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Notes from the Field

...and a plate of ginger snaps

Rating: 1 votes, 5.00 average.
Its hard enough to describe to you musical folks, and almost impossible to talk about in mixed (musical and non musical) company.

You watch the postman put it in your mail box... It could be one of those boxes with the smile on it, or maybe just a rough looking well traveled brown paper package. You bring it in all shaky with anticipation, and because Christmas traditions do not limit themselves to December, you tear into that package like it contained the last donut.

And there it is, that special collection of tunes you sent off for weeks ago.

How can I describe the thrill of a new tune book. The nearest analogy would be finding a novel or a collection of short stories that you have not yet read, by an author you love. The tension is the same, between jumping in on the one hand, or alternatively, acting like an adult, exercising impulse control and delayed gratification.

My own routine is to put the tune book on the music stand, without as much as a peek inside. I then go about my day, go to work, do chores, even go to a jam, whatever, using anticipation as a kind of background music to my life. (It is very similar to knowing your girlfriend will be arriving tomorrow at noon. The whole day is sweeter for it.)

Usually by the next day I cannot stand it any more. I block out several hours, make sure everyone is occupied and knows I am to be left alone, turn down the volume on my telephone ringer so I am not even tempted. Its time. The next part of the ritual commences.

The details are important. It’s a ritual after all. I get out my little green rickety chair, put it in front of the music stand, pull an ottoman over next to it, and an instrument stand with my mandolin on it, right up next to that. I then put up a fresh pot of great coffee, and, as I rarely ever do on any other occasion, I lay out on the ottoman a little coffee service, with a large carafe, a little pitcher of half and half, mug, and a plate of ginger snaps. (Why ginger snaps? Why indeed.)

I will often poke through a tune book, eyes only, no instrument in my hands, randomly searching for tunes that look fun to play. It is amazing but true, I can tell by how the tune looks on the page if I am going to enjoy it or not. I am sometimes wrong, but not often. And if I am wrong, its is always a false negative - a tune that looked boring that turns out delightful. It is never the case that a tune that looks like fun turns out to be boring.

I haven’t as yet picked up the mandolin mind you. That comes after I have poked around and assuring myself there are wonderful tunes in there. At some point I will pick it up, tune it, and commence to go through the tune book front to back, sight reading one tune after another. If its particularly delightful I will play a tune a few times, and mark it with a sticky flag. I love the books that are organized by type of dance, because once you have that double jig rhythm in your head, the next double jig is that much easier to sight read. I build up a bit of momentum, stopping only to sticky flag a tune, drink more coffee, eat another cookie.

I usually go through the entire book, or go straight for two to three hours, stopping only when there are no more tunes, or the carafe is empty. If there is more to the book than I can cover in one pot of coffee, well, its as if I had a second volume of the book. I mark where I stopped with a sheet of paper, and put the book back on the music stand to tantalize me with anticipation for another few days.

I used to be real organized. I would take my tune book to the copy shop and make copies of all the pages I had sticky flagged, and put them with the other “great tunes I want to learn” in a notebook. But these days I tire of “office work / bookkeeping” activities, and I refuse to do it for free. I just put the book, with its myriad of different colored flags sticking out from the edges, on a pile of other similarly decorated books. When, in the near future, I am in need of a new tune to learn (not just play), I return to this pile, and go through only the flagged pages.

I was tempted by the analogy of a new tune book being like a box of chocolates. And though I have a sweet tooth, the analogy was to me not at all comparable in magnitude. Its much more like that collection of short stories I mentioned. But if you are not a reader that analogy doesn’t work either. I think I nailed it with the girlfriend analogy.

Look, the UPS driver just delivered a box. Its from the UK. I know it contains a collection of Welsh tunes I sent away for from Amazon UK. I have things to do.

Ginger snaps?

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Updated Mar-05-2018 at 10:39am by JeffD



  1. Richard J's Avatar
    used to be real organized
    ? You're way more organized then I am. Good story.
  2. Mwilsonam's Avatar
    Really enjoyed your post JeffD. Sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon. And Who wouldn't love ginger snaps.