Monday, July 4, 2011

The jam must go on

Saturday I took a 2 1/2 hour trip by public transportation to go to a sing/jam session, as I've been doing for several months. It is always well worth the trip. Even on a hot, humid day with bad air pollution and huge crowds of holiday tourists, it was well worth the trip. Some of the members are very good singers or instrumentalists who know lots of great songs, and everyone is high spirited.

Friday night I had played my viola and loved it, and I packed it in its case and carried it with me on the long trek on Saturday. When I arrived, I eagerly took it out and tried to tune it, but I met with disaster. Every single tuning peg was stuck. I couldn't move a single one of them one little bit. I knew why, too. During that long, hot, humid trip, the wooden pegs had swelled so much that they got stuck in their holes. I asked a guitarist to help me, knowing that his hands would be stronger than mine. Turning a wooden peg, as on the viola, is quite different from turning a geared, metal peg, as on the guitar, so I gave him detailed directions. He had some success but wisely stopped before he might do any harm. Desperate to play along with the others, I chose one string and played moving my hand up and down that string, playing melody whenever I could and improvising harmony the rest of the time -- quite a challenge. When the group played another song in another key, I was stymied. Desperate to cool my viola down, I put it on the AC vent. (In general, cool air is less harmful for wooden instruments than warm air.) I hoped this would help, but it didn't.

During our break, one of the fellows, who had seen my troubles across the room, came over to help me. Of course, I thought. Why didn't I think of him? He plays guitar at our jams, but he also plays violin and viola. He understood the problem completely and knew just how to solve it. Within a few minutes, he loosened all the pegs and tuned all the strings. I was so happy and so grateful.

When the jam restarted, I played along happily. Shortly before my turn to lead, I thought of a song that I really love that is rather complex and that I hadn't played in a while. I played the song anyway, and it went really well. I played it with spirit and love. I could see the others transfixed by the music. When I finished, a few told me that I sounded really good. However, the magic didn't end there. One woman who knew all the lyrics sang the song solo, beautifully, and the whole group hung on to the song again. When she was finished, the two of us quickly agreed that this was one of our very favorite songs.

I was really high. I felt the great excitement of playing music for an audience when things go very well. It was as if I had lit a spark and thrown it into a fireplace, and in response, I got a roaring blaze.

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