I sure am having a good time here at the Monroe Mandolin Camp. Thanks Mike and Heidi, for working so hard to ensure everyone has a good time. The setting is beautiful. The accommodations are delightful. The food is better. The musical camaraderie is best.
There is a full moon hovering over Nashville tonight. I went outside to sit in the quiet for a while and let it shine down on me in the beautiful gardens here, long after everyone else in this place was sleeping soundly, since I am up very early. I like the solitude, which is only interrupted by a passing low-level helicopter every ten minutes or so, as it approaches the rooftop landing pad at Vanderbilt Medical Center. I say a prayer every time I hear one of those helicopters. If you are injured badly enough that you are being delivered by helicopter to Vanderbilt’s Level 1 Trauma Center, you are badly injured indeed. While there is peace, joy and music here at this place, there is trouble, worry, and pain just a couple of blocks away. This gives one pause to think and to be thankful for what they have.
During this time here, what I have and am thankful for are duties to attend to as well as having a good time. I am thankful to be part of the staff, listed on the roster with such extremely talented people. http://monroemandolincamp.com/instructors-2/ . When you follow that link, scroll on down and find me. I think being a Jam Boss is a pretty cool job. When I get promoted one day, I will perhaps become the Rhythm Hoss like my friend, mentor, and neighbor (both here at the camp and at home), Raymond E. Huffmaster.
There are so many talented mandolinists here, both veterans and beginners, though all students in one way or another. If we are lucky, we remain students throughout the whole span of our lives, growing and expanding in ways besides just in waistline. I have noticed that a couple of the veterans have expanded musically, as well as in girth. I think my girth got more attention than my music in the past year, but the same cannot be said of the young folks I met last year who have returned. I have seen last year’s beginners mature into students who are on the verge of really learning. Once timid, they have grown in confidence and display timing, tone, timbre, attack, and creativity. It is a joy to watch what they have become and are becoming.
Yesterday, we had a great visit and presentation from the very affable Walter Carter of Carter Vintage Guitars here in Nashville. Walter is one of the world’s foremost experts on vintage stringed instruments, having authored several books, and is a constant source of enlightenment to those of us who are interested in such things. Yesterday, he gave us a lot of history about Gibson mandolins and their development from earlier Italian mandolins. I was captivated.
I have a great Walter Carter story, one that demonstrates his class and affability. I must tell it, but I must conceal the identity of one of the players in the story, not because he behaved badly, but just because I think it prudent to do so.
At one time, Walter was a member of The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble with my friend, the late Butch Baldassari (one of the ensemble’s founders and the musical director), and my long-time close friend, John Hedgecoth. They ensemble was going to appear at The University of West Alabama, and having my connections from hosting our long-running radio show, The Sucarnochee Revue, there, I knew I would be able to slip a few friends backstage who wanted to go.
So, off we went, four friends and me, all loaded up in my van.
The show was part of the University’s seasonal presentation of performances by various artists. Unfortunately, all the students who had made Music Appreciation one their required electives were required to attend the show. Later on, after having talked to Dr. Holland, the then president of UWA, about their rude behavior, I learned that the students were not required to be there for the whole show, they merely had to show up, sign in, and sign back out during the intermission. The first half of the show was unbearable to those of us who wanted to hear the music, and to the performers playing it for us. From the stage, the late Butch Baldassari chided the students a bit, which seemed to make them even more listless, as the entire audience section in which they were seated glowed in blue light with the screens of their not-quite-yet-smart-phones as they endlessly sent and received text-messages, talked out loud, and generally disturbed everyone.
Butch started the intermission about 20 minutes after the show started, having known in advance I later learned, that the students would all leave just as soon as the intermission started. In one fell swoop, about 300 folks got up and left the theatre at the announcement of the brief intermission.
“I am glad to have those of you left who are here to hear the music,” said Butch upon the ensemble’s return to the stage. “You are the ones we are here to play FOR.” And play, they did. The theatre swelled with the sounds of mandolins, mandolas, and mando-cellos. We were all thoroughly entertained. I knew what to expect, having been to many performances and rehearsals in the past, but none of my friends had any clue about the power of an orchestra of mandolin-family instruments live on the stage before them. Good for us!! Too bad for the students, though they got their class-credit for having attended. They got what they wanted. Had they given it the slightest effort, they may have gotten MORE than what they wanted, which is often the case when we slow down long enough to receive whatever it is that artists and performers are sharing.
