Wednesday, October 16, 2013

English Jam ~ Part 1

One ordinary afternoon last month, when we were all going about our typical afternoon activities, Mom received an email. This was not anything unusual in and of itself – Mom gets emails all the time. However, this particular email, forwarded to us by some friends, proved to contain information that was far from ordinary: it was an invitation! A lady named Martha Edwards wrote of a series of weekly workshops/jam sessions she was beginning for musicians who wanted to play music for English Country Dances. This “English Jam”, as she named it, was open to anyone with the ability to play and read music in a few basic keys; Mrs. Edwards would supply the lead sheets for the tunes, but would also be leading in some improvisation for harmonies and secondary melodies. Participants were welcomed to bring their instruments to Mrs. Edwards’ home on Thursday evenings and join in the Jam!

As you can imagine, I was greatly excited to hear of this unique opportunity! The prospect of getting together with other people to play one of my favorite styles of music was thoroughly pleasing – indeed, it was an activity such as I had fondly imagined for quite some time, but had never expected to become a reality! Conner thought the English Jam sounded neat, and as we can both read sheet music and play our banjos with tolerable skill, we decided to try it out together. Mom was perhaps the most excited of us all at that time; she had been praying for an opportunity for me in particular that would tie in with my interests and bring them to a new level, and this English Jam seemed to be a wonderful answer to prayer!

The first thing to be done, of course, was to call Mrs. Edwards to thank her for hosting the English Jams and to let her know that we were interested in participating. To my dismay, the responsibility of making this call fell on me! (I absolutely hate making phone calls...) After a few minutes of attempting to get out of it (an unsuccessful attempt, by the way), I did in fact pick up the phone, dial the number, and press the “call” button. Then followed a moment of nervous waiting... To my great relief, I did not have to deal with an answering machine; the phone was answered promptly by a quick, but not unfriendly voice. Once I made it clear that I was calling about the English Jam and was not yet another annoying advertiser, the voice became friendlier still. It turned out to be Mrs. Edwards herself, and so I introduced Conner and I and told her a bit about our musical experience thus far. Mrs. Edwards sounded pleased that we were interested in joining her workshop, and made it clear that we were welcome to participate. The fact that Conner and I are still towards the beginner level of musical abilities did not seem to be an issue; even our instruments being banjos, of all things, was not a problem! We talked a bit about the type of sheet music to be used for the workshops, the role of a banjo in a multi-instrument gathering, and other related topics. It was a very pleasant conversation – quite possibly the nicest phone call I’ve ever been forced to make!

Mrs. Edwards requested that I send her our email address so that she could get the lead sheets for the first Jam to us. When I emailed her a bit later, I attached a bit of ECD sheet music I had written out in hopes of using it at the Jams, and also included a link to this blog. Mrs. Edwards replied fairly quickly; “hurray!” thought I, and proceeded to read her message. Mrs. Edwards commented pleasantly on our conversation earlier and on the music I had attached, and also remarked on my blog, which she had in fact taken the time to read. Mrs. Edwards wrote that she liked the story including the USS Constitution, and added, “For some reason unknown to me, I memorized the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem Old Ironsides when I was young and to this day must be restrained from declaiming it at inopportune times.” She then proceeded to quote the opening lines of the poem – “Aye, tear her tattered ensign down, long has she waved on high...” That was great fun to read!

One particular line of the email, however, thoroughly shocked me: “I like your blog – particularly since you gave such a nice review of the Stringdancer CD (my old band)...” At these words, I froze, and asked myself in surprise, “Did she really say what I think she just said?” A quick review of the words proved that she had indeed said my old band – meaning, of course, that she herself was one of the three musicians responsible for one of my very favorite recordings, namely, the medley for the Scottish! At this incredible realization, I literally jumped in my seat! (This, by the way, is an unheard of occurrence. I tend to be composed and immovable, and I’ve never been much of a jumper – but that’s another story. *grin*)

My head was spinning with a whirl of amazed and astonished thoughts: the remarkable realization that I had actually spoken with the fiddler from Stringdancer that very morning without even knowing it! The thought of getting to meet her within one week’s time! At her own house, even! Hearing her play the fiddle in person! The idea of being able to learn from her wealth of musical skills and experience! The overwhelming prospect of actually playing ECD music with her! And all of this, just given to me – undeserved, unexpected, and unimagined! God is indeed good! His blessings are poured out so freely – His providence is truly amazing!

Sometime in the near future I’ll do another post about the atmosphere and activities of the English Jams themselves!

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