The mandolin

I picked up the mandolin this morning, to practice for Thursday. I had a major inspiration moment! It’s been so long since I played it.

It’s like the mandolin belongs to a part of myself that I’ve ignored for a long time but that I miss a lot. It’s also the instrument I’m most confident with. I played a couple of other tunes too and wondered why I don’t play it more often. It’s such a lovely instrument.

I’ll have to go back to playing more bluegrass and oldtime music on the mandolin. It makes me happy, and it’s been an important part of my life for ten years. I’ve played longer than that, but not as much as I’ve done for the last ten years.

I sometimes lose interest because mandolin “community” out there is so annoying. It’s all about having the fanciest, most expensive, mandolin, and play the coolest Bill Monroe licks at a blazing speed. Hey, I don’t even like Bill Monroe’s playing style, I think it’s sloppy and ugly. I like most of Bill Monroe’s tunes, but for style, I much prefer Tim O’Brien or Mike Compton.
Maybe now I’m ready for the Norman Blake’s mandolin tutor DVD… I know I wasn’t when I first bought it, it was a bit too advanced for me and I didn’t have the patience.

However, mandolin playing is so much more than about the community, and it’s definitely something I want to keep doing. And without being cool. I just want to have fun with it.

Singing in church, and “my thing”

mandolinofficeToday I had the first church “gig” since a long time. I haven’t been too happy with my singing for some time, or maybe it is that I don’t sing in that setting so often anymore, that I get too nervous, and I don’t think I have enough control of my voice to hide it enough. That kind of sucks.But I’m sure I’ll get over it if I just sing more.

In Swedish churches, some kind of solo music (or sometimes a choir) in the Sunday morning service is very common. The very typical event is a young pretty girl singing pretty songs accompanied on the piano. Although they sound good, it is… boring. Well at least when it sounds the same EVERY Sunday. I’m sure God likes variation too and that also other music styles and other musical instruments can be used to praise God.
I must say though, that my church isn’t the typical one. We have both young girls with pianos, a gospel choir, a children’s choir, and elderly singers. So there is some variation. But that’s not the norm in the typical Swedish church.
Yes I know that the music in church is about the message and not the style, but I, as a music geek, like variation.

I don’t remember how I was involved in the singing in church. I think it was after it had become known in my church that Daniel and myself played music together, and suddenly I was asked to do it. From maybe 2006 until 2012 (not counting the year when we lived in Ireland) we’d sing in church maybe twice or three times a year, and I know at least the elderly really appreciate hearing those old songs that the other younger people (or anyone else, for that matter) don’t sing, and to hear guitar and mandolin. Many say that it’s so nice to hear something different, I can totally relate to that, and it has always been a goal for me to get an opportunity to take bluegrass gospel into church.
I really love music, bluegrass in particular, and I love that I can combine my love for the music with doing something for God. I want my music to be a way to spread the gospel and inspire people with the good news, and not a kind of achievement.

But then in 2012 I injured my wrist and couldn’t play the guitar or the mandolin for a long time. It just happened that I stopped singing for a long time. It’s not as fun without an instrument.
Although I’m back on track at least with playing the guitar, I haven’t managed to get back to singing regularly, so the last few times I’ve sung in church I’ve been so unhappy with my singing. Today it finally felt (at least) quite ok, and I’m inspired to sing more and get back to the shape I was in when we lived in Ireland.

And on Thursday we’re going to sing at Daniel’s grandma’s funeral. It will be a very small and simple service, with mostly us from the family, so I’ve stopped being nervous about it. We’re going to do “Will the circle be unbroken”, a bluegrass standard, a song I’m very familiar with, and a style I’m very familiar with. And I always do better when I have Daniel with me. Maybe I’m more relaxed then.
The last few times I’ve sung in church, including today, I’ve realized something. When I sing bluegrass-ish songs I sing so much better. It’s like I’m so much more confident with that than with other music styles. Sometimes, like today, I sing more folky songs, or hymns, today I sang an Advent hymn and another hymn but with another version than people are used to. But no matter how much I had practiced the others, Amazing Grace sounded so much better.

