For over 20 years, S has lived in Montpelier, Vermont, a very pretty little city in the Green Mountains. It has the qualities I like in a small city. People are friendly. They make eye contact and smile. They take time to say please and thank you. This is a welcome change from the high population density are where I live. Montpelier has book and music stores, yuppie stores, a Unitarian church, live music performances, even a violin store. There are a lot of song circles and jam sessions occurring regularly, and it seemed strange that I had to leave the Washington DC area and travel to Vermont to find them. It is “artsy fartsy,” as one of S’s friends said. The architecture is very New England, with lots of big old houses with gables and porches. You can get to most places you want to go by walking. The weather was fine. It changed from winter to spring overnight when I arrived. Daytime temperatures were in the 70s, and the sky was sunny, blue, and clear.
Friday night we heard a concert by Tim O’Brien, a folk fiddler, and Chris ??, a guitarist. Both were good, energetic players, and Chris had a great sense of humor. We didn’t pay for our tickets to the show because S donated some food she had cooked to the performers.
Saturday afternoon there was a small jam session of Irish music in a Mexican restaurant. I missed most of it because I got lost in a violin store. I tried playing a few of the fiddles there, including one that was made from wood from an old German pipe organ. That wood had been resonating for centuries. I played another, which I liked better, for a long time. The owner of the store lent me the fiddle for the weekend, hoping to entice me to buy it. (I didn’t.) I got to the Mexican restaurant shortly before the owner threw us out to accommodate paying customers. I had time to play a few tunes with a fellow there who played fiddle, guitar, and wooden flute, and he played them all very well. I especially liked the sound of the flute with the fiddle I was playing. He told me how happy he was with his violin, which he bought recently for $4000. At my request, he let me play it, although he watched me carefully and somewhat suspiciously while I did. It sounded very good. Saturday night, we played music together again, along with several other musicians, at a jam at S’s house.
Saturday night, S invited some friends over to eat some of her delicious food and then to jam. In addition to S and me, there was another fiddler, a recorder player, the fellow I had jammed with that afternoon, and another fellow who played guitar, mandolin, and fiddle and sounded great on all three. Most of these people have been getting together to jam once a week for about five years. S and the two multi-instrument players there were very, very good. The other fiddler had only been playing for about three years and didn’t have a lot of self confidence. She stayed in the back of the room and played softly until the others encouraged her to be a more active member of the group. The recorder player was even newer to jamming. This was only his second time and he seemed rather scared. Practically every time he played, I told him that I really liked his playing and that I felt that recorder sounds especially good with fiddles. He seemed surprised and very pleased. Some of us tried playing each other’s fiddles. We all agreed that the one I had on loan from the violin store was not as good as the others. I especially liked S’s fiddle because it was so sensitive. One of the others was also appealing because it had a good, strong, clear tone. I only knew a few of the tunes they played, so I faked (played harmony) on the others. It was great fun. S told me later that the jam sessions are so successful and long running partly because everyone is made to feel welcome. I told S that I wished I had the opportunity to jam with them weekly for a few years. I would learn a lot of tunes and, more important, I would be a much better musician for the experience.
To be continued
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