Friday, May 30, 2014

Janaro Music: The Next Generation?

John Janaro on acoustic guitar, around 1984
This young guitarist is recognizable to some of you, perhaps. Around 30 years ago, he had composed at least a dozen original songs, none of which he can remember a single note of today. We did record all of them once... on a cassette tape! I don't know where the tape is. Although I still love music in a variety of genres, I have been away from the guitar for a long time. Too long, perhaps?

I bought a lovely black Ibanez Les Paul copy when I was in high school. It lasted me through college, but then in graduate school I sold it. Graduate students would often sell anything that they couldn't read or eat, because they needed ... money, so that they could buy... books and food. Ah, but that's another story for another day.

Over the ensuing years I collected guitars of all kinds, and often had plans to "start playing seriously" again, but life would always take a different turn. I have a Telecaster copy that I bought right around the end of May in 1995. I got a practice amp too. I decided I was going to make a comeback that summer. What else was there to do for fun? I had no other plans. But then this young woman that I had always kinda liked decided to move to Virginia, and... well... there ended up being no time to play guitar. Then, of course, we got married and along came the kids and the stress and greater responsibilities of work and then I got sick, and....

New generation: Classy look
Actually, those kids may finally get me going again, since John Paul and the others are digging out my old equipment and messing around trying to play the guitars and invent music with a keyboard or even the electronic music composition applications like MuseScore that anyone can download onto their computer for free. John Paul can compose music on the computer and have the music actually play back according to tonal varieties that he chooses (which are supposed to be "instruments" like violin or flute, but don't really imitate those sounds). Programs like these have led to a lot of cheap music, but they also open up possibilities for the development of musical craftsmanship in new ways. They are their own kind of musical instruments, like the enormous Synthesizers of the 1970s that we used to gaze upon with such admiration and awe in magazines. They cost unimaginable sums of money and were the size of a wall. But John Paul has everything he needs right on his laptop.

Our family never did much for the kids with music lessons beyond choir (which has been a great thing for the girls). But John Paul, in particular, is a very creative kid who likes to experiment with whatever he has at hand, whether it's a ukulele or a dollar-store keyboard or computer programs that I don't have the patience to be bothered with (a good Montessori education helped foster the curiosity, capacity, and competence to explore all kinds of possibilities with ingenuity and perseverance).

For years, the kids wanted to play with the electric guitar from 1995 that had been sitting in dusty corners ever since it was bought. Sometimes I let them, and mostly they broke strings. John Paul has remained interested, and even though the electric guitar only has four strings right now, he still plunks on it. So I've decided to get a few new sets of strings. He can add some guitar sounds to the synthesized tracks that he's already "produced" with the computer (or maybe I will add a few licks, if he lets me).

The things kids can do creatively with music thanks to computer technology are beyond the wildest dreams of that guitarist from 30 years ago in the picture at the top (and we dreamed big in those days). Of course, nothing will ever replace the sound of the human voice, or the natural material resonance of traditional instruments. We could let the ease of technology ruin our musical art (and it's doing that a lot). But we can also shape technological capacities into genuine forms of artistic expression; we can elevate them to express and communicate beauty. We can also bring the ancient and the new together in beautiful ways. This too is being done today, though you have to look around to find it... or try to do it yourself. Why not?

Perhaps while I'm helping John Paul and the others, I might rediscover some of my old songs. Or compose some new ones.

It may turn out to be a very musical summer.

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