Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Down up, chop chop, back to school

It's baaaaaaaaaaack to school at our house. Despite the drear that accompanies the end of summer around here, our first day of school went rather smoothly, and everyone is fairly happy to be back in the swing, MandoMama included.

I had been pining over the last several days because at one point I realized I had not written or picked up my mandolin in almost three days. That's a really, really long time, but, my head was anywhere but on my self-development. I was busy trying to cram whatever I could into the last days, making each moment a little special or fun for the kids. And mostly it was, but sometimes when we make things extra special we forget how good the every day stuff is.

Practicing, like homework is more everyday now, and it is more joy than work. With everyone leaving the house before seven, I might have to get more creative about the ways I practice when the MiniMandoMes are around and trying to sleep.

Tonight, after about 30 minutes of scales and tunes, I was just sort of fooling around when a book on the piano caught my eye. It's a book of fiddle tunes and accompanying cds featuring the legendary Butch Baldassari. He's one serious mando dude but he makes it all so much fun.

A friend gave me the book as a gift a couple of years ago before I came into my gonna-take-this-serious mode, and now having had some space between my old life and new, and some instruction both formal and in-, I pulled the book out and started flipping through it. The cds caught my eye so I popped one in to copy over to iTunes. What an excellent way to practice! Each tune is broken out for melody, rhythm (chop chop), and different versions and tempos. What genius! Not only will it help to play along, but I can take these tunes apart in my head while driving to work or walking the bike path. The intellectual exercise of taking a tune apart is a serious way to practice.

My friend Jawbone also made me a recording with just rhythm guitar going, so that I have to break out of my comfort zone and improvise.

When I picked up my instrument tonight, I held it and played it with a renewed seriousness. Yes, it is a fun instrument and bluegrass is fun to play, but it's still learning an instrument. Having spent some time recently around serious musicians, instructors, and music students again, I see that I have to approach this learning with all the intent I once brought to a new aria or Bach keyboard piece. As I quoted my mando teacher as saying a while back, each note should be played with soul, and I think with an equal amount of technical intent. We are hear to make a noise, a joyful clean noise on every attack, pick click and all. My practicing probably won't land me in Baldassari's Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, but it's always good to have goals.

In addition to being a legendary performer and recording artist, Baldassari is an adjunct instructor of mando at Vanderbilt's Blair School of Music. The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, which my son and I enjoyed last year at IBMA, plays everything from Monroe to Vivaldi. Click here to select from a range of samples.

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