Bluegrass in Reader’s Digest

Readers Digest August 2008Should you pick up the August ’08 issue of Reader’s Digest – as millions of us do each month – you’ll find an article by David Hochman that tells a story that will be familiar to many of our readers.

Hochman is among the many adults who have taken up a musical instrument in mid-life, after musing for years about the lost opportunities of youth. Bluegrass music had caught his ear, and the tiny instrument that Bill Monroe used to launch his new sound was what drew David in.

The mandolin looks harmless enough. About the size of a tennis racket, it’s easy to get a clear, golden sound just by brushing your pick across its four sets of double strings. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel slightly panicky when my wife surprised me with one when I hit the big 4-0. “We support you, sweetie,” Ruth said, speaking for the family. By day seven, she and our four-year-old would quietly slip into another room whenever I took a crack at “Turkey in the Straw.”

Sound like anyone you know?

His piece goes on to discuss his private mandolin lessons and attempts to play with other musicians, finally ending up with a positive experience at Dr. Banjo’s Bluegrass Jam Camp.

Dr. Banjo is Pete Wernick, who’s been running camps around the country for bluegrass greenhorns since the early 1980s. His PhD is in sociology, and he clearly knows something about the wisdom of crowds. Before we even had our instruments out at the camp in Boulder, Colorado, he asked, “Who’s the worst player here?” All 28 of us shot up our hands.

Wernick’s philosophy is that private music instruction often fails, which is why most instruments in America haven’t seen daylight for decades. “The only way to learn to play and keep playing is by playing with other people,” he tells us.

Read the full piece (with a happy ending) on the Reader’s Digest web site.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.