Published Feb. 24, 2009
Sometimes my friend Josh drives me crazy. First off, Josh isn’t even his real name. When we played in the Tuscarawas Orchestra together, he went by Johann, and I always wondered if his father was German. Then he started playing folk music and switched to Josh. I still don’t know his original name.
I met Josh, or Johann as he called himself back then, in ninth grade. We played in school orchestra together. His father was long dead, and Josh had most recently lived on Ravenna Avenue in Louisville, which I later learned was really Marlboro Township, Louisville being just the mailing address.
We had a lot of good times in school and community orchestras. Johann was the quiet one, keeping to himself in groups but coming into his own during practices and performances. We held long talks and told many jokes with our female orchestra friends before high school concerts. We hung out with our friend Dale, who started on violin but turned traitor and switched to viola, in Canton Youth Symphony.
Dale, Johann and I sometimes got a bit ornery, such as the time the CYS took Bizet’s “Carmen Suite” on the road to Canton elementary schools and got reprimanded by a teacher for making faces at students who were waiting to walk to the gymnasium for our concert. Johann and I learned to love dark and hoppy European beers at a cozy New Philadelphia pub called Wine and Roses, which we visited after Tuscarawas Philharmonic concerts in the 1980s.
Johann accompanied me the night I discovered Celtic music at a Quail Hollow State Park Traditional Music night in November 1989, the night my life changed from Part I to Part II. We both knew we had found the music we had always sought. We joined a group called the Tightly Wound String Band, played with those folks for about a year or so, and then joined Tom Perkins’ new group, formed in 1990. That was the year Johann changed his name. We played with Tom’s group, the Bog Carrot, for 10 years. Since BC broke up in 2000, we’ve played alone and with two or three friends in ad hoc ensembles, depending on who was available.
But behind the performances and group rehearsal are hours and hours of practice. Some days we get along just great, and other days I want to kick him across the room. The bad times usually hit in the evenings after work, when I’m tired, because Josh is persistent. He pesters me all day at work: “Let’s work on our Irish reel technique tonight,” he’ll say, nagging me all day. And I admit that many days that’s what I want to do. But when I get home from work drained, and all I want to do is read and visit my goat, Josh is still bugging me, knowing full well that I’m exhausted. Some friends never let up.
So I agree to a short session, maybe just a half hour on reels, I’ll say, but some nights we don’t get together until 11 p.m. At times the communal sharing of music pushes aside the fatigue and brings joy to my spirit — music can do that. Other nights the exhaustion hangs heavily, a somber gray cloud that darkens my outlook and hampers my playing. I’m just too tired. I can’t play in tune, and my bow makes sounds worthy of an elementary violinist. That’s when Josh really irrigates me, as my younger brother used to say. If I find I’m getting nowhere, I tell him I’ve had enough, that I would rather read with my goat or watch a documentary, and I put him in his case, loosen the hairs on the bow, and return him gently to his place next to my mandolins, knowing a bad night doesn’t mean my music career is over. And the next day it starts again.