One of my “lapsed” banjo students returned this week for a lesson. I’d taught him for several months last year while I was still holding forth at Brill’s Barber Shop. Various family crises and commitments had gotten in the way of his continuing, so I loaded him up with DVDs as he walked out the door, and he promised to keep playing. He was already doing quite well. Solid right hand, good tone, good timing.
How to describe Roy? (Not his real name.) Tall, lean, fit, good looking, gray-haired, and gregarious, he projects an air of confidence and ease when he walks into a room. As we were catching up, he was telling me about the house he had renovated--from stem to stern--doing all the work himself, which included adding plumbing and completely rewiring it. I was amazed at the enormous range of talent it takes to do something like this and a bit envious to boot. I do so wish I had some construction skills! It just seems so handy, being able to fix and build things yourself without having to rely on someone else to do it.
After the convivialities wound down, Roy got out his banjo so we could get reacquainted musically. He’d told me that he felt like he was at a “crossroads” and didn’t know where to go. Before I could advise him, I needed to see where he was with his banjo playing. Truth told, most folks who quit coming to see me also quit picking up their banjos. So, I asked to see “Banjo in the Hollow” and “Cripple Creek,” the usual drill.
So Roy starts out. Did I mention that he’s somewhat of a perfectionist? I think he’s playing well, but he’s not satisfied because he’s missing a few notes, his hand is shaking a little bit making him the tiniest bit sloppy, and once he forgot to repeat the “B” part of “Cripple Creek.” So he says to me, “I don’t know why I can’t play. I do fine at home, when I’m in my shop by myself.” Pause. “You are so intimidating!” Pause. “Why don’t you wear something frilly?”
And I just cracked up! End of story.
PS: Roy had, in fact, kept up with all his tunes, successfully navigating through “Old Joe Clark,” “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” and “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” among others. He was eager to press on to “Improvising” and I agreed. I also told him what he really needed was to come to our Wednesday night jam, and he said he would. So, perhaps next week I’ll be reporting back on that!