ALMOST A ONE-WOMAN BAND – Marilyn Armstrong

I bought another tin whistle. I bought one in the key of C yesterday and bought one in the key of D today, probably because all the “learner’s” books are written for key of D whistles. I also bought a very small electric piano designed for a child because I can’t tune anything electronically.

I need to hear the sound.

Electronic tuners are silent. They find the right pitch, but they don’t make the entire instrument come together as a whole. That requires an ear. Preferably two. The chords have to sound right.

I often forget how many years I spent studying music because it was a long time ago and my hands can’t do what they used to do which was play the piano. Yes I still want music. Not just to listen to it but to make music. I can’t help it.

I thought I might “conquer” the ukulele, but there’s really nothing to conquer and honestly, if you don’t sing, there’s not a lot of fun in a uke. It’s all strumming. It wants people sitting around and singing — in or out of key — about wild mountains in Scotland or Ireland. Or West Virginia.

I’ve never seriously played a woodwind of any kind, except for a couple of years of flute in college. I wasn’t very good at it, but I wasn’t trying very hard either. I didn’t know how to play without a keyboard or maybe I didn’t want to play without a keyboard. Maybe both. It’s why I now spend so much time staring lovingly at Xylophones and Marimbas. Searching for the lost Vibraphone that should have been there. The only instruments I could afford I didn’t want. I wanted the $4000 Marimba. What a magnificent instrument that was.

If you can play a piano, you can ultimately also play a glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, or vibraphone. The keyboard is the same. You have to do a little adapting, but you don’t have to strain your arthritic hands the same way.

The little tiny ones had YouTube footage and the treble clanging gave me an instant migraine. I do not think there is a real, wooden (the one I loved was made of rosewood) xylophone in my future and certainly not a marimba. Aside from being around the price of a small grand piano, where would I put it? Nonetheless, I can yearn.

This is all because I studied music as a child and as a young adult and even as Owen was growing up. He can still hum most of Chopin’s Mazurkas and a lot of Scott Joplin which was what I was playing when he was a little one. I thought he was sleeping, but it turned out, he was also listening.

Right now, he is having an instrument made for me by a friend of his who makes instruments. He is making me a cigar-box three-string non-electric guitar. I have no idea how one plays a three-string cigar-box guitar, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

There are books to study cigar-box guitars

I had to buy the cigar box and since I knew it was going to become the body of a guitar, I carefully picked one that was made of spruce — one of the woods that has a good ring to it. Just so you know, real cigar boxes are all made of cardboard these days.

So I bought a cigar-sized box and when it arrived, I pinged it and it sounded good. Soon, it will be an instrument. With frets and strings and tuning machines (not pegs — never got good at tuning with pegs). I have no idea what mine will look like. It’s a secret, but I’m ready.

If nothing else, isolation is making me creative in some very strange ways.

By the time I get my guitar, I may already be an expert playing a tin whistle. I could be the whole band if only I had a few more hands.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all plus a big helping of cynicism.

13 thoughts on “ALMOST A ONE-WOMAN BAND – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. This put a huge smile on my face and a few bursts of delight too! Yesterday we were ‘allowed’ to a first mini concert of 35’ in a multi purpose mini hall, complete with bar service, delightful lighting, old tables and high chairs (a problem for this really short woman), playing were a pianist girl friend, 2 cello players and a classical guitarist….. It was wonder-full!!!! And today I’ll be going back to exercise my cello for a Sunday play with 3 violins and an orgue. Just a few pieces but oh, the delight to break out of that ‘silent’ period…. Go on, M – do all the whistle blowing you can, and learn to play your future instrument. (Another thing I only heard about today for the first time, a cigar box guitar…. )

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    1. I never heard of a cigar-box guitar either until my son informed me I was going to have one and all I needed was the box. When I looked them up, I discovered that are an old instrument invented by poor people who couldn’t afford “real” instruments. There’s also a one-string fiddle which plays remarkably well … how do they DO that on one string? and a variety of other stringed, home-made instruments. I knew about some of them, but many of them were new to me. People make them for fun, too. They aren’t hard to make, if you are a handy person. And you can tune them anyway you want.

      It IS great to break out of the silence!

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      1. I knew about those ‘home-made’ instruments; we even attended several South American Baroque Music based summer schools in England with people coming over with the most astonishing and amazing instruments. But no cigar box guitars!!! 🙂

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        1. I think that’s an American mountain instrument. Guitars for those who could go shopping and buy one. But they don’t sound like “real” guitars. Basically, depending on the length of the instrument and the kind of string, it can sound however you want it to sound. These days, most of them are electric. Mine won’t be. I don’t do electric.

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  2. Ha. My first instrument was a flute. I was never very good at it either. When my sister graduated, I inherited the family sax and played it for four years in high school. I was not especially good at it either. I had 8 years of piano in grade school and jr. high and one in college and you guessed it… I wasn’t very good. I got the most pleasure out of my guitar played in college back in hippy dippy days. I still have that guitar but only play a couple of songs on it. As a matter of fact I have two guitars. One is Forgottenman’s which he may or may not every play again. He has another in Missouri.

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    1. I played the piano ALMOST well enough to make a career out of it. Almost is a huge word in music. To be almost good enough is to be really NOT good enough. Not nearly good enough.

      I had several guitars. I wasn’t great on it, either, but I could play and if everyone sang loud, I sounded better than I was.

      I figure how bad can I be on the tin whistle?

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      1. Ha. Do you play the piano at all anymore? Such a shame if you can’t. Damn arthritis. It runs in my family as well. I had horrible bouts of it when I lived in CA–could barely walk–but it went away when I went off caffeine and aspartame and moved to Mexico. Don’t know which of those things had the greatest effect or perhaps it was all three. Although we do have a two or three month rainy season here it’s not as bad as the four months of continual rain we had in the redwoods of CA.

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        1. I really tried. I can, but after a few minutes, the arthritis in my hands becomes pretty unbearable. I have to play for ten minutes, then ice both hands for another 20. The irony is that hand arthritis is what finishes most professional piano careers. It took a long time to catch up with me, but it did. The surgery option got interrupted by the heart surgery and when I went back, they were no longer doing it. It turns out that the surgery doesn’t work a lot of the time and then you have two non-working hands. So maybe it’s just as well. But I miss the piano a LOT. I didn’t play the range of stuff I played when I was younger, but I could play it. It is hard to wrap my head around other instruments.

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