Finding My Voice: First Banjo Song!

By July 25, 2011Uncategorized

I’ve written my first song for the banjo!  I hesitate in saying I’m in the process of ‘perfecting’ it because in my experience, the quest for perfection often belies creativity.  Instead, I’ll say it’s evolving. “Eliza” will make its debut at an open mic sometime in August, and I have plans to record it as well as to feature it on Youtube, so stay tuned…

Photo taken by Tian Jiang

My passion for music started early.  I attribute much of my initial musical appreciation and education to my dad, who has a massive collection of records and CDs.  Every family meal had music playing in the background, often jazz.  I played piano and absolutely loved it as a child, but something always held me back from creating music, even though it is deeply ingrained in my soul.

I guess most people have their version of feeling inadequate when it comes to art.  Art is such a personal expression that many people fear that rejection of their work equates rejection of oneself.  It reminds me of Marty McFly from Back to the Future: “What if they say I’m no good? What if they say ‘Get out of here, kid. You got no future.’? I mean, I just don’t think I can take that kind of rejection.”

My friend recently recommended a banjo artist for me, Abigail Washburn.  “Saw this and thought of you,” she posted on my Facebook wall.  I have to admit I was disappointed to see that Abigail is 3 years my senior, also has curly hair, and has spent significant time in China, and speaks Chinese.  “What?!  This is ridiculous!”  I thought I was the only curly-haired, Chinese-speaking white woman banjo player.  At least I’m a lefty.  I went into panic mode.  “Where’s my angle now?  How am I going to avoid being compared to her as I go through this process of creating, performing, and hopefully recording an album one day?”  I bought her most recent CD and fell in love with it.  In fact, I’ve been listening to it non-stop since it arrived in the mail.  I’m even listening to it now, as I write this.  She’s incredibly talented.

During my banjo lesson last week, Jenny Kerr taught me how to sing and to breathe from the gut.  I feel a huge difference in my voice.  She also commented on my singing range.  I was trying to mirror the low D in my song with my voice, but the low D is out of my range.  She showed me how to write notes that complement my unique sound.  Everyone has their own style and special way of expressing his/herself.  The underlying belief behind the fear of creating art is “I’m not good enough.”  I’ve realized that’s hogwash.  Everyone has a right to create and to share.  I write because it’s like breathing, and I’m beginning to write songs because my heart can’t say no.  Maybe I’ll fall flat on my face.  Maybe I’ll have my version of Marty McFly, and people will tell me, “I’m no good.”  That’s okay.   I’ll never know if I never try.

And as for Abigail Washburn, she’s a mentor and an inspiration.  Her love of Chinese culture and language does not take away from my passion for China and Chinese.  We each have our own perspectives and both add our original banjoprint in the bluegrass world.  Besides, I also speak Spanish.

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