Every year at Kaufman Kamp they give away instruments as door prizes. This year Deering Banjos donated one of their Boston banjos to be a prize. On the last night of camp, Steve Kaufman picks the winners by drawing numbers out of a jar. He rummages around for a while, pulls out the one that feels right, and slowly, suspensefully, reads the number. This year, who jumped up with the winning ticket but one of my very own students: Ginny Foard.
Now, Ginny already has a really good banjo and didn't really have a use for the Deering. As I watched her carry it from the stage I had the germ of an idea for what she could do with the banjo, but I kept it to myself.
I met Ginny last year at Kamp and she started taking lessons shortly thereafter. This year we both met a camper who had come over from Ireland, Mark McCluney. He's a beginning player but has lots of guts. He was determined to make the most of his camp experience, having scrimped and saved to cover his airfare plus camp tuition. He would gamely take a break on any song, rolling along in the chords, and never missed an opportunity to jam.
Back at home after camp, I saw Ginny for her weekly lesson and she said she'd had the idea of sending the Deering to Mark in Ireland. I told I thought that was exactly the right thing to do with it and that I'd had that very idea about thirty seconds after she won it. His banjo was a beginner's model---just fine to start on, but his abilities were about to out-strip it.
The next week she brought me the banjo and I took it up to Robin Smith in Hendersonville, who builds my Casey Henry signature model banjos, and got him to pack it properly. A broken banjo would be a very bad gift. I took it to the post office and received a dour look from the clerk when I said I wanted to ship this huge package to Northern Ireland. Filling out the customs form gave me pause. If you want it to be a surprise, you can't write what is actually in the package because that would spoil it. Yet you don't want to get caught in a lie. I figured that when he saw the box the jig would be up anyway, so I wrote "banjo in case" in the "contents" field. And away the banjo went, across the wide blue Atlantic. ...continue reading