Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Home entertainment system

If you watch a lot of old movies, you'll eventually see a scene where everyone's gathered around the piano. It might be a simple homestead where the family would stand around the piano to sing favorite songs. The setting may be an upscale town house with well dressed upper class people listening to a talented young lady play. Even if there isn't a scene where someone is playing the piano, it's usually part of the setting.

Back in the time before radios and cheap music recorders and players became available, there was the piano. Just about everyone who could have one, did have one. As soon as a family acquired enough money to rise above basic needs, they looked into getting a piano. The next thing was to make sure a few people in the household knew how to play.

In the days before electricity, the piano was the home entertainment system. The desire to listen and sing to music is a very old human activity. The piano is a pretty sophisticated instrument, but the basics can be learned fairly easily -at least good enough for the evening sing a long.

Today we've pretty much become dependent on the personal sound system. Everyone has their own song list of electronic tunes. That's fine, but it's not a bad idea to be able to make your own music. There are many ways for the power grid to fail. In some countries it fails more than it works. People in the US are not immune from power problems. I'm sure just about everyone reading this has lost power at least a few times. Eventually, batteries die, and all those electronic toys become little more than bricks.

Then it's nice to have a way to make your own music. The old standby, the piano, is still good. While a new one can be pricey, it's possible to find inexpensive used ones. I once bought a piano for $42. Two of my daughters learned to play on it. Sometimes a decent piano can be had for the price of hauling it away.

More people are likely to have a guitar than a piano. Thanks to all those Folk, Blues, Bluegrass, and Rock musicians, the guitar became popular. That's great, as a guitar can pretty much do the same role that the piano did. If you do play an electric, get an acoustic for those days when power isn't available.

My point is to have have some sort of musical instrument that doesn't depend on electricity to work. It could be a flute, a fiddle, a banjo or just about anything. Quite a few people have a lot of fun with homemade drums. If you've never been in a drumming circle, try it. There's something primitive and exciting about the pounding beat of the drums.

Being able to make your own music in power down situations provides two important functions. Of course, it provides the enjoyment of listening and playing music. More importantly, it pulls a group together in an activity. Whether someone plays an instrument, sings, or just taps their feet to the music, they are involved. It's a way to pull the community together with a shared experience. In a power down situation, that sense of sharing is actually important to survival. It's good for mental health, and also good to train a group to act together. It's one more way they feel like a bit like a tribe.

A lot of people don't play an instrument because they'll never get really good at it. I say, so what? I used to play the guitar a bit when I was about 13 years old. Never could sing, (still can't), so I gave up playing. Many years later, I picked the guitar again. I still can't sing along, but I don't let that bother me. I can strum cords around the campfire, or bang out a blues riff to get the little kids jumping.

I make sure I have a few sets of strings and a few other odds and ends useful to keep guitars going. I'm even leaning some of the luthier art: the skill of repairing and building stringed instruments. That's just the way I operate; always learning more and more about how to keep my stuff up and running.

I'm finding that guitars are like guns: you never have enough. Just as person who takes up the shooting arts eventually acquires a safe full of firearms. A person who plays the guitar eventually has a collection. I barely play and already have two. One is a pack guitar, a Washburn Rover. It's small enough to take anywhere and sounds pretty decent, plus is reasonably priced. If I ever have to bug out, it's coming with me.

There are encouraging developments in home music. Lately, it seems I can't go to a party without someone pulling out a musical instrument. Get together for a barbecue and the next thing you know a couple fiddles, an accordion and a guitar appear. I love it. It's homemade music and just as important as homemade bread. It fill a need in the human soul, and doesn't need the power grid to make it happen.


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