One musical instrument sits quietly as a reminder

“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”

— Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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Let’s make one point perfectly clear. I have zero natural talent for music. I am not musically inclined. And to that end, I own one musical instrument that sits quietly as my daily reminder.

I grew up watching my mother enjoy listening to records she bought when she was in high school and college. Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, Patti Page. Also, fond memories are those of her playing the piano and singing.

I began buying records when I was in grade school. Elvis Presley, Fats Domino. Chuck Berry. That lifelong inherited love for music instilled in me a desire to play something like Mom did, play anything—fulfill that yearning to make music while enjoying it.

My first venture in that direction was signing up for band at Mount Pleasant High School in the 1960s. Looking back, that was probably because I wasn’t an athlete, so I followed my friends who enrolled in band classes. Through those years at MPHS and Kilgore College, I played a bass horn. Not an instrument one would have in their home for fun and parties unless they played traditional German tunes like the Zimmerman Polka with the Boerne Village Band. But it did teach me the fundamentals of music. Unfortunately, it also taught me that I am not musically inclined.

Despite that, I never gave up. A love for bluegrass music led me to The Old Time String Shop in Nacogdoches some years ago, where I met Steve Hartz. I told him I wanted to play the banjo, he sold me one and signed me up for lessons. Weeks of studying bluegrass styles of playing a five-string went by but getting the hang of it was an uphill battle. Further evidence that I am not musically inclined.

With some diligence and lots of patience on Steve’s part, I managed to stumble through a very slow reasonable facsimile of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” However, any dreams of a career picking in a bluegrass band faded when the musical instrument was relegated to a life of living in its case.

What I do recall about that experience is the exact date of one lesson. While driving from Nacogdoches back to Center one night after a lesson, I listened as the radio newscast reported the death of John Lennon. December 8, 1980, in New York City.

Fast forward to about 2012 when Center native, good friend, singer, and songwriter Thomas Morrison confronted me with a “put up or shut up” deal. He and I worked together, and after repeatedly telling him, “You know, I always wanted to learn how to play guitar,” he called my bluff one morning. Laying one of his guitars on my desk, he said, “Here’s your opportunity if you’re serious about learning to play. I’ll make you a deal on this guitar and teach you how to play it.”

It was a do-or-die day in my “I’m not musically inclined” endeavor.

Maybe it’s true that it’s never too late in life for some things, especially things we love. Between Thomas, my musician friend Dickie Gilchrist, and a copy of “Guitar for Dummies,” I must honestly still say, “I am not musically inclined.” But I have learned enough to render as recognizable a few songs. At least to me. I really think I turned the corner when the dogs quit leaving the room whenever I started playing and singing.

It’s a joke, sort of, that a guitar player can never own just one. Maybe that’s the reason I have four of them out where I can pick one up and play anytime that desire strikes.

But taking its prominence with the guitars is the banjo I bought from Steve at The Old Time String Shop the same year that John Lennon died.

I know it’s an aberration of Mozart’s quote, but maybe someday there will be more than silence between the notes for the old banjo that reminds me I am not musically inclined.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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