Monday, October 18, 2010

Party Time

Saturday night was pretty cool. I don't go to a whole lot of parties. Usually it's the same ones year after year - all of my family's various standard get-togethers for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. That's okay - I've never really been a big partier. I don't drink, don't smoke and don't use drugs - and never have - so that tended to kill most of the major party activities for me at 75% of the "real" parties I've attended in my life, from high school on up. I'm also surprisingly shy and quiet when I'm outside my comfort zone, which includes hanging around socializing with people I don't know too well. So that kills off any promise of fun at the remaining 25%.

But, as I said, Saturday night was pretty cool. One of my neighbors threw a cookout and invited my family, another neighbor family (whose daughter is the same age as mine), and a couple other people I never did get to know. One interesting aspect of this cookout is that half of the kids attending it had various severe food restrictions that added up to - artificial colors, flavors and preservatives; gluten; dairy; tree nuts; and peanuts. Which doesn't really leave a whole lot. Our host was a trooper, though. She put together a terrific meal of chicken and pork speidies, lasagne, salad, bread, fruits, and s'mores for dessert (with allergy-safe graham crackers and such). Not everything met everyone's dietary restrictions, but there was something for everybody. My only dietary restriction is trying not to eat everything in sight, and I admit I was challenged. It was all really good.

Instead of bringing a dish to pass, as would be typical at this sort of event, the two guest families were each asked to bring something special. The other family brought a wagonload of beers and wines, which was entirely wasted on my family but which everyone else seemed to really like. My family's gift to the party was song.

I admit, I was nervous and excited going in. I've only ever performed on the guitar in a semi-public setting before, the time I played "Everything I do (I do it for you)" at my 15th wedding anniversary party. That was just family, and I still managed to blow the guitar solo completely to hell. In this case, I'd certainly met everyone before (except the two women I didn't know at all), but I wouldn't say I knew any of them terribly well. So performing all evening for them was an entirely different experience for me.

My son and I started rehearsing almost a month ago. Nothing fancy, we just made sure to rotate through our repertoire of songs more thoroughly during our daily practice, instead of focusing on any specific tune or genre. Then, beginning a week before the party, I started to gather materials. First I attempted to play a selection of tunes without the music in front of me and determined that that was absolutely not an option. There are only a couple of songs that I can play without something to look at and not totally screw them up partway through.

I started to gather together the songs for which I had lyrics with chords, then I created new pages for the songs that I didn't have electronically. This included taking anything that was multiple pages long and condensing it down to a single page, because I just wasn't going to try to mess with that outside at night in the dark. Oh crap - in the dark! Partway through the week it occurred to me that it would be getting dark shortly after the party started at 6 PM. Since I had to visit the music store to pick up a new trumpet book for my kid anyway, I also bought myself a nice battery-powered light for the music stand.

Yes, that's right, I was bringing music, a music stand and a set of lights to a cookout. Hey, it was that or not play at all - I don't have an in-between. At least I was going acoustic - can you imagine if I needed to set up an amp, too?

I started to get a bit more nervous the week leading up to the party. I wanted to play - my son and I have worked pretty hard to learn the guitar over the last eighteen months or so and it would be fun to finally put all that practice to use, but still... In a lot of ways, I know exactly how far short I fall of being a real, capable, versatile musician. I mean, the fact that I need the music to play is just one example. I can't play anything by ear. I make a fair number of mistakes at the best of times, and if I'm not really concentrating I make exponentially more. I still suck at barre chords, even ones I try to use all the time like F, F#m, and Bm, so when I play songs that require those (such as Wylde Mountain Thyme and Country Roads) there are spots that sound especially crummy. Worst of all, those are just the issues I know about. Those are the ones that I can spot with my limited understanding of the guitar. I'm sure a real expert could spot dozens more. All of which really begged the question, "Am I actually up for this? Am I remotely good enough, or am I going to end up like on of those losers on American Idol?" You know the ones - they get up to perform insisting they're the next Michael Jackson, then they open their mouths and the whole world discovers they can't carry a tune with a forklift. And the worst part, of course, is that they're so utterly delusional that they not only don't recognize their lack of ability, they somehow transpose it into the belief that they're better than everyone else. I certainly don't fall into that category because I'm sure I'm not better than... well, than much of anyone else. But let's face it - if I believed I were truly unlistenable, I wouldn't have agreed to play. The question is, how much worse might I be than I think I am? Only time would tell.

By the time Saturday rolled around, I'd put together five packets to bring - one for me and my son to use, the rest for the others to share in case they wanted to sing along. There were eighteen songs in there - a mix of renaissance faire favorites, classic American folk songs, and some late-20th-century pop. In theory, my son and I could play them all with varying degrees of competence, and we'd run through most of them a few extra times to be sure. By early afternoon, the guitars were tuned and packed in our gig bags, the music stand was collapsed and packed, and the lawn chairs were waiting. Luckily, I took a look at the lawn chairs (of which there weren't enough for our family to begin with - we ought to buy more sometime) and thought to myself, "Ah crap, we can't play the guitar in those - the arms will be in the way." I needed something like a stool or a kitchen chair, the kind without arms. Actually, I needed two of them. I needed them to be portable and something I didn't mind taking out into a relatively damp back yard. Hmmm.... I've got it! Milk crates!

My house is chock full of milk crates. They make great, relatively cheap organizers, and we must own two dozen of them. Sadly, nearly all of them are just that... organizers. They're not very sturdy, just cheap plastic. I needed the real thing - the kind they'd actually have used to carry big, heavy glass jugs of milk around. Luckily, an intensive search showed that we did in fact own one of those - a nice heavy-duty one perfectly suited to my fat ass. My son, who weighs about as much as a really heavy pile of laundry, would be fine with one of the cheap-o crates. NOW, at last, we were ready.

We kicked it off with my son's current favorite - The Campfire Song Song from some episode of Spongebob Squarepants. We then worked our way through the packet of songs, taking requests throughout the evening. The party went on for nearly four hours and, somehow, with only about 90 minutes worth of music, I somehow played for about three of them. I filled in the gaps with a basic 12-bar blues, some nonsense I don't have a name for, a scale that I used to think was a Pentatonic but is actually something else (but which sounds kind of cool) and a rendition of Everything I do that actually went pretty well. I even nailed the solo!

Now, of course nobody was likely to complain about the music. Even if I sucked, chances are good that nobody would have complained much - it would have been rude. But they didn't have to applaud, and applaud they did - sometimes vigorously (and sometimes less so - some tunes were better than others, I confess). THAT was pretty awesome. I'm not going to be charging admission anytime soon (or ever, most likely), but the idea that I could actually provide even amateur-quality entertainment at this event was just awesome. It reinvigorated me. As annoyed as I may get with my ability, as frustrated as I often am with my progress at learning to play the guitar, that one evening of music made all the difference. I'm easily years away from being satisfied with my guitar-playing. Hell, I may never be satisfied with it. But I'm more motivated than ever to keep working at it. Someday, maybe - just perhaps - I'll be good. That's worth working for.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a real nice time at this party. It also sounds like the those at the party enjoyed having you for musical entertainment. All that practice is beginning to pay off and it sounds like you are enjoying yourself.