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I began this blog in order to share my experiences learning instrument building from my dad, but along with those stories I look forward to sharing my memories of growing up with two busy, musically inclined parents as well as my current experiences stepping out on my own as a female luthier promoting environmental sustainability in her instruments while working to alter gender stereotypes in a male dominated field. If you'd like to use quotes from this blog for interviews or in your own work, please contact me first! (email is henderson.elizabethj@gmail.com)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

No Dancing, Pt 1

Do you like to dance? I do, sometimes. Every now and again the mood strikes me and I just gotta dance. The right song pops up on my ipod when I am alone in the shop and after I secure the piece of binding I am currently gluing to a guitar body I will go to town, simply enjoying the music and expressing my happiness. Happiness that I am here, doing a job I love, and that I am getting to make something neat that someone will cherish when it is finished. Then my dad walks in and I pretend I was just taking an innocent walk around the workbench I never use...Where was that tape we use for holding binding as it dries? I thought I had seen a new roll sitting on this corner over here...

When I was young, I read everything. Anything I could see that had a word on it was fair game. I would sound the words out in my head and proudly announce them to anyone near enough to listen. One of the first signs I distinctly recall reading was hanging in the Rugby Rescue Squad building. When the community would have a gathering, they would drive all of the emergency vehicles out of their garage bays and set up rows of tables in their place. The ladies cooked all day and brought trays of food: chicken and dumplings, barbecued pork, bowls piled with green beans and collard greens plucked from their gardens that morning and simmered in pork fat all day. Banana pudding, strawberry layer cakes, peach pies with flaky buttery crusts. A murphy bed style stage covered in brown astroturf-type carpeting was pulled down and microphones set upon it. My dad and other local musicians played music during the festivities. Hanging just to the right of the stage was a handwritten sign, always hanging slightly askew, that proclaimed "No Dancing". 

I remember asking my dad why no one was permitted to dance along with the music, as I was pretty much an expert flat-footer at the age of 6 and couldn't wait to show off my amazing moves. Most especially the one I had just learned where I would bend my knee and hold my foot out behind me and frantically twirl it in a circle in hopes the rotations were in time to the beat. When you're six years old and dancing in front of a crowd of adults, that's the money move right there. After some research, YouTube has just informed me that the move is called the Haywheeler. I have attached a simplified version I found if you want to practice it yourself. Make sure to move knee-height valuables and check the whereabouts of your kids and pets first. 

My dad told me that dancing wasn't allowed because the local religious leaders said dancing was a sin and that it was an expression of the devil. I remember thinking that seemed a bit farfetched to me as I enjoyed dancing to express happiness and it didn't seem to hurt anyone, but I was petrified to upset anyone or get in trouble, so abided by the rule. I found subtle ways to dance around the injunction a bit though (see what I did there?), bouncing on the seat of my aluminum folding chair while my dad played his guitar from the stage, and always adding extra pep to my steps as I circled around the cake walk. 

I feel like the Dixie Chicks said it best, because Some days you gotta dance/Live it up when you get the chance/'Cause when the world doesn't make no sense/And you're feeling just a little too tense/Gotta loosen up those chains and dance!

Next time I will tell you about how a prominent member of the community, Kate Tucker, defied the No Dancing rule, and got the last laugh. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

I have sort of an odd confession: I really, really like tin foil. I don't use it that often because I read somewhere that using aluminum with food products can give you Alzheimers, but on those occasions I feel it is necessary, I excitedly pull out the box. I always try to keep the sheet as smooth as possible when pulling it from the roll. I carefully slice it along the box's serrated edge, ideally without snagging the sheet and causing a wrinkle. I think there is something incredibly clean and fresh about a newly unrolled piece of tin foil that I simply can't get over. Maybe though, my love for new tin foil stems from memories of my youth. Staying with Granny, I was rarely allowed to pull a fresh length of foil from the roll and rather I was asked to take the crumpled piece waiting primly on the oak buffet to be reused.

My Granny saved everything for reuse. And, really, I mean everything. Aluminum can tops, wrapping paper, pickle jars, and the pickle juice...and always tin foil. I remember trying to press the wrinkles out of the foil with my fingers, and after what felt like hours of work, it still never flattened to the consistency of that fresh piece. She would also cut up my dad's glue stained jeans and make pot holders from them, make shirts from cloth feed bags, and quilts from old shirts and threadbare pillowcases.

While I begrudged reusing such products, especially the tin foil, I am thankful to Granny for showing me to better appreciate the seemingly insignificant items we apathetically consume each day. Actions such as hers help in turn to reduce waste which I have now learned, after paying a lot of money for an environmental law and policy degree, is exceptionally important to the health of our environment. I am also thankful that her example has taught me that just because we may have a new roll of tin foil, it is not necessary to use it if you have a perfectly good piece that still does the job.

The other day someone brought me a Red spruce top that was too small for large body guitars, and after sanding it down, I saw that its color wasn't perfectly uniform across the surface. Some folks might see these characteristics as flaws, but I don't. This top is special in its own right, and because a three hundred year old tree was cut to produce this set of wood, I feel that it deserves to be appreciated and used. The grain within the wood is tight and the board is stiff, which my dad taught me are ideal characteristics for a top that will produce great sound.

I decided that a perfect use for this set of top wood would be for a Nick Lucas guitar because its significant sunburst will cover the color differences on the edges of the top. I have paired the top with an incredibly flamed set of maple back and sides, who's curl will be amplified by the stain that will be sprayed on it. I can't wait to finish this instrument, and just wanted to tell you how special the wood in it is to me. I like to think my Granny would be proud that I appreciate and use every set of wood I have and am able to see potential and beauty in something that perhaps not everyone would.

 Don't overlook something just because it isn't perfect. Sometimes you can still make something amazing with it.