Note from Murphy: Ben Smelser is no stranger to you faithful readers. From his asking for a "Binky" and getting one, to his "shutterbugging," to his joke about the wild animal in the box, to his shoveling of our walkways when it snows, Ben is quite the presence in our lives. He is also a darn good writer, as you will see. I'm not sure his daughter Kasey will appreciate being called a "little girl" when she is clearly a beautiful young woman and our Jam Fashionista. But, as I've discovered, Kasey can hold her own when it comes to her dad! Thanks for taking the time to blog, Ben!
Okay, folks, this blog is about myself, Ben/Dad, and my daughter, Kasey, and the experience of a daddy/daughter duo learning to play the banjo. I basically want to cover three areas: why we did it, where we are now, and where we are going. I'm not a writer so I fully expect Murphy and Casey to use their college expertise to correct all my bad mistakes. [No problem, Ben/Dad! There weren't many!]
So here goes. Back in January 2012, I was wrestling with the fact that my son, Robert, was graduating, going to college, and leaving home. He had truly been my hero the past few years with his 6'8" frame dominating the basketball court in and around West Virginia. Me and my wife supported him all the way to his full-ride scholarship to play ball in college. Now with that coming to a close, I turned my eye to our blue-eyed, blonde-haired little girl, Kasey.
Kasey was 11 and not much of a want-to-be athlete like Robert was. She was more of the singing type and liked to entertain. She wasn't into hunting or cutting wood, or much sport stuff. I told my wife, Tina, "I've got to come up with something that me and Kasey can do together." I didn't want to see my little girl grow up and me not be able to stay close to her. So I asked Kasey if she would like to learn how to play an instrument, and whatever we decided I would do it with her. Truth is I picked the banjo mainly because I felt it would be harder and take longer but would be more rewarding. She said yes!!
Now to find a banjo teacher. I remembered that I had cut down a tree for a lady in Shawneeland a few years back for a very fair price! [Fair price my hind toenail!] She played banjo and she had given me some CDs. One was Casey Henry's Real Women Drive Trucks. So I got on the faithful internet and found Casey's site and Murphy's site. Then I asked Kasey, "Would you rather have a younger teacher or an older teacher." Mainly because I was hoping for a better interaction between a young girl and a young woman. No offense, Murphy! [None taken, Ben, but watch your back!] So we called Casey and set up an appointment to meet her and get a feel for how all this works. Basically the costs, the lesson times, and the items needed. Come to find out we were her first students since her move back to Winchester and I think her first father-daughter team. Early on I found out that I wasn't there to help Kasey in this journey of learning to play. I struggled and she was my crutch. But it was evident that we were getting closer as time went on. I cherish the rides to Winchester with her and the stops at the ice cream stands on our way home in the summer. It's all about just me and her and praying that we stay close and her knowing that her Dad loves her!
Now to the present which is two whole years later. Yes, we are still playing. I can honestly say that in the two years of lessons we haven't missed or cancelled very many. I've tried to instill in Kasey commitment and dedication as well as promptness and respect. Commitment and dedication to yourself that you never give up and that you're always trying to get better. Promptness and respect to and for your teacher---this is her living, this is how she takes care of her family. She builds her schedule to make these lessons happen, she expects you to be there and be prompt. We both have attended the Intermediate Banjo Camp and Kasey did the Women's Banjo Camp. The camps definitely are a huge help plus it's so nice to meet so many different people.
The real turning point was in November of 2012 when Murphy started holding Tip Jar Jams in Winchester. What a blessing this has been and, like the lessons, we strive hard to make it to at least one Jam a week. Murphy has been able to get Kasey to open up. Remember what I wrote about Kasey and a young teacher or older teacher. Well, I was wrong in the assumption that this makes any difference. Murphy has won Kasey's heart. She cannot wait to get in there and talk to Murphy or hear Murphy's comment on her clothing. The Jams are a vital part of your playing---knowing how to come in and out of breaks and being able to play with all the other distractions. But for myself I get rewarded at every Jam when I am able to see the accomplishments of my little girl and swell with pride as everyone cheers her on. Just like those basketball games! Hands down Kasey out plays me in every way. Seeing her smile and laugh with Murphy when I screw up is priceless. Kasey truly loves Casey and Murphy and they are a blessing to have in our lives. They made her day showing up at her birthday party and playing for everyone.
Now to address the future. Our goal is to continue taking lessons and going to the Jams and camps. I think Casey said her longest-running student was around 5 years. Well that means we would only have 3 to go and Kasey would only be 16. I would miss sitting in front of Casey and hearing her say, "Slow down, do it again, you're BACKWARDS." And I would miss seeing all that evening YAWNING!
This has been a wonderful experience for the both of us. Even if Kasey never grows up to be an entertainer, the time spent with so many great people will forever follow her. All of you that have come in contact with our Kasey have been an inspiration. Like everything, there is cost involved: lessons, banjos, tip jars, fuel, ice cream. I guess it boils down to what's important to us. For me it is my relationship with my daughter, and I have no regrets.
But so I don't forget, I have to say that behind every great Dad or child is an AWESOME MOM. My wife Tina has been there all the way for Kasey and me. She has to hear all that banjo noise day in and out. She also is always home tending to our grandson while we are at lessons or Jams, always supporting the both of us on our journey. Thanks Tina/Mom! We love you dearly!
If any of you wish to tackle the daddy/daughter game of learning how to play all I can say is that it will be something that the both of you will cherish forever. And it's not just the music, it's the moments you'll spend together and the memories you'll make. Thanks Casey and Murphy for being the great individuals that you both are! I'll leave you with this. Our kids are our future. Remember, your mark on the world is not your home, your cars, or your jewelry. It's that child! That's your mark! Stay close to 'em!
PS from Murphy: Ben, just so you know, Bobby has been taking lessons from me for over TWENTY years. It's been a little off and on, but it's been more on than off. Let's see, Kasey would be 33 and you would be....well, let's not go there!