Friday, August 28, 2009

The Guitar Experiment

On a whim I brought a guitar to work. I wasn’t sure how people would react, and was a little nervous that they would find it distracting. I keep it on a stand in the corner of my cube, and I put out an open invitation for anyone to come and play any time they choose.

What surprises me is how many people take me up on that offer. Quite often they will go out of their way just to stop by and “get a fix,” or “get it out of their system,” as they say. Some only know one song, and that’s all they can play. Some know a little blues, or jazz, or country. One guy is fairly proficient at bluegrass, and I find it enchanting to listen to. At times a crowd will form and they’ll pass the guitar around and talk music for ten minutes or so before drifting back to work.

I take the guitar with me just before its time to have a meeting. I only know chords, but I can sing and everyone likes to hear me play. They’ll ask me to play a song at random, and I’ll try and find the chords as I sing along. Quite often I’ll get it right—it takes a bit of practice, and some trial and error. I think I’ll look up some funny campfire songs on the Internet, and see what people think.

I served a mission for my church in Spain. I knew many kids that could play the guitar, and I was surprised at how often it drew a crowd. Friends would gather around, and everyone would sing together.

Today one guy asked me how hard it was to learn to play. I told him if you got a book and practiced two to three hours a week, you’d be proficient in about six months. Most of that time is required to build up coordination and finger strength, and good embrasure. He was very impressed with my advice, and told me he felt inspired to take up the hobby.

I get regulars, now, who wander into my cube throughout the day. They’re emphatic that playing helps open up their creativity. I’m learning that quite a few people are very passionate about music, and this has been a great way for me to meet others that I might never talk to, and make friends. Something about music draws people in. Even those who can’t play will stop and listen.

In ancient societies, members of the warrior class were expected to learn an instrument and be able to play a song or two. This was true of the samurai of Japan. They would practice calligraphy or write haiku or play an instrument to occupy their free time—which they had an abundance of when they weren’t fighting. The Vikings and the Saxons, and other Germanic tribes had similar customs. On long winter nights around the hearth in their mead-halls they would entertain each other. Someone would pass around an instrument, and everyone was expected to know something. It was especially important if you were a guest in the hall to be able to share some new song.

I take my guitar with me when I go on church camp-outs. When the sun goes down, I’ll walk from campfire to campfire. When people see me with my guitar they are always enthusiastic. They invite me to come and sit, so they can hear me play. They might never say a word to me, but they’re always friendly. Sometimes they’ll offer a drink or a snack. They’re always disappointed when I leave. I tell them that I have other campfires to visit.

Music brings people together in a very curious way. Even if you’re not that musical like me, it can be a powerful social enabler.

So get a guitar and take it to work. If you bring it, they will come.

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