Make Music, Not Resolutions
“I give myself permission to write several, several bad songs; the good ones will come,” Mike Hamer wrote in his journal, sometime around 1998.
Interviews with more than 75 local musicians over the past couple of years are as rich with nuggets of wisdom as last week’s shrink wrapped fruitcake, but infinitely more digestible.
John Morrow suggests practicing 10 minutes a day. “You’ll get better,” he promises, a physician confident in his prognosis. I suspect it’s because he knows it’s unlikely a musician will get out an instrument, tune it, and set a timer for 10 minutes. Ten will turn to 30 or 60, especially as the enjoyment increases. It’s like circular breathing…practicing makes you better…getting better makes it more fun to practice.
Fountain guitarist Landy Spain says, “Keep the reading chops up.” His second bit of advice for aspiring musicians is: “Find musicians to play with that are better than you are.” I must say that I take this as gospel, myself, and don’t understand why the people I play with don’t.
Robert Hughes, a musician interviewed and soon to be featured, offers a pointer that is a delicious soundbite: “More riffs, fewer sips.”
“Here is a secret,” John “Singer” Benson said, “Just learning new songs is not improving yourself…you have to learn and practice new rhythms, styles, finger position and transitions. I try something different every day.”
Drummer Rains Wall suggests, “to simply take every opportunity and be the best you can be in that opportunity,” adding, “It’s not all about trying to climb the ladder and meet the right person. It’s all about stewarding what you’ve been given and doing it as well as you can.”
This reminds me of the self-deprecating southern phrase about “doing the best you can with what you have to work with.”
On songwriting, Bill Redding says, “My own songwriting is almost entirely serendipitous. Most of my songs come to me out of the blue, what Mike [Hamer] used to call ‘gift songs’.”
“When you write a song,” Harvey Estes says, “sometimes a melody just comes to you and you get an instrument as quick as you can so you can get it into your head before it slips away.”
High school student Jayden Peszko says, “My creative process is ludicrous at times with me legitimately just letting my fingers glide on the fretboard and somehow a cool melody will arise. I usually make what I like in one sitting because the song or riff can go a whole new route if the energy is different.”
Nathan Maxwell of the nu clear twins says, “Inspiration is usually unexpected, yes, but I play and sing some almost every day, which seems important to the process.”
It’s profound stuff, there: to make music you have to not just talk about it, think about it, but play.
Local musicians not only dole out helpful pointers, but share their musical motivations.
Cellist and dulcimer player Nancy Galambush says, “Obviously, something was missing in my life during the years I didn’t make music.”
J.D. Joyner asserts, “I’ve got to make this guitar move people.”
Bill Redding’s wife, Susan, wrote a note in a Bob Dylan songbook when he was in Vietnam in 1969: “Only one thing matters: that wherever we go and however we go, we hear the music of life.”
As the music seeps into life, and the other way too, I take Mike Hamer’s words written to himself about songwriting to heart. Would I rather reach the final measure of life, having never played a note or written a word out of fear of failure?
So I embrace familiar foibles and regional colloquialisms and write what I know: a song about things that are top of mind this time of the year: collards and black eyed peas. Perhaps it’s a nod to Alex Albright’s Leaves of Green: The Collard Poems, a collection of poetry from an Ayden Collard Festival poetry contest in the 1980s. The Daily Reflector’s Harvey Estes was one of the contributors–his collards villanelle won first prize out of over 500 submissions. His verse, I expect, was more like the high falutin’ greens prepared by Chef Vivian Howard. But he probably wasn’t belting out words to his poem while vigorously strumming a bluegrass tune at a farmer’s market, as intended for this one, “The Prosperity Plate Special.”
The Prosperity Plate Special
by Donna Davis
For one time each year
Improve your financial standin’.
It’s not what you do
But what you chew
That’s worth a year of plannin’.
Put aside the beans
If you want means
And listen to me please.
The first day of the year
I’ll make this clear
While you pass the peas.
Pass the peas
Make them black-eyed please.
Tradition must be follered.
A little cornbread too
And some ham will do
Count before they’re swallered.
But if you know what you’re doin’
With all that chewin’
I’ll say, it should be hollered
It might sound funny
But for paper money
You best eat a head of collard.
I’ll be your advisor
For there are none wiser
If you want it the worst.
Don’t be a day late
Better get that plate
I mean on the first.
Grandma can’t be wrong
So heed this song
If you have ambition.
Don’t get indigestion
It’s not about investin’
It’s all about nutrition.
It might be folklore
But if you want more
You will find the means.
To fill bowl or platter
Or two for that matter
With a mess of collard greens.
It’s a year’s resolution
Some say a solution
To a financial strait.
At the end of the year
You might even hear
You earned what you ate.
And while pondering the financial gains to be realized by minding your peas and collards, also consider that it’s not only Olympians who are runners, and not just Grammy winners who are musicians. Seventy five local musicians (and counting) can’t be wrong. 2022 stretches forth with resolve: make music.
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Originally published in the Daily Reflector January 1, 2022.