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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, June 18, 2004


Come on in my living room

this noteís for you
By Keith Waller

One of my earliest musical memories involves my 88-year-old great grandmother. I must have been around 6 years old and was visiting at her home in Des Moines, Iowa. I remember her whispering into my ear one day to follow her into the kitchen. She seemed to have something secret for my eyes (and ears) only.

Intrigued by the air of mystery, I followed her into the kitchen where she closed the door to the dining room and proceeded to extract from deep in the back of one of her kitchen drawers a harmonica. With a twinkle in her eye and a cat that just swallowed the canary look on her face, my tiny white haired great grandmother put the harmonica to her lips and proceeded to get down. She rocked back and forth and she stomped her foot. As she played, her cheeks inflated and deflated just like Dizzy Gillespie. I was mesmerized.

She might have played "Sheíll be Cominí Round the Mountain," or it could have been "Me and the Devil Blues," I donít really remember. At that point in my life I wouldnít have known the difference, which is why Iím sticking with the notion that she played me a Robert Johnson tune. She seemed to have a look on her face I couldnít describe at the time: either agony or ecstasy.

Later on I realized what that look was all about. I saw it on the face of B.B. King as he coaxed moans and sighs out of his six-string Gibson, Lucille. It was there on the face of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock as his guitar made sounds like bombs bursting in air during his rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." But that look is not just the sole possession of the Guitar Gods; it has also been seen on the faces of Billie Holiday, Wynton Marsalis and Pavarotti. Itís the transcendent look of someone in a heightened state of elation as a direct result of making music.

So what was that look doing on the face of my grandmother? She was a great cook, but on harmonica she was no Sonny Boy Williamson.

When I first picked up a guitar a mere six years ago, I certainly did not expect any sort of spiritual elation. That was only something that the great masters experienced after decades of dedication and hard work, wasnít it? Well, six years down the road I can tell you that the answer to that question is no. It can be experienced by anyone at even a rudimentary level of musicianship. You donít experience it on the first day you take a crack at it, but once you have some basics down, itís available to you.

Okay, Iím going to let you in on a little secret here that most, but not all, musicians know. We donít make the music. The music comes through us. Three simple chords or a short series of single notes can, at certain times, feel like a gift from another realm.

Emmylou Harris once said that in the pursuit of perfection the living room had gone out of the music. We had lost that sublime experience of everyday people sitting around together creating something simple, and imperfect, but also profound.

So what are you doing still reading this column? I know that back home under the bed or in your closet is a dusty old guitar, saxophone or flute. Go dust that thing off! Itís time to put the living room back in the music. Your own experience of musical elation is right there waiting for you to tap in.


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