MY LIFE - The secret to being 'the life of the party'

MY LIFE - The secret to being 'the life of the party'

Rhea is on vacation this week. The following column originally ran in June, 2005.

When I was a kid I used to read those ads in magazines that showed a group of laughing, animated people clustered around one person who was playing a musical instrument. "You, too, can be the life of the party," it promised. Learn a few quick and easy chords and the world would be your oyster. It sounded good to me.

For a while I had a ukulele, back in the old Arthur Godfrey days when a ukulele seemed like a good idea. But I was only a little kid and the ukulele was only plastic, and although it came with a booklet full of quick and easy chords, nowhere did it say anything about tuning it. So although I gave it my level best, the venture was doomed to failure.

Then there was the time that I took piano lessons. Two years worth of lessons to be exact. I learned to hold my hands cupped over the keys "so the little choo-choo train could pass underneath" (again, I was very young at the time) and so the big scary nun who was teaching me wouldn't whack me across the knuckles with her pen.

I learned the rudiments of reading music but I never did learn to play anything beyond the Book One level. That I was not a piano virtuoso was self-evident, and not having a piano at home on which to practice didn't help much, either. And so it came to pass that my efforts once again met with failure.

It was many years later, during the great folk music revival of the late sixties when hootenannies filled the airways and soulful singers strummed guitars and sang wonderfully haunting melodies that I figured it was time to give it another shot, this time with a guitar.

My husband had played the guitar for years, so I had an honest-to-Pete, non-plastic instrument propped up in the closet just waiting to be brought to life at my touch. The fact that it was fully tuned was a bonus. The only drawback was its size.

I seem to recall Leo calling it an "arch-top." To my untrained eye it looked about the size of your average cello. Unfortunately, I am about the size of your average twelve-year old. Not a good match, but I was determined to master it, and I practiced long and hard.

I learned to hold it in such a way that I could tuck myself into the big dip in the guitar's side and sort of curve myself around it to reach the strings. I learned notes from a book and I was soon picking out simple folk tunes, the pain in my fingers slowly being dulled by the calluses that mercifully formed.

Then I got pregnant. Slowly and inexorably the guitar and I grew further apart until the day finally came when I could no longer reach the strings. I never picked it up again.

That was 20 years ago, but I've never really given up on my desire to make music. I've kept the hope alive by promising myself that as soon as I have two nickels to rub together I'll buy a piano. I know just where it will sit in the living room, and I've even bought a few pieces of sheet music for tunes that I love so that some day, when I've learned to play, I will have them. Realistically speaking, however, the dream is still at least a couple of years away.

Every so often I am hit with brilliant flashes of inspiration (causing my family to shudder lest my latest "wonderful idea" include them). The most recent flash came about two weeks ago.

"I have a guitar in the basement," I thought, slapping myself in the forehead. Sacre bleu! I could be taking guitar lessons - now.

True, it's only an inexpensive student guitar, I thought, but then I am, after all, only an inexpensive student. We'd be a perfect match.

I hurried downstairs and found it right where I knew I had last seen it. The case was a little moldy and the strings were at least 15 years old, but surely it would do the trick until I became proficient enough to be worthy of a better model.

My cousin Scott, a serious musician studying at the Berkley School of Music in Boston has agreed to teach me. The old guitar has been restrung. I have a handful of picks, a book of simple tunes, and a chart telling me the names of the strings and where the individual notes can be found among the strings and frets. I even have an electric tuner that I've found I need since I haven't yet developed an ear for pitch.

No, I haven't become the life of the party yet, but it's still early days. Just give me a chance to form some serious calluses and to expand my repertoire beyond the two one-finger chords that are all can manage right now, and I'll soon be in guitar heaven, just a pickin' and a strummin' as I go.

Note: This column was written 14 years ago, and I still am unable to play an instrument.

- Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.