It's Been Awhile... : Teaching Music Through the Back Door
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It's Been Awhile...

by Brett Ridgeway on 08/07/17

I started this blog some time ago with the goal of submitting regular updates, but I also did not want to post for the sake of posting with endless blatherings or quick blurbs with nothing really substantive to say.

But I have been thinking, which can be dangerous. :)  So hopefully, I will be adding some additional content in the near future. But let me tell you what spurred this current post on...

A few weeks ago, a guy named Ryan Navey friended me on Facebook. Ryan is the owner and sole proprietor of the Carolina Banjo Company. I took a look at his Facebook page and was enthralled with some of the pics I saw. Yes...I said, enthralled. Enthralled to the point I wanted to see know more and I went to his website. I scrolled through each banjo, listened to every sound clip, and returned to his page again and again.

Now you may not be into banjos. But if you are into fine craftsmanship, if you are into the simplistic beauty of any instrument, if you appreciate true artistry...the transformation of a rough-hewn piece of wood into a functional, beautifully sounding work of will appreciate what Ryan does. But even at this point, what I was seeing had not yet registered in my mind.

I sent him a message and asked if I could call and talk about his banjos. I was literally drawn in to the point that if what I thought about the banjos was true, I would end up purchasing one of these instruments, but before I could make the investment, I wanted to find out firsthand if my hunch was right. I wanted to see, feel, touch, and play one of these instruments to see if it was what I thought it might be. So I planned a road trip.

I drove from western Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, to southern North Carolina, just east of Charlotte--nearly eight hours--to find out. Understand, NO instrument has ever pulled me in to the point where I would drive that distance...until this time. And I truly couldn't believe I was going to do this! I arrived Friday afternoon, got a motel room for the night, and Saturday morning I drove to the Carolina Banjo Company and the home of Ryan Navey. I spent over six hours visiting, playing every banjo he had, and touring his workshop as he talked me through his different building processes--and my musical perspective changed, and developed, and appreciated. His instruments surpassed my thoughts and expectations. I was easily lost in the tones--whether I was playing or Ryan was demonstrating. He had a wide selection of options and my head swam trying to decipher what I wanted...I wanted them all! I was stunned to be standing in his woodshed viewing the hundreds of boards of rough-hewn walnut, cherry, and other traditional hardwoods, and then see the beautiful works of musical art he transforms them into! It still boggles my mind! I was fascinated to play the instruments side-by-side and hear the subtle differential tones between the longer resonating walnut and shorter sustain of cherry. I listened intently as he explained how all wood banjos are more acoustic than banjos laden with metal brackets and tension hoops. And to be clear, Ryan has made both metal bracket and all wood; his statement was not one of "better" or "worse"--he was simply explaining the difference. 

I also fell in love with the hand-carved work on many of his banjos. To be honest, I was never a fan of fancy carving on other instruments I have seen...until I saw Ryan's. Even his resin's are his own store-bought shellacs! And it shows. It reminded me of furniture built in the 1700's and 1800's--of traditional heirlooms handed down through generations.

So how did this get me thinking? As I was playing a cherry banjo with a rosewood tone ring (the same as I am having made) I got lost in the sound and even unknowingly wrote a new tune by noodling about (which I have named, "Carolina Wanderlust"). I began playing, feeling the tune differently...inspired by the tones pulled from the cherry-wood banjo with the rosewood tone ring, the minstrel strings, and the calfskin head wondrously fashioned into a beautiful instrument hand-carved by a true craftsman. On the way home, I had a lot of time to think. My mind began to flood with ideas and new perspectives...but that's another story, for another blog.

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