This Old Guitar

This is a response to a weekly assignment to look at an object of our everyday life and investigate its greater networks.

Every morning it is there.  I wake up, sit up, and from the end of my bed it sits and stares me, demanding attention.  Contrary to what you might think I am not talking about my cat, but my guitar.  To be completely honest, the networks surrounding my guitar and its place in my life go back many many years before I was ever born.  I am limiting the network of the guitar to my immediate family context, which starts the network back in 1966 when my mother, having broken her foot, picked up a guitar to pass the time.

My mother fell in love with the guitar.  She would play and sing and in those days there was no internet to get her chords from.  The network of my guitar stems into the radio and albums that she listened to and painstakingly figured out the chords to with her friends.  As the years went by she met my father, who also loved music, singing and the guitar.  They with a group of friends who all lived in the same apartment building created the 292 Songbook (From 292 Traynor Ave., the address of the apartment).

Jumping forward to where this network of guitar, players, singers and transcribers meets me finds us in 1979 (the year I was born).  This guitar and these songs were the soundtrack of my childhood.  At the age of about 8 I was devastated to learn that my father had not written all the songs he sang to my mother as she played but that they had adapted these songs for our own use.  We sang 60’s and 70’s folk songs around the campfire every summer and when I get old enough I started adding songs I loved to the mix.

Unlike my parents though, I had the internet, a website called OLGA the Online Guitar Archive which I then introduced my mother to.  This stretched the network of the guitar far beyond my own family, far beyond my local radio station and to many other nodes outside of the artists who created the music originally.  Other fans, who had transcribed their favourite songs and posted the chords for anyone to use.  These online guitar music archives still exist today, ultimate-guitar.com is one of the biggest.  These sites are, much like Wikipedia, user generated archives of information, specifically song lyrics guitar chords and tablature.  While modern versions use algorithms to automatically transpose chords (for ease of play or singing) OLGA would simply have the text file originally uploaded, simply lyrics and chords.  My own musical training, fed by a network of piano and musical theory lessons and classes, allowed me to transpose music on my own.

In 2004 I asked my mother to teach me how to play on her guitar and in 2005 I was given my own, an Art and Luthrie, the one that sits at the end of my bed now. Canadian made, infused with its own network of the Adirondack Spruce wood it’s made of, the wires and glue and other materials and where they come from and are assembled.  The Art and Luthrie website says they are made from 95% Canadian wood, responsibly harvested from previously fallen trees in facilities powered by hydroelectric power.

In the last few years, the callouses on my fingers, marks my guitar (Which I call Rita) leave on me, are gone.  I don’t take enough time to play.  But still, Rita sits at the end of my bed and reminds me that I feel a commitment to master the songs my mother has played, the songs that keep my family singing together around the campfire every summer.  My mother is getting older and eventually someone will have to replace her to keep the tradition alive.  I am trying to extend this network of musical ability and love beyond her, to keep the dispersing network of my own family converging in one place at least once a year.  To do this, I need to know the songs.  I need to utilize all the networks that have come together throughout the years and extend them.

Already my family is working to keep this network thriving.  Last summer my mother learned Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes songs for my 16-year-old niece Alanna.  In turn, she is working to learn the old folk songs of the 60s and 70s to sing with my mother this year.

If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go practice my guitar.

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1 Comment

  1. Following from your networks and me presentation, I think that your blog post speaks about the contingent relationship between actors (yourself and the other musically inclined members of your family) and materialities, importantly your guitar. Your network may be expanding partly due to the new songs you are learning, but I think one of the most interesting parts of your network, will be to watch its social growth through the passing on of materialities (the guitar) to the younger members of your family. As I am sure your mothers guitar is filled with stories, good memories, and the occasional blood, sweat, and tear, each materiality or guitar within your family will continue to accumulate meaning and expand your network. Maybe on day you will pass down your guitar to your nieces or maybe even to their children.

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