Here’s how dinner arrangements read when you are a musician who invites other musicians to come to your house for a nice meal and some music:
Do the Kansas City folks want to carpool? We can take 3 people and the bass and other instruments or 4 people with instruments other than the bass.
If you are a parent with small children, you know the sense of needing at least one sherpa every time you mount the expedition called “Going Out to Dinner,” or “An Overnight Visit.” With most musicians I know, the necessity of wrangling multiple instruments and gear is equally insistent. (If you’re a musician who’s a parent of small children, I simply don’t know how you manage. If you’re a vocalist, show some decency and learn to schlep a few instrument cases, would ya?)
Regardless of any inconvenience or the expense of multiple instruments (show me a guitar player with just one guitar and I’ll show you someone just getting started), making music is always worth the trouble. Of all the great good fortune of my long and winding life, I count the fact that I got to be a musician — I got to be in bands! — as one of the all-time best things ever.
In fact, my two favorite things in life (other than my offspring, of course) are cooking for people and making music. This weekend I gave myself the astonishing gift of both when I invited four of my former band mates to come to my house for dinner and music. My favorite things, with some of my favorite people.
Once, we started adding up all the decades of musical experience among us and the number got so up there, we began to feel kind of creaky. So we cut that out and started playing something uptempo.
The thing about making music together — as a band or in a chorus or jam — is that it isn’t necessarily easy or automatic. At the most basic level, you need to learn your instrument. But then, you need to learn a particular set of rules and behaviors if you’re going to play well with others. Martha has even written a wonderful guide by that very title, if you want some great tips and advice. (Please note: Don’t just go to Amazon and order the first book you see called Play Well with Others: a book also by that title is apparently a beginner’s guide to bondage and S&M. What consenting adults do with their naughty bits is totally their business, but my intention is to promote harmony and electronic tuners, not whips and ‘cuffs.)
As with most things worth doing in life, learning how not only to sing, but to be a musician, has been a bit of a tortured path, full of fits and starts and a multitude of stupid mistakes (that time, for instance, that I brought a tambourine to a bluegrass jam. Who knew?). At some point in any music-making, however, there is a moment in which the music comes down. Not to get all woo-woo about it, but it is a distinct, observable moment when something clicks, we stop being individuals with private worries, concerns and identities, and become instruments of Music made manifest. It’s pretty close to divine in my book, even when the music is raw and/or raucous. And when you’re harmony singing and you nail the harmony together. Well … life just turned out and a little piece of perfection got created. I think I might be able to live forever if the promise of enough of those moments keeps looming over the horizon. I can easily imagine me on my death bed, surrounded by loved ones, hearing the opening chords of “The Great Divide” and asking for a time out while I sing just one more …
If I had a handful of do-overs for my life, one thing I’d do differently (in addition to marrying that one boy and starting a savings account when I was 12) would be to master at least one instrument early on. I know. The voice is an instrument. Still, I’m always instrumentalist-dependent and, much as I love, adore and appreciate my instrumental friends (who’ve been beyond patient with me), I am frequently frustrated by trying to communicate to whatever guitar player I can collar that the rhythm goes like this, and no, I don’t think it goes to the 7-chord there.
If I ruled the world, I would de-fund about 90 percent of all police and military activities and I’d make sure people throughout the world had whatever they needed to grow healthy crops, cook for and with each other, eat together and make music. And anyone who didn’t want to do some part of that could just dance. Why the hell not?
Even with all the eating, drinking and catching up with each other, we managed to make some music on Saturday — a few bobbles, but close enough for jamming:
Aren’t we the lucky ducks?