On its own, there isn’t anything much more annoying than a banjo. Even a kazoo is less annoying than a single banjo. Bagpipes are less annoying.
However, if you add a banjo in the right way to the right band in the right song… banjos rock. Listen to Allison Krauss and Union Station (Every Time You Say Goodbye is one the most gorgeous bluegrass songs ever). If you aren’t familiar with her and her remarkable band, then go immediately to Pandora.com and listen to five of their songs. Also, try Nickel Creek, if you want something a little less country.
As you might have guessed, I actually love banjos when played masterfully in harmony with skilled players of the guitar, drums, bass, mandolin, and violin. I had the privilege of attending Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion concert back in May. Click here to listen to it. His musicians and the guest band were absolutely fantastic, playing every American rock and folk instrument – banjo included – with energy, harmony, and joy.
This morning, on the second day of school, I was shocked to see that our student-run Chapel Band featured a student playing the banjo. Normally, it’s just the standard student rock band that plays in assemblies, and they typically do a good job of warming up the student audience prior to a guest speaker.
But this year is different. Very different. They’ve added a small horn section. But the thing that sticks with me is Banjo Boy. He played in only one song, at the just the right tempo, peaking at the right time, respecting the song and the rest of the band.
How cool is it that a high school kid would bust out a banjo in front of 1,000 of his peers and teachers? Well, not cool if he has not practiced or if he lacks accompaniment. But in this case, it was very cool. I want to be a Banjo Boy.
I want my son to be a Banjo Boy. I want him to feel confident enough to pursue a special skill, develop that skill, and use that skill in harmony with others. I want to allow – no, encourage – him to pursue what fits his interests, his natural talents, and his acquired skills.
So many young people just follow the crowd. Within their cliques, they play the same sports, listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, and watch the same TV shows. Conformity is an epidemic.
But it’s wonderful to see those kids who step out and do something incongruent with the cultural norms.
Over the years, I have known students who excelled in national competitions in baton twirling, fencing, speed skating, horse jumping, and Irish step dancing. Surely, their parents could have discouraged such unusual choices. But in each case, these kids loved what they did and their parents supported them.
And ideally these kids would find a place to fit in perfectly. A niche. A little place in the world where they bring their skill to work with others to make the world a better place.
My son draws cartoons. I never did. I’m not a doodler. But he is good and he loves it. I need to fan that flame, not douse it in any way. I need to teach him to play to his strengths.
Each child is different. Let’s keep it that way.