was something I picked up for less than a dollar at a KWWC “clean out our music library” sale. What a great find! At the time, I had no idea who Gilberto Gil is, but I’m glad I found out about him. Not only is he celebrated in his native Brazil but also he is adored by fans worldwide. He should be more widely known in the United States.

This was my first GG album. Music, intellect, and creativity! The songs on this album comment on modern technology and their intersection with humanity's deepest truths. I think you'll love this music. Samples below.

Quanta” (Even in English, the lyrics are superb.)

Ciência e Arte” (Science and Art).

Estrela” (Star): “There must appear / A star in the sky / Every time you smile / There must disappear / A star in the sky / Every time you cry / The contrary also / Might well happen / A star shines / When a tear falls / Or then / A falling star throws itself / Just to see / The flower of your smile open.”

Pop Wu Wei.”

Dança de Shiva.”