It’s not strange, because bluegrass is what made me start playing music, it is my great love. And the style I most often sing with other people is bluegrass. Quite often I sing old Swedish songs in church but when it fits the song I sing them with a bluegrass touch. Then Daniel comes with me too, he plays the guitar and I play the mandolin.
I’ve actually decided to try to stick with bluegrass and oldtime gospel style as much as I can, because that’s what I’m good at (well not compared to other people but compared to other stuff I sing) and it is something I’m confident in, and something nobody else in my church will sing.
We have so many brilliant musicians and singers in my church that I sort of want to do “my thing”, to not fall into the trap of comparing myself with others, and “my thing” is bluegrass and the likes.

Swedish trad music

fiddleYesterday we went to a music event near Göteborg. It’s where musicians and dancers come together. It’s an old school (I think) and there is one main building where people dance all night (or at least until about midnight) and a smaller house where people sit down and jam all night. It’s Swedish trad music we’re talking about.

I have such mixed emotions about Swedish trad music. It’s great music, that isn’t the problem. But I’ve never really felt “at home” among Swedish trad musicians. I guess that the majority of them have played music since they were kids, and attended classes and summer schools, and learned all the standard tunes at an early age. I started playing music when I was 21, and I started with country and bluegrass. After that I took up Irish music, and didn’t start with Swedish music until I was like 30. I haven’t had anyone to teach me the standard tunes, but have only learned the tunes that I particularly like. There are tons and tons of great Swedish tunes but many of them are particular in key and mode, and they’re not really tunes you can just “join in” on. And when good musicians sit down together with their fiddles, it’s not that they play the simpler tunes. It’s all about minor keys and obscure polskas. They are gorgeous tunes, but nothing I could learn just by joining in.

I don’t really know any people who are on intermediate levels of playing, so I don’t have anyone to give me inspiration to play Swedish music. Brilliant musicians inspire me to a certain point, but I need to have some kind of potential to play with other people to be really inspired to play. We have friends who are brilliant musicians and then of course don’t play other than the fancy tunes, if they play with other people at all…sometimes I get the impression that they’ll rather play for an audience. They are lovely people but not people I usually enjoy playing music with. Or, more correctly, it’s kind of boring when I’m able to join in on maybe 1% of the tunes they play. I must say though, that last night, one of our friends was actually one of those who took up some playable tunes, so that was a very nice surprise.

I haven’t played the melodeon for a long time, but when I did, I sort of felt the same thing as I do with the fiddlers. I sort of don’t fit in anywhere with Swedish trad musicians. And now when I’ve taken a long break from the fiddle (mainly because of my wrist injury), I don’t even know what instrument to play when going to a Swedish trad music event. Yesterday I brought the octave mandolin, which wasn’t bad, especially since I’ve managed to fix it up and make it playable again, but I don’t know how to use it to back Swedish music, and chords is what’s left for me since most tunes that were played last night weren’t particularly “session-friendly”.

It would be nice to take up the fiddle again, especially since I still want to learn the tunes my grandpa wrote. I played it last June at the Midsummer celebration and music-wise it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it would be, but I was in great pain, maybe not so much because of the carpal tunnel or other nerve problems, but because I haven’t played the fiddle for ages and my forearm muscles need to be trained for it again. And even if I manage to get back to playing the fiddle again, I will still be in the situation that I don’t know any people who are at a similar playing level as myself. I think that with Swedish music, the setting I feel more strongly about is the group up in Dalarna that we go to play with (at most) once a year, at Midsummer. Although the members are spread all over Sweden, they are based in the little village where my grandpa was from. My grandpa was a fiddler, and I have this strong feeling that I want to and need to fill his shoes. If it wasn’t for my grandpa, I would probably just quit playing Swedish music, but every time I think of my grandpa I think about how happy and proud he would be if he knew I play the fiddle. I also have this wish to keep his tunes alive. When I think about that, I get some inspiration to take up the fiddle again, actually.

The perfect duet

This duet gives me gooseskin. Their voices fit so perfectly together. I’m sorry, Patty, there is nothing bad with country music, but your voice was made for singing bluegrass and old-time.

The gentleman Ralph Stanley is getting old but as far as I know he’s still going strong and touring. He was born 1927… and still touring, that is rather impressive. He’s one great hero in bluegrass music for me. So many great songs, so much great music he’s produced with different people. He gives a much more sympathetic impression than Bill Monroe in my opinion (and I don’t like Monroe’s mandolin playing either, although I know it’s a blasphemy saying that… haha).

This is another great duet. Still Patty Loveless. I love her singing. And Ricky Skaggs was my first hero when I started to play the mandolin.

And here is the true mandolin hero. And he can do more than that.