For reasons that still are not quite clear or understandable to either of us, we never played music together until recently. We’ve both been musicians, in some sense, for quite a large portion of our lives.
Heidi’s experience with music was a bit more formal, centering around school and church. She played several instruments from elementary school through college, focusing mostly on piano and flute but including some brief stints with baritone saxophone, percussion, guitar, and violin. She also was involved in various vocal groups, joining chorale in high school, performing with a travelling gospel choir in college, and singing solos in church.
I started to play guitar in middle school. I took weekly lessons with a great instructor, Eddie, at Caruso Music in New London, CT. The business has since converted to piano sales in recent years, but they had quite a nice selection of guitars. My first guitar, which I still own and will never part with, was a black and white Peavey electric. Eddie was one of those great teachers who let you come in with what you wanted to know and incorporate it with what you needed to know. He loved my musical interests, my ambition, and it made for quite the enjoyable experience to see his enthusiasm with my selections.
I went to Norwich Free Academy for high school and had a band with some classmates called Strife. We didn’t play more than the occasional coffee house, but it was fun and I’d do it all over again. I wasn’t the best band mate, then again all of us have our issues, but, in retrospect, the whole thing made it clear to me that being in a band or any relationship is a lot of work and requires superior communication skills and regularly practiced patience. I don’t believe I possessed either of those skills at the time. I’m still working on those, but I’m much better than I was, and at least aware of their existence now.
I’ve held on to all my guitars, amps, and equipment, but playing certainly fell to the wayside after high school and through college. That began to change when I purchased a Takamine acoustic guitar during a cross-country road trip in 2009 and began to move away from the electric guitar.
Then Heidi and I received the spark we needed to get together, in a musical sense. Heidi’s brother was getting married. He and our future sister-in-law wanted us to play at their wedding. They selected “Annie’s Song,” by John Denver. Now, I love folk music. But I hate John Denver. It was the perfect trial for learning — practicing a song you don’t want to play for someone’s most important day. It was probably this combination of the importance of getting it right with my lack of interest in the song that forced me to really work at it. Even if it’s a song you don’t want to play, it’s hard to admit you’ve been defeated in trying to play it.
Heidi and I worked it out and began to practice. I created a new arrangement for the bridge to add some spice for the instrumental section. Aside from one minor hiccup (my fault) during the performance at the wedding (no one claimed to notice, but I know) and Heidi getting choked up (she is a big sister) we felt like it was a great success. Lots of compliments ensued and we felt great about being able to serenade a wonderful couple on their special day. I think it was the magnitude of the event that helped us realize the importance of consistently rehearsing and needing to get everything as right as possible. Many people play without extensively rehearsing and it always shows. We didn’t want to be those people. It was also the warm encouragement we received that day that helped us imagine playing together on a regular basis as a possibility.
A few months after playing at the wedding, we started searching for open mic nights to be able to play for strangers and gauge our skills on the stage and in the context of other musicians. The place we consistently play, The Stomping Ground, has proven to be a comfortable and encouraging atmosphere. It’s also been great sharing songs with friends and family at various gatherings and campfires.
Because our experience has been limited to open mic nights and these friendly, “safe” settings, one of our concerns has been how to assess whether or not we truly have the potential to make it as an act that people (specifically, people who don’t already love us) would pay money for us to perform. However, the feedback that we’ve gotten has been incredibly encouraging. People at The Stomping Ground ask us regularly when we’ll be around to play again. A friend of ours who sings and plays guitar in a great local band, Static Cherry, recently asked us to play a half-hour intermission set at an acoustic show, which was a wonderful experience. Family members ask us to bring the guitar to bonfires. Friends and co-workers have asked us to specifically let them know when we’ll be playing so they can come hear us. These acts of support go beyond a polite smile and “nice job;” they really have given us the extra boost of confidence we needed to move ahead with our goals.
We’ve been rehearsing consistently and have a working list of about 100 songs. At the moment, our current Song List consists of 30 songs that we feel confident in playing. We’re hoping that once we hit 50 or 60 songs that we’ll start taking our music out into the larger world. Recording songs and securing a P.A. system are two of our short term goals that we hope to complete before the end of the year. We have made some rudimentary recordings with our phones that you can check out on SoundCloud.
We believe incorporating this activity into our lives has enriched and deepened our appreciation for one another. As I mentioned, you learn to communicate in new ways and practice patience. It’s the non-verbal exchanges that you create which are the most satisfying. Neither of us is perfect and we appreciate this most when we make mistakes and when we’re able to catch one another and smooth it out in the midst of playing. It’s those times that make you understand how important it is to do things with someone else, or several other people, that requires equal participation and diligence.