After the show, we were invited to go back for a visit at the hotel at which the ensemble was staying. There had been food and beverages set up for them for an after-show party. We were glad to be invited as I got to spend some more time with my ensemble friends whom I only got to see infrequently.
During our visit, Junior, one of the friends I had brought with me, and Walter Carter were engaged in a conversation about some sort of electric guitar, maybe a Gibson, but my perhaps faulty memory says it was about a Telecaster, a Fender guitar. Both Walter and Junior were enjoying their conversation until a slight disagreement erupted (it was Junior doing the erupting) over some particular feature about the particular model and year of the particular guitar they were talking about.
“I don’t think that model had that feature in 1968,” said Walter, very politely in a softly modulated voice.
Animated, now, having been challenged, Junior said, perhaps with a bit more enthusiasm than I thought prudent, “They most certainly did. In Walter Carter’s book, he says…..”
Walter just stood there. He never frowned. He never smiled. He had one of the best poker faces I had ever seen. He simply said nothing as Junior went with on his best effort to educate the Walter Carter standing in front of him about the things he had learned from Walter Carter, the expert and author of the book Junior was citing, again, that same Walter Carter that was standing in front of him, patiently and politely listening. Junior could not have known this, but he would soon learn.
It could have gotten ugly. Were it me, I might have reacted to Junior’s educational attempts with less grace than Walter. Even with that, I decided it was time to interrupt Junior to keep hm from continuing with his fatal mistake.
“Pardon me,” I said, stepping right in between them. “Y’all are having quite the conversation about electric guitars, something I know nothing about, but I wondered if you two had been properly introduced?”
I turned to Walter. “Walter, this is Junior, one of my life-long friends and quite the guitarist.”
“Junior, this is Walter Carter.”
“The tar-baby, he lay low,” said the narrator in the Joel Chandler Harris book. Junior was as quiet as the tar-baby, but much less savvy, at least for a moment or two, though it seemed like an hour that time stopped.
“The Walter Carter?” asked Junior, his jaw dropping slightly at first, though it would drop more a moment later.
“The very same,” I said. Walter just smiled and stuck out his hand, which Junior shook with great enthusiasm, now effervescing with apologies and metaphorically producing a mental sponge with which to soak up all that he could from Walter in the next hour or so that we had to visit. Walter was obliging.
Sometimes, we think we know. We honestly and genuinely think we know. We so honestly and genuinely think we know that we argue with someone who really knows, not knowing who it is that we argue with. Do we teach, or do we learn? Can we receive instruction when we learn that we are facing someone that knows far more about something than we do? Can we subdue ourselves and rise above ourselves?
Well, I don’t know about everyone, but I do know about Junior. From that point on the rest of the evening, Junior just had questions, nearly all of which Walter had answers for, even though a couple of times Walter’s answer was, “I don’t know,” or, “There is no evidence of that.”
I wonder what Walter would have done had I not introduced them? I can only speculate, but my speculation leads me to reckon that Walter would have said nothing about his identity, quietly removed himself from the conversation, and let Junior go on thinking whatever it was that he thought about Fender’s remarkable Telecaster, the one built in 1968, the one that didn’t sport whatever particular feature that Junior was so certain it had.
I can’t be certain, so I will add that to the long list of things I am unsure about. One of the things not on that list, however, is the authentic class, genuine knowledge, and personal affability of Walter Carter.
Thanks, Walter, for yesterday’s lesson about Mandolins in America. I hung on every word. I am sure Junior would have also sat and listened with rapt attention had he been here, too.
By the way, before I leave you readers, let me assure you, if you did not already know: I’ve put my foot in my mouth many times myself, being guilty of “Talking out of his hat,” as my grandfather would say anytime, though elaborating on that with the far more descriptive and colorful, “Talking out of his ass,” when he was sure my grandmother was not within earshot.
You? What about you? Come on; ‘fess up!
©2016 Mississippi Chris Sharp