Message of the Banjo

January 31, 2019
  • Tim Atkins, Director of Lifespan Religious Education

Sometimes the universe is speaking, but you just have to be willing to hear the message. And that message, this week, sounded like the dulcet sounds of a banjo. That’s right – the banjo.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how I need to up my hobby game. I’ve got some more free time in my normal week than I used to, and I want to find a couple activities that as Kondo would say, give me joy.

While I still lived in Atlanta – so we’re talking at least 6 years ago – I bought a banjo from the local Guitar Center. I got a couple of books and online lessons, had trouble figuring it out (it IS my first musical instrument after all), and then live got too busy to devote any time into learning it. I put it down and largely forgot about it.

Well, a couple of days ago, Facebook decided to show me an ad for a Banjos for Beginners series of lessons that start tonight (which I’ll be making up on Tuesday) and then every Thursday night till March. I saw that and it was like an immediate feeling of kismet. And now my first lesson is in a few days.

My next stop was to actually find my banjo – I did remember moving it here, and eventually found it. The finger and thumb picks were a little more difficult to find, but eventually they were discovered. I had to break open the really old case to get inside, and once I did it was totally covered in dust. (Good job case?) I took some time to dust it off.

I knew the next stop was tuning. I used to have some electronic tuner thing but who knows where that really ended up. I then discovered an advancement in technology from whenever I tried to learn the banjo last time – iphone apps that help you tune. Success!

So now I’ve got a well-tuned banjo with finger picks all ready to go… sitting there for me to eventually learn how to play something.

So, why share this story? I see a few lessons in here.

The first? It’s never too late to try again. It’s been six years (which is 1/6th of my life so far) since I first wanted to learn, and now I’m going to pick it back up that I’ve finally got the time.

The next is to give it a try and see if it’s right for you, but commit to more than one try. I’ve been telling people asking if they should binge The Good Place to watch three episodes to see if it sticks. How often to we try just one of something and think never again? Whether it’s a hobby or a tv show or a new food? That’s why I wanted to commit to a 6 week long beginner series of lessons. I think I’ll have a much better idea if the banjo is right for me.

Be flexible. I have a gut feeling my hands and fingers are going to be too big to really the banjo well. So I started asking some musicly inclined friends (and of course Dr. Henry too) about if I wanted to learn an instrument, which one it should be. Their unanimous recommendation? Standing bass. I’m not too sure I’ll end up doing that, but hey, in a couple months we might have a new column about lessons from the standing bass.

And finally, never stop learning. I am a big believer in the power of life long learning, and I should also model this behavior in my own life. Now when I talk about lifelong learning I often am talking about lifelong spiritual development. But learning a new hobby, a new interest, a new passion? That IS spiritual development. That IS a spiritual practice. Learning a new hobby/skill/interest/passion/trade/etc. keeps our minds, hearts, and souls young.

I want to encourage all of you to commit to learning something new over the next year. And I also want to encourage you to let your children see you as you learn something new – let them see the joys AND the struggles. If your children see you continuously trying to learn more, they will model that behavior. And if they see you persevere though the struggles, they will model that behavior too.

So this week as you take your kids to whatever lessons or practice is in store for them, think about where you’re going to go for your lessons or practice in store for YOU too.