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Trials and tribulations: starting a band

Unlike my previous attempts at using the summer to culture myself (e.g., reading “Sense and Sensibility” or buying countless colors of string to make friendship bracelets (more like trying to read and trying to weave bracelet patterns)), I thought to move away from the quiet mind’s work and dust off my guitar.Eleanor Van Buren

I wanted to start a band this summer, and despite many realizations about my ability, I still do.

A Swiffer duster did not solve all my problems. My guitar had a broken string and green mold aging the wood beneath. Every string was out of tune. My calluses had disappeared. My hands lost flexibility. And my creativity was still in a damaged state after the past school year (think: academia). Nonetheless, my guitar strings (all of them) were replaced, the guitar cleaned and tuned and now sheets of paper stared blankly back at me.

But I had been here before. Softly learning chord progressions and playing around with metaphorical lyrics relating to who knows what in a hushed voice, so no one hears the words I feel everyone should someday. I love what has worked for me throughout all of high school, but I was tired of feeling isolated. I wanted to share whatever I could, to collaborate, to make something out of the dream of that someday. I wanted to rock. I called my friend Taylor, who has band experience.

She shared my enthusiasm in starting a band. We took an inventory of what we had: one electric guitar, one acoustic guitar, a banjo and a drum set. And, of course, the voices we are determined to “make work.” Last week, we had our first jam session.

This is what it looked like:

Eleanor: “Here, follow this chord progression.”

(A few seconds later.)

Eleanor: “No, no. E minor.”

Taylor: “I am playing E minor.”

Eleanor: “Well it doesn’t look like it. Your index finger should be higher than your middle finger.”

Taylor: “It sounds the same.”

Eleanor: “Well, we’re already unconventional enough as it is. Switch them.”

Taylor: “Let’s just play ‘Wagon Wheel’ already.”

Eleanor: “You need to know E minor to play it ...”

I’ve never taken a lesson for guitar, and I am too afraid to seriously assess my singing voice. It is no coincidence that some of my favorite bands do not sound like Celine Dion. One of my favorite songs to play right now is “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by the Smiths. Morrissey doesn’t sound like anyone else, and whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s his thing. I can’t worry about who I don’t sound like because I’ll never discover who I do sound like — myself. I should also keep in mind that my voice is evolving, and whatever I produce today will likely transform into something richer and fuller when I have more experience. For now, I am going to relish my teenage voice.

I have no idea what we will realistically accomplish this summer. We will lay down a beat and hope for the best. We will listen to scratchy recordings of ourselves on GarageBand. We will be embarrassed to play those recordings for anyone else. What matters is the time we will put into the band this summer is greater than any friendship bracelet. When I’m away this year for college, I won’t smile at pieces of thread; I’ll smile at the awful lyrics we wrote.

As my voice develops, I will look to expand on