There was an interesting thread recently on one of the guitar forums with the title: “So, you STILL play guitar?” It seems the person who began the post ran into a friend from many years ago who asked this question with a smirk, implying that playing the guitar was a trivial and possibly immature pastime that was not worthy of pursuing. Of course the other members of the forum were outraged and supportive of the person who made the post, as you would expect. I read through the thread and just kind of smiled and shook my head. I suspect there are people from my own past who might ask the same question. At least I can justify it (assuming such a person was worthy of a response) in that I get paid to teach and perform but it does bring up some interesting questions regarding the perception of what we do.
I think that at best, many non-musicians view playing the guitar as being roughly equivalent to playing tennis or chasing a golf ball around – a harmless, leisure time activity that makes the participant feel good. There is one big difference however. Playing a musical instrument by its nature affects others. No one cares or pays much attention to how far you hit a golf ball but when we play guitar other people can sometimes hear what we do. Knowing this often affects how we play, for better or worse. We are “putting it out there” and for some players that is a scary thing, even if the listener is family member or friend.
The trick is to reject value judgments. If we’re lucky the listener is supportive and encouraging and doesn’t that feel good! So if you find yourself in a situation where someone is dismissive of your playing and asks that question just answer: “Yeah, I do and I LOVE it! Maybe you should give it a try. It’s never too late, even for an old guy like you!” Ha!
And on the subject of rejecting value judgments, I recently had to do that myself. I was asked to provide guitar back-up for a “folk service” at a local church. I did this at the church a couple years ago and could not last year but the lady minister asked again, so, “a gig is a gig” as my dad used to say, and I agreed. It is not exactly a lucrative engagement, to say the least (!), because it involves three rehearsals along with the service. The song leader this time is a professional musician I’ve known for years, an excellent jazz drummer who will be singing but not playing. He is very organized and thorough and he delivered a song list to me before the first rehearsal. That list has changed somewhat in the last couple weeks but it is comprised of old Peter, Paul and Mary tunes, a couple gospel numbers and even Joni Mitchell’s classic “Circle Game.”
My first reaction when reading the list was – hoo boy, couldn’t they come up with something more interesting? Those tunes are trite and tired. But then I came to my senses. No matter what, it is my job and my responsibility to do the best performance I can and to help out the singers, none of whom (with the exception of Stan the leader) are musicians. And you know what? By the end of the second rehearsal it began coming together, especially when a woman and her very young daughter showed up wanting to perform the gospel tune “Wade in the Water” ala Eva Cassidy. They gave me a lead sheet and although the changes sound a bit too much like “Hit the Road, Jack” (that will be running around in my head when we play it at the service), the results were pretty damn good!
The service will be fine, I’m sure. I pledge to do my best and stick with the standard changes on the tunes. And who knows? Maybe spending all that time in the church rehearsing will have some positive karmic effect when I sit down in front of the roulette wheel at the Bellagio!
Peace & good music,