Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo


Today, I presented a program about the National Road at a senior residential complex.

My presentation included a song, "The Old Turnpike", c1855 and then finished with "Paddy on the Turnpike" and "Paddy on the Railroad".  I was concerned about "The Old Turnpike" because the verses just wouldn't roll off my tongue easily.  I actually did that one......not perfect, but acceptable.  I absolutely butchered the two tunes even though I was fairly comfortable with them at home.  I mean I BUTCHERED them!!  I know that it was because I was nervous playing solo in front of people.


Does anyone have any insights on this circumstance?  Any tips?  I am presenting a much longer and more involved program about Antebellum America (with 24 partial songs) for a library in less than two weeks, and though I had felt more confidence in it, I am beginning to worry after today's debacle. 


I know what would help the most would be to play in public more often.  Does anyone have additional advice while doing so?   Bottom line:  How can I play in public (particularly solo) as though I'm playing for my own enjoyment/relaxation in my living room?!?   

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Good advice, Paul.

Paul Certo said:

Part of the thrill of playing for an audience comes from those butterflies. You probably can't ever shake all of it, and I'm convinced I wouldn't want to. Controlling it is another matter. As Terry Bell said, make sure you know each song in your set list very well before playing them in front of an audience. Not letting on that you made a mistake is good advice also, though sometimes it can work well to "fess up." I introduced a song at a gig several years ago, played the intro, and promptly forgot the words. I played a harmonica break, but still couldn't remember 'em. I stopped, and said "Well, I knew the words yesterday!" I got a good laugh, and went to the next song. Later, when my memory came back, I did the first song. After I finished it, I said "That was the one I couldn't remember a while ago." Got a second good laugh from it. The point is, the audience wants to have fun. They came to hear music and have fun. They are on our side, and will back us to the hilt, given a chance.  If you can make them laugh, dance or sing along, they'll enjoy the performance. A mistake or two just shows them you're real, and they don't think anything about it. I have begun bringing a book with the lyrics in it, and am making a Large Print edition for dark stages, etc. I have 4 books started with different songs for different performances, so I don't have to fumble through 20th century country songs looking for the Civil War songs I'm trying to perform.

Make a set list, in the order you plan to play the songs. I find myself trying to remember what songs I know, when  I get in front of an audience. The list jogs my memory. The book works the same way, but a list is small and good to refer to. Even at open mics, where I can jump across genre's at will, I find myself at a loss for what to play next. If there is a central theme for the performance, that limits what songs I can use, so a list is more helpful. I also like to talk a bit about the songs. Who wrote them, it it's known, how old they are, and if there are other versions with different lyrics. It brings the songs to life,and sometimes the stories about the songs are as interesting as the songs. I did a Civil War performance last April, and researched as much as possible to talk about each song. Keep it short, but do say something when you can. I stay away from making guesses, though. Like it says in the Doctor's oath, "First, do no harm."  

Hecklers: You may have seen such on TV. The reality is they are rarer than hens teeth. If one is in the audience, the rest of the crowd will shut him up. His friends won't even back him. Don't even waste time worrying about that issue.

Will I forget the words again?  Probably, but with my book handy, it isn't an issue. Will I make a fool of myself? Yeah, sooner or later, but it won't be the first time, or the last. Heck, it might not be the first time that DAY! Will it bother me?  Only till I go to sleep that night. In the morning, the sun will rise right on schedule, and the weather will do whatever it is going to do that day. No mountains will crash into the sea because I messed up a few tunes. I worry more about messing up at home. My wife will worry enough for both of us, if she hears me mess up while rehearsing at home. She'll have me writing the lyrics on a black board 100 times. Must be some kinda latent school mar'm inside.

Relax, warm up your hands and vocal chords before if possible, and enjoy what you're doing. Yearsd from now, you'll have years of experience.


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