The Greatest Instrument

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Nobody loves gear and instruments more than I, and I have often waxed poetically on the joys of fine guitars, banjos, fiddle, basses and the like. That love burns strong. The recent find of a Lloyd Loar mandolin in some old barn was fascinating – can you imagine?

But there’s another instrument, of vital importance to the history of bluegrass – the human voice. I have a renewed appreciation for this particular instrument because mine broke recently. I had a bit of a cold, and it arrived just in time for a 4 gig weekend, and the first two of which were on a Friday night, and with an ensemble in which I sing a lot.

My voice had been rheumy for a few days, but I have learned, that with a little determination, a lot of fluids, and some key changes, it is possible to power through the raspiness. Both gigs were well attended, which amps up the excitement and adrenaline levels, and the cold was forgotten – except for how much I was enjoying my new, deeper richer voice.

We finished the gigs that night with applause and the echoes of fine harmonies ringing in our ears. We accepted congratulations, and toasted ourselves merrily. The the after party broke up and I went happily home,

The next morning, I went to greet the dog and discovered…I had……no…. voice. You know the sound when a fiddler has a bow devoid of rosin and draws it across the strings? It’s not quite silence, but it’s close – there’s a hopeless straining sound, and that’s what came out of my mouth.

I am not a principal vocalist in most of the bands I play in, but I have always enjoyed singing and I have actually worked at the craft. I even took some vocal lessons – I won’t reveal the teacher’s name for fear of embarrassing him – I should be better! I have not been blessed with natural talent, or notable timbre, but I can carry a tune, and I really enjoy expressing myself in singing.

But I abused my instrument – just like someone who leaves their guitar out in the rain or locked in a hot trunk for days, and now I’m paying the price. All my friends who are real singers have been helping me with voice-treatment ideas and they are helping, so I hope to be back to my version of full strength within a week or so. When I played Wintergrass a few years ago I caught a terrible cold and I couldn’t sing for about 4 weeks – I do NOT want to wait that long.

So, I’m drinking a lot of tea and honey, talking a heck of lot less (not easy!) and I am raising my glass to all you singers out there. What you do is wonderful, and for those of you who do it day in and day out are even more remarkable. I am humbled by the work that goes into the care of this wonderful instrument, and I hope to emerge a more respectful singer.

Let this be a warning to you all – I’m gonna be back and I will sing like crazy – count on it!

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