Sunday, April 3, 2016

Why I Wrote the book on Dwight Diller

We will be relocating to NORTHERN VIRGINIA in mid-April.  I didn’t expect things to turn out this way.  We were looking to move closer to the kids, and hoping to stay out of the gravitational pull of Washington, D.C., but the need to be close at hand and helpful with the twins, Noah and Aidan – see my BHO Avatar – prompted us to bite the bullet even though, after 30 years in northern VA, we managed to escape for the first seven years of my retirement. 

So, I’m living in the life clutter, the battlefield conditions, that evolve once one starts placing belongings in cardboard boxes. 

I just finished writing the index and doing the last run of proofreading on the Diller book, with time enough to immerse myself in packing.

I also had to attach the task of writing about a half dozen columns for Banjo Newsletter on Dwight Diller, scheduled to begin as a mini-series in the late summer.  I'm working with a friend who is doing the tablature for me.  

I think we have most of the work squared away for that.  Now I can return to collecting cardboard boxes, finding tape, labeling, and working with the moving company. 

Such fun. 

So, the spring begins for me with a range of different tasks, and as a result I’m thinking of bringing this blog on the saga and odyssey of the Dwight Diller book to a close, and ending the monthly Dwight Diller BANJO HANGOUT contest this month – so that these two efforts don’t get swallowed up in the chaos that comes with relocating.

For this last blog on “The Making Of” the book, then, I’d like to try to answer the question of why I wrote this book.

For the past 40 years, Dwight has worked to preserve the old banjo and fiddle tunes and local stories, capture in his own music what he learned the music from elders who played this music, and teach this kind of archaic banjo and fiddle music to students prepared to invest the time and energy necessary to grasp this old, percussive, primitively rhythmic music. 

My book is an attempt to tell the story of how Dwight, who has wrestled long and hard with depression and other challenges, integrated these several paths, and how decades of teaching music became the way he sought to show how music might offer hope and guide us to what we should be.

Why did I decide to push forward with this writing project? 

The reason is this:  For me, Dwight made music accessible, and legitimized my desire to want music. 

He made playing banjo accessible to me, enabled me to break the code, and to do so in a way that was possible given my own personal constraints, my own capabilities. 

He made it so that I could listen to something, find the center of gravity of the music, and figure out a way to get to it on my banjo.  For me.  Quietly.  In the company of my hounds, in a way that made me happy.

I could not learn in the classes taught by others.  I could not keep dozen tunes taught in most banjo classes in my crowded brain. 

I could not haul along a tape recorder, and study repertoire taught at classes.  I couldn’t do that.  I could not follow a teacher’s fingers, figure out the notes, make my way through the technique, and come up with something I could do.  If I could “do” it, play it, I might still not “know” the music.  My brain had too much to do, and my whole body had too much to remember.  I had no room for that.

But Dwight found a way to give me room enough that I could make a music that moved me, that fit nicely with my life.  Simple.  Percussive.  Rhythmic.  Easy to understand.  I could get to that stuff, I could do that work, and I could learn that. 

I did not have time for the other way of acquiring tunes.  I could barely keep my languages in my brain.  I could barely compartmentalize all the information, the Standard Operating Procedures, and the issues that dominated my life.

But with Dwight I found a way to quietly, slowly, surely figure out the core of a music, the anatomy of a tune, and get done what I needed to in order to have music in my life. 

So, the story of what he did in teaching is important to me because it gave me hope that I had some room left in my life for something else.

Dwight uses the phrase “the tunes are not the music” to focus attention on what he is trying to impart in his classes.

My sense is that to Dwight, music is the rhythm and the inspiration, the internal feeling transmitted in playing, and perhaps the integral “cultural message,” combined – but “playing music” to Dwight does not entail having a massive arsenal of individual songs or tune versions.  Quantity is not important.  Quality is, and a carefully played tune, a version mastered technically and integrated into one’s life – so it resonates with every fiber and clings to thoughts, and insinuates its way into your quiet thinking moments – that is how Dwight thinks of what a tune means to one’s music.

That approach gave me hope that I could find room somewhere in my life for this old music.



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I hope these blog notes whetted your interest, and that you’ll take up this book when it comes out.

Here’s the AMAZON.COM reference for the book:


Thanks for reading this blog.  Have a great banjo fueled day.


Lew

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