Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Octo-Lin (the mandolin)

A couple of months ago,  I brought home a friend's electric-acoustic mandolin on long-term loan, cleaned it up, and then brought it to the local music shop to have the bridge lowered and the strings restrung. Not long after, my friend Dymphna said, "I must admit, I feel like you've got a new boyfriend who seems nice, but I just don't get."

"What's not to get?" I asked. "I know it's difficult, I know that some of my chords sound like cows in pain, but listen to this pretty D chord!" I played it. She shook her head.

"As a violin player, I feel like it's missing a bow."

I replied, "The mandolin thinks your violin's bow is superfluous."

I started to play ukulele as "cross-training" for guitar. Guitar was my first, best love, but ukulele was cute, accessible, and portable. Songs I composed on the ukulele sounded merry, while songs I composed on guitar sounded like dirges. I've not mastered either instrument and I don't have any unusual musical talents (enthusiasm and desire are my strengths). However, when I started to learn mandolin from the excellent Bruce Emery via his Mandolin From Scratch book, I remembered that, in addition to guitar, mandolin was an instrument my teenage self wanted to learn, but thought was out of reach. I am a long way from playing Led Zeppelin's The Battle of Evermore (my favorite song off of their fourth album), but I can play the New Britain version of "Amazing Grace" in G and D without too many gaps between the barred chords. Eventually, if I am diligent and practice regularly, I will get to melody lines. Someday, perhaps, I can work up to affording a relatively low-priced Big Muddy mandolin. 

In the meantime, I've got the "Octo-Lin," as I've nicknamed this Fender instrument. I bought a gig-bag and ironed on an octopus patch (Eight legs, eight strings!). Bede's banjo playing has progressed, and he is not used to being more skilled on an instrument than me, so now he gets to practice slowing waaaay down for me. We've been working on Jesse James and Gordon Bok's Dillan Bay, and are trying to make White Stripes' Hotel Yorba work, too. Others have already done it, as YouTube videos reveal.

I will end with a little octopus song I made up for a friend who would prefer spiders stay far away from her, and who wishes the children's song about an intrepid wee arachnid were less ubiquitous:

The teeny tiny octopus climbed up the sailboat mast
Down came the storm, but the octopus held fast.
Out came the sun and dried the ocean spray
Then, the teeny tiny octopus jumped down and swam away.

Sometimes, a cephalopod craves adventure.


Lone Star Ma said...

You are so multi-talented! I am good at a few things, but not many - definitely a specialist by nature. You are a renaissance woman, as I think people should be!

Saints and Spinners said...

Thank you, LSM! I feel like I'm finally pursuing interests I wanted to explore as a teen, but didn't, out of a mixture of fear of failure and lack of confidence in advocating for myself. I accept the mantle of Renaissance Woman, and extend it onward. Just so you know, I admire your fortitude and persistence with social justice. It is a gift that you have honed.