Monday, December 31, 2012

Music to My Ears

If ever there was a testament to the motivational power of music, I saw it today.

Ostensibly, I went to the Science Museum to see the exhibit, "Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked the World."

After all, it's closing on Sunday and what kind of music lover would I be if it left before I saw it?


But they've been scheduling guitarists to play in conjunction with the show and I wanted to time my visit just right.

Meaning I wanted to hear George Dennehy play today, so I found a seat on the floor in front of the stage just before he started.

For the unprepared in the audience, his playing had to be a shock.

George was born without arms and plays the guitar with his feet.

I know, right? How awesome do you suppose that was to see?

He played with his brother on drums, observing that,"We haven't played together since school orchestra and that doesn't really count."

He had a great sense of humor ("Ever put on a capo with your feet?" he asked us rhetorically) in addition to the can-do attitude that had to have shaped his life as a musician.

Besides having a fine voice, he also wrote some of his own material (This is a song I wrote a few weeks ago. I'll go ahead and give it a try").

But we also heard covers - Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," Lifehouse's "You and Me" and Howie Day's "Collide," each pitch perfect.

But what you have to imagine is that while he's singing, he's also playing the guitar with his feet.

He admitted to being right-footed, but he did the picking with his right foot and the strumming with his left.

Watching him play was riveting, especially seeing his ability to lift individual toes to change chords.

He said he practiced an hour or two a day, but even so it was amazing to watch so much skill coming from a part of the body most of us have limited control over.

One highlight was an improvised piece the two brothers did together (saying, "We're going to play off each other") after George said he wanted to rest his voice for a minute.

By the time the set ended and he took questions, I was greatly surprised to hear that he'd only been performing out for four or five months.

But not quite as surprised as I was to learn that he also played cello and piano.

Clearly you can't keep a musical talent down.

And then there was the guitar exhibit itself.

As a non-musician (and die-hard music lover) of the highest order, the exhibit was like one huge music lesson for me.

The sixty guitars on display represented way more guitar history than I could possibly take in, hard as I tried.

So I just took in what I could Karen-style.

Like the ornately-decorated Baroque guitar from the 1600-1700s, a true thing of beauty.

Honestly, I'd been unprepared for the array of old instruments like lutes, balalaikas and even a harp guitar.

I could appreciate the duality of the Ovation Breadwinner, made between 1972 and '76 and used by both Robert Smith of the Cure and (wait for it) David Cassidy of the Partridge Family.

Now there's a guitar with range.

Of course there had to be an air guitar, which, as you might suppose, looked like nothing.

I got a kick out of the Silvertone amp in case, a Sears product that sold for $67.95 (and even $49.95 on sale!) and provided many musicians with their first guitar (and amp).

And by "many musicians," I mean people like Hendrix and Dylan.

Besides guitars, there were also large-format photographs of musicians playing, although I found the pictures a bit myopic.

The only female guitarist shown was Chrissie Hynde, a personal favorite, but certainly not the only woman worthy of being included in the show.

There were also screens showing key guitarists performing and I'd have to say seeing Django Reinhardt play circa 1939 was way cool.

That suave mustache, the two-finger technique, it was a revelation seeing him after years of only hearing his music.

But then the whole afternoon had been kind of a revelation.

As much as I go out for live music, as incessantly as I play recorded music at home and in the car, as much as I can talk music all day and night long, I have no real musical comprehension.

And I'm not saying I got any from the guitar exhibit, but I did get a whole lot of enjoyment on many levels.

But best of all, I got to see a talented musician demonstrate that if you want to make music badly enough, you can.

Way to rock my afternoon, George.

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