In a recent blog (What Is a Four-String Banjo?), I momentarily touched on a concept that I think deserves its own stand-alone blog: “Authenticity.” By the way, this is how I pick subjects for blogs; a concept–either from my out-of-control imagination or from someone else’s comment/suggestion–will momentarily capture my attention (“squirrel!”), and I’ll jot down a sentence or two. Then I may or may not come back to it at a future date. Anyway. . .
For whatever reason, I am obsessed with being authentic; I strive for an honest “what you see is what you get.” I am attracted to people who obviously “are what they are,” even if what they are is something I don’t particularly care for myself! I am not a fan of skateboarding for instance, yet I can thoroughly enjoy watching a true master at his/her craft. Similarly, I can watch and enjoy hours of Olympic gymnastics or figure-skating, simply because I know they are the best in the world. Along with authenticity, I am attracted to and fascinated with obvious greatness.
I have fully realized the limitations of my own musical imagination, and have settled into and embraced my role in authentically re-creating the banjo music of the past. I will probably never be one to take the instrument in truly new directions; I’m too old for that now. My role is the past, not the future; I very much believe though that without a strong grounding in the past, there can be no future. A classical pianist or violinist doesn’t break new ground without a thorough mastery of Mozart and the “Three B’s”; Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms (prove me wrong!). Would you have any respect for an Avant Garde concert pianist if they couldn’t play from memory at least one of Bach’s Preludes and Chorales? Why should it be any different for the historic four-string banjo?
I absolutely love Buddy Wachter’s banjo playing! I may not always understand what it is he is doing musically, but I love it anyway. The reason for this is that he is playing a four-stringed banjo, using authentic techniques and tuning. Although he plays a lot of stuff that is not exactly idiomatic for the instrument (or even possible for us mere mortals), he came by his greatness honestly; by copying and surpassing the greats–Peabody, Reser, and Bechtel (the four-string banjo’s equivalent of the 3 B’s). Buddy has pushed the musical envelope like no other authentic banjo player, ever (in my opinion). Someday, his personal style will also be considered to be historically authentic; I hope for his sake that this will be during his lifetime!
I hope this at least partially explains my Banjo Snob ways; I am simply seeking and writing about authentic banjo excellence. I love all four-string enthusiasts, but I unapologetically cheer for the very best and most authentic and long to be one myself someday. I will not apologize for expecting more from myself and my great instrument!