When I left Canada I left my camera cord (so no pictures today), but I brought back my banjo. It's been five long years since I've had it with me, and I'm out of practice but it's coming back and it's so good to be able to play again. Old time clawhammer banjo (which is the style that I learned to play in) has always sat in my imagination right beside train hopping, black nights around bright camp fires, and cold quiet mornings... it feels like freedom. It's not much of a stretch; the banjo sounds like an old train clacking along with it's strong, rhythmic cords, the high drone string, and through that lovely tumult, the melody ringing out. Then you have old time songs all full of rambling and resistance, blues and repentance, murder ballads and tales of hereos to set your mind wandering.
Coming home on the streetcar after my first banjo lesson long enough ago, a man sat down next to me and said 'is that a banjo in there?' pointing to my case. He happened to play himself, and was happy to see a young woman starting out on the instrument. He pulled the cable for his stop and told me to find records by Ola Belle Reed and I'd be fine, and then he was gone. You can listen to her here. Things like that seemed to happen relatively often on that streetcar line, but it was a great tip and nice of him to give it. Clarence Ashley and Roscoe Holcomb are also good listens, if you're interested.
All the while that my banjo waited in its case far away, I had with me my smaller and more portable concertina. While I love the rushing freedom a banjo can make me feel, jigs and reels on the concertina bring me away to some place entirely different.
I didn't really mean to start playing concertina, but while I was at university and studying things like Irish (Gaeilge) I sort of fell in with people that played Irish music in pubs. Soon enough I was in there with my concertina too... though, moving around all the time since then has taken its toll. I've had a bit of a rough time keeping up my playing while I'm so far away. It of course depends on what sort of music you play, but for me at least, music is a very communal experience and I falter a bit when I don't play regularly with others.
My goal is to get out there and start playing with other people again. It just so happens that I know a pub here in Paris where people crowd themselves into a tiny stone cellar and play music until after the metro stops running. It's been a while and it's not the same as back home, but I need to get out there again. So I'm off to practice, and I'll leave off with a link to some nice concertina playing.