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Column: Musicians ‘string’ along newest family member


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Recently, my wife Becky and I welcomed a new bundle of joy into our lives. What a wonderful feeling to cradle such precious cargo in one’s arms, to gently caress such smoothness, to revel in the melodic sounds that emanate from this small but dear gift.

Yes, Becky and I fully understand this life-changing event will be a challenge, but we are firm in our conviction that adding to our family of musical instruments a new mandolin is a good thing and a challenge we readily accept.

Our family of musical instruments includes Becky’s piano which she plays well and I sort-of-but-not-really play at. I have a couple of guitars, a handful of harmonicas and we have a small collection of percussion gadgets. Also, we both love to sing, so I guess our voices would count as musical equipment.

Every so often throughout the years, she has mentioned how she would like to tackle another musical instrument. When she considered trying one of my guitars, I said, “Take your pick,” which wasn’t all that funny then, either. She made several plucky attempts but never really warmed to the guitar.

Becky considered the idea of relearning the violin. She played violin in junior high school, but as adolescent skills often do, that particular ability waned as adulthood came on. When she found out that a mandolin has the same tuning as a violin, she became open to that instrument as a possibility.

As I was shopping for her birthday, I remembered what she said about learning to play something new. I also discovered that mandolins are much more common in music stores than violins, so I chose one with a beautiful natural wood matte finish and wrapped it up for her. Happy birthday.

Her birthday is very early in January which I think has been a mixed blessing for her, at least as an adult. Of course, birthdays are happy events but the intensity of life during the Christmas holidays followed by the whole New Year’s experience can leave one a little drained of celebratory energy. I was hoping the gift of a new musical instrument might revive that birthday spirit. Considering how surprised and delighted she was when she opened her present, I’m pretty sure it did.

We found some chord charts on the Internet, and Becky practiced her new mandolin for the rest of her birthday. She is very busy with work, but she tries to find a moment here and there to work on those chords. She is looking forward to having some free time to really work with her new instrument. One convenient thing about the mandolin is that it is a relatively small device and can be taken just about anywhere. It wouldn’t be a problem to take it on vacation.

Because they produce sounds by the vibration of strings, mandolins are part of the Chordophone family of instruments. Like the guitar, the mandolin is a descendent of the lute which has been around since at least the Renaissance. Musical instruments with strings attached to a sound resonator such as a gourd are some of the earliest musical instruments. A cave painting made as early as 15,000 BC in France, for example, shows a man playing a one-stringed instrument with a bow, sort of a caveman violin.

Speaking of violins, I think some of Becky’s junior high violin knowledge seems to be coming back to her. A violin and a mandolin are two distinct instruments and there are many differences in the way each is played, but she is persistent and will adapt. I am confident that before long, she will be making music on her mandolin. “It might take a little time,” I said, “but you’ll get it. Don’t fret.”

It wasn’t all that funny then, either.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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