July 2, 2008
Yesterday I was browsing Barnes and Noble’s “big” book section. I like the big artsy books with lots of pictures that don’t fit on the normal sized shelves. I was drawn to a book of Johannes Vermeer paintings that had the Girl With the Pearl Earring on the cover. What an amazing painting. I could have just looked at that and been happy but I ventured into the pages for more. One painting that snagged my attention was titled something like Evening with Dining and Music. It captured a bunch of men transitioning from eating dinner at a large table to drinking and playing cellos, lutes and fiddles. The Dutch painting was signed in the year 1622. I read of the importance of music in art during the 17th century, what is known as the Golden Age. The Netherlands had broken free from the Spaniards and the Catholic Church to become Calvinist Protestants. It was then that Calvinism prohibited musical instruments in churches, putting somewhat of an end to formal instrumental music. A culture with what might be considered early folk music emerged where “plain” music was played and sung in homes and other places outside of church. Plain singing became very popular. In the painting there were no music stands and everyone looked happy. I don’t know what the men in the painting called it but it appeared that they were just having a good old jam session.
I’m sitting on the back porch of our log cabin as I write. It’s a beautiful breezy day with a bright blue sky. Molly our dog is lying at my feet and Peter Rowan is doing one of my favorite songs on the IPOD dock. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Sometimes I focus on all the things I need to do and the things that are wrong with life but I’d have to say that those things are pretty insignificant compared to the good stuff right now.
I dreamed of building this cabin for most of my life. My grandparents had a mobile home on this property for their retirement years. There was a lot of life here back then. My uncles, friends, Grandma and I would sit on the back porch of the mobile home and play music at every family get together, and there were a lot of them. I couldn’t tell you how many times it was just Grandma and me pickin’ and singing the sun down on that porch. When I was a teen ager Grandpa, Grandma and I used to sit there and look at this spot on the property and describe the kind of cabin we would like to have right here someday. Grandpa and Grandma passed away years ago and now there’s a garden where that old porch was, but our dream never died. One of the things I looked forward to most was sitting on the cabin porch playing music with friends. Two nights ago I had a bunch of good friends over for a night of jamming. It was a great turn out. Mom made a big pot of chicken and dumplin’s and I made some of the unhealthiest green beans you can imagine, a pound of fried bacon with grease and beans on top cooked outside for a couple hours in a dutch oven.
We ate, talked, laughed, told stories and ate more. Then we all came out here to the back porch and played the night away. It got to where we couldn’t see each other so we lit up some kerosene lamps. The weather was perfect and the bugs left us alone. We played and sang Old Time, Bluegrass, fiddle tunes and something that sounded like Gypsy music on guitars, fiddles, mandolins and banjos. My friends Chris and Harold were there along with my dad. The three of them helped me greatly with building the cabin. At one time I looked at Chris playing his guitar and then looked up and remembered he and I putting the roof on the back porch that we were under. My old friends Warren and Judy are Old Time music preservationists and it was great hearing Warren fiddling tune after tune of great old music. Judy played some solid banjo and guitar. My friend Steve, who lives in Thailand, was in town and came over and graced us with a few new tunes on mandolin and guitar. I hadn’t played with him in years. My friend Amy made me jealous with her clawhammer banjo playing that I can’t seem to get the hang of (yet!). Amy played and sang Little Bird of Heaven and she and Judy gave me chills with their duet singing of the song I’ve Endured. And, one of my all time favorite jamming buddies, Frank, was there with his mandolin and fiddle. I wish I knew a fraction of the songs he plays so well. No matter how bad I play Frank always finds some way to compliment me and bring out the best in my playing.
After everyone left for the night, Dad and I talked about all the fun we just had. There were many, many late nights at the cabin during that 13 months of construction when it was just Dad and me finishing up nailing in the floor, or cleaning piles of sawdust and saying to each other, “some day we’ll be done and it will be great.” We were right, it is great!
It was the kind of night I’ve spent years dreaming of. Being with good friends doing something we all love. It made me identify with that 400 year old painting. I could see by the looks on their faces that they were no different than we were the other day, just a bunch of friends making good music and basking in each other’s company.
I’m sure it didn’t get any better than that then and it doesn’t get any better than that now. Now I must finish off some left over dumplin’s and green beans…
on “A great night”
Saturday, August 23, 2008 @4:33:03 PM
You had a great night. I read a great post that put me right INSIDE that great night. Thank you! And I know the painting you speak of. You're right. Some things don't change, no matter how much the world changes around them.
I'm sitting home with a nasty head cold, missed a jam today with friends, and was feeling just a bit low. This made me feel just a bit better.
Saturday, August 23, 2008 @8:55:10 PM
Well, I thought of one difference between that scene in the old painting and the jam on your cabin porch: the lutes (and viols) had to be retuned often because they had gut strings, whereas the banjos had to be retuned often because they are banjos.
Sunday, August 24, 2008 @3:59:53 PM
I'm jealous, man. You're right. It don't get any better than that!
Monday, August 25, 2008 @6:15:34 AM
WOW family, friends, food & fiddles............PRICELESS !!!
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