“FOD” for Thought

Recently, a young man made a post on the “Guitar Players Discussion” page of the Guitar Noise Forums. He titled it “A very big thank you from an old friend,” and wrote the following:

Hello all,

None of you remember me, surely, but I remember this board. I used to post here regularly about 4 years ago. I was about 14 then, although I don’t remember my old posting name.

I am writing this because I am now 18 and currently pursuing a degree in classical guitar and music composition at a major U.S. conservatory, and recognize that this would not have been possible without the contributions from many different people who helped me along the way. Family, friends, teachers, and… this forum.

This site contained the only guitar instructional material outside of a private lesson that I ever thought was helpful. Also, the people on the forums were very nice to me and also very encouraging. You have all had a role in my development as a player, and I therefore wish to thank every one of you for your help and guidance.

Although guitar will always be a big part of my life, you inspired me to make it my professional pursuit as well. Thank you and good luck!

With sincerest gratitude,

Now, Paul and I get emails, seemingly on a daily basis, thanking us for the Guitar Noise website or for a particular lesson or all the lessons in general. Not surprisingly, these emails are one of the “perks” of being a part of Guitar Noise. But this particular one, and the fact that it was addressed to the entire Guitar Noise community, got me to thinking about how people can connect to one another, especially in this day and age of almost-instant communication.

Tonight, I’m going to be playing in a show call “FODfest.” “FOD” is an acronym for “Friends of Danny.” “Danny” is Daniel Pearl the Wall Street Journal reported who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002. The show is a unique combination of concert, songwriters’ song-circle and jam session and there will probably be somewhere between twenty to twenty-five musicians participating. This evening’s performance will be the first of seventeen that will be happening all over the country. If you’d like to see the FODFest 2008 schedule, look right here.

I never met Daniel Pearl. My connection to FODFest is through Todd Mack, who played in a band with Danny while they were both living in Atlanta. Danny had moved to the area from Berkshire County in Massachusetts, where both Todd and I now live. While here, Danny worked at two of the local papers and also played music with many folks. He was a classically trained violinist who also played fiddle-style and mandolin and other instruments as well. I’m constantly meeting people who had either played with or heard Danny perform.

I met Todd back when I was writing The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Bass Guitar, back in the winter of 2005-2006. It was at his Off The Beat-N-Track Studio that I recorded the audio CD that goes along with the book. We hit it off and occasionally played and performed together. In October of 2006, Todd invited me to the second FODfest, which was held at the studio. And I’ve been honored to have been asked back twice now.

Even though I never met Danny, I get to witness firsthand every day how his belief that music can bring people together and help them work through whatever differences they might have. The Guitar Noise website is certainly proof of his philosophy. We have people from over a hundred-and-sixty countries who visit here and help each other learn how to play guitar, to make music in their lives and to share their music with the world. Make no mistake, no community is perfect and trouble-free. How could one be? But, despite our disagreements, most of us are willing to communicate, to listen and to learn.

Seasoned musicians from all genres and all walks of life will tell you that listening is probably one of the most important skills a player can have, if not the most important skill. Way too often, people communicate by saying something and then waiting for a pause in which they can again say something (usually a variation on the same thing said the first time). In true dialogue, it’s listening that provides the growth and momentum to a conversation. You hear what the other person says and then work with that. Even if you don’t agree with what the other person says, you can begin to understand why the other person thinks and feels the way he or she does. But if all one is interested in is one’s own side of the coin, then conversation is stilted and boring. No one learns anything and no one grows.

The parallels between conversation and music, particularly group performance, are markedly vivid. A group of relatively average players can sound stellar as a group if they learn to give each other space, to tailor the arrangements to the strengths of the individual members and be in constant communication with each other while playing. Conversely, a group of gifted individual players can sound downright chaotic if no one of the group is paying attention to anyone but his own playing. Playing in a group where everyone is one the same page and constantly communicating with one another will always transport the individual members to a higher plateau.

As I’m getting ready to get onstage tonight and play backup for two dozen musicians I’ve never met before, to play dobro or ukulele on songs that I’ve never heard before (and which the writers themselves may not be able to tell me the key it’s in!), I can’t help thinking that Daniel Pearl would find this show to be exciting and fun. As Todd says in his recent Guitar Noise Interview, it’s all about connecting with people and connecting people with one another through music. That’s what Danny was all about.

And I’d also like to think that, in their own individual way, this is pretty much the philosophy of every member of the Guitar Noise Community. Music, in its purest form, transcends individuals. The last thing I want to hear after playing any show, or simply playing with friends, is “you were great.” I want to hear “That was great” or “We were great!”

I can’t help thinking, as I’m writing this, of a going away party we held for one of my friends in Chicago, very shortly before I moved from there myself. It was a backyard barbecue and there were all sorts of musicians there – the typical number of guitarists, a teenager on violin who’d never played in a group like this before, a percussion guy who primarily played washboard, an accordian player who also played in a Neil Diamond tribute trio (accordian, bassoon and some other outrageous instrument I can’t recall), and any number of singers and percussion makers.

We had a blast, playing songs we knew, playing songs we’d never tried before, getting to know one another and sharing music with each other, the other party guests and the neighbors. But the best part, to me anyway, was at the very end when we were winding down and cleaning up and the young man with the violin proclaimed for all the world to hear: “I’ve never had so much fun before in my life!”

I’d like to think Danny would have been proud.