Grace Notes and Alligators

Perhaps a little history is in order after several years of columns. The alligator part is convoluted but interesting non-the-less, it’s true as is most of the personal stories that have appeared here.

There was a fiddle contest and Jack did not have any ‘glossies’ to show off his incredible countenance and poise.

Searching shutter stock type photos for something appropriate for a cartoon like fiddler, one showed promise more than any other. It’s hard to find an exact match, but you get the idea. A good friend sketched the above logo to replace the cartoon. Very good friend. The complete sketch has an alligator lounging on a riverbank holding a fishing rod with a zebco real. pretty cool.

Grace notes. They are the little trills added in musical scores. Too rapidly played to notate but can be done with the musical note you see on the above logo…It’s the eighth note right next to Gator. An alternative and enhanced version of the term will come a bit later in this column. Play three of them quick and it’s pretty good to hear.

So there you have most of it explained, somewhat clearly. The fiddle contests were like any other sort of talent contest you have been in or watched live. As a contestant you dredge up your best stuff. The most beautiful waltz, the most furious and clever fast tune(s) Rehearse weeks before and on the spot of the contest. In the outdoor ones the parking lot is usually safe. An accompanist is a great help, guitar is the best if such a thing is allowed. Playing solo is revealing to the contestant. Nervous? Unsure? It happens all the time. Then there are Issac Stern fiddlers that have graduate degrees in music. They usually are half your age and their technique is flawless. Beyond third position of course (that’s way up in the stratosphere and neck stuff) It sounds gorgeous and often wins. A few times however, old Uncle Zeke shows up and with a little stagecraft and stunning old time fiddle technique, pulls off first place.

Time to rosin up your bow and check your zipper and stuff in your shirt. The judges are up front and sometimes appear like Robespierre who lost his contest in 1794 in France. Serious folks often. You don’t know who they are and sometimes they know nothing about music at all. Sort of like American Idol. If it makes you cry it might be OK. So serious. It helps to do a little jig and a joke, entertainment. It gets the crowd in a good mood.

Make sure the sound technician is on your side too. A serious nod of your head and an impressed comment on their four channel mixer from Radio Shack helps. Bring your own mic and such stuff. It helps calm you. Just don’t hit the mic with your bow. It’s a real stage fright moment. Set the mic far enough away from you.

Don’t pay too much attention to your competitors, you’ll get nervous..again. Look into that heart of yours and play the notes and slurs and fun jazzy stuff on the fly that you are gifted with. Jack isn’t very articulate on the fingerboard and compared to a lot of very good players, Jack is in the Yellow Cab metaphor. The old ones with the continental 4 banger under the hood. A little slow off the line but sturdy. Somewhat heavy in his frame too. One of his mentors, Judy Larsen told Jack once: “it must be nice to be on all the time” Jack realized it was the notes in his head that always had a little ‘twink’. Adding something to someone else playing. Of course, solo is a bit trickier. Pay attention to that small still voice that speaks to you. He will tell you what to play, note by note if you listen closely. Play for Him that loves it when you do. It will put joy in your heart and a smile on your face.

It’s nothing fancy I am mentioning. It’s listening to the man that has always loved your playing and wants to give you the rhythm that pleases, the impossible harmonics and flatted notes that shouldn’t be there. “Just surround those out of place notes with friendly ones and do it again. It will sound like jazz” Judy again.

Gator loves to play when his favorite mentor is his focus. He shows up a lot when you want Him there and that is the other explanation of Grace Notes. He is filled with grace and you will note it. It’s Jesus. It’s pretty good. Jack Gator

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