Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mourning Mike Seeger

I am thinking tonight of Pete Seeger's brother, Mike, who passed away in 2009.  For some reason, while listening to a guy play the saw on Prairie Home Companion this evening, my wife and I got into a discussion about instruments that almost seem to require perfect pitch in order to play them well.  That got me thinking.  Back in 1974 I had the great pleasure of meeting Mike at a music workshop he conducted when he came to play a gig at the University of Virginia.  Mike taught me, among other things, how to play the Jew's Harp, or, as it is more politically correctly known today, the Jaw Harp.  Mike turned me on to his supplier, a blacksmith in Virginia who made pretty much perfect harps -- I have two -- and taught me how to hold and play the thing without chipping a tooth.  I don't know about perfect pitch -- I sure don't have it -- but you have to have a decent sense of the scale, at least, in order to make music with the harp.  If you don't hold your mouth in just the right shape for a particular note, it can sound pretty awful.

Mike was just about the nicest man I have ever met.  He was gentle, and funny, and patient with all of us at the workshop.  He was generous with both his time and his talent, something I have always tried to be ever since.  I'm not always as successful in that as I would like to be, but I surely have a great example to keep inspiring me.  I have never had the pleasure of meeting his more famous brother, Pete.  There are a lot of accounts on the internet about Pete's famous temper, notably when he wanted to take an axe to the power cord (probably apocryphal) when Dylan first played electric guitar at a big ol' folk music concert because he thought the music was too damned loud.  I can't imagine Mike doing anything other than going along with the flow.

The guy playing the saw was very, very good, and if he didn't have perfect pitch, I sure couldn't tell.  I have no idea whether or not he is generous with his time, but he seemed a gentle souls when Keillor interviewed him a bit after he played.  I know that because of him I'm thinking once again of one of the purely nicest human beings I have ever met, and I'm grateful to him for that, if nothing else.

No comments:

Post a Comment