Breaking radio silence

My apologies for announcing that I would start a series of posts, then disappearing from the weblog for two weeks. The reason is nothing dramatic, just that the list of things to do was suddenly filled with entries that all took priority over writing here. Life is still busy, but I do intend to write at least a few of those posts this week.

Most of the busyness has been connected with the garden and the animals, of course; the pace picked up once summer weather arrived, and continues to do so. Most of the rest involves music. We’ve played some Music of Coal dates in eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia, including a set at Seedtime on the Cumberland where we opened for Darrell Scott—always nice to play for folks who have paid to see you, and because of Scott the sound system was especially good. Those shows will continue off and on for the rest of the year.

We are also meeting more of the musicians in our area, and finding new places to play. Most of those are unpaid or nearly so, which means we have to think carefully each time if the benefits of playing outweigh the risk of becoming known as the guys to ask when you can’t afford to hire real musicians. Generally we limit such engagements by only taking them when friends are involved—a fundraiser for the Methodist church down the road, a Sunday night singing at another local church, the bean-and-ham supper at our neighbor’s lodge.

We now play often enough and have a large enough repertoire that we don’t need to prepare much if at all for such casual performances; the performances themselves serve as practice. The paying dates do require more preparation, but they are scheduled far enough ahead that we can prepare as time allows, e.g. we’ve found time in the past few weeks to work up a couple of new coal songs and some new gospel songs as well, even though we aren’t really on deadline for them.

Taking opportunities to play regularly is also starting to pay off in another way that is hard to quantify. When I was first starting to work on singing mountain style, I asked a number of good singers how to proceed, and the usual advice was to “sing a lot.” At the time it struck me as particularly unhelpful, but now that Chris and I have been performing for five years it turns out to be very good advice that just can’t be broken down and explained. For maybe two years now we haven’t really added fundamental skills (except for Chris working on his fiddling), but have just constantly used the ones we had under our belts at that point, always trying to do the best job possible. And for reasons I don’t fully understand, improvement continues to come. Maybe it’s increasing confidence, maybe it’s a newfound ability to set aside worries about technical execution and focus on communicating through a song. In any case, over the past few months we have noticed a significant change in the way folks respond when we play—it feels like we are real musicians, in a way we weren’t earlier on.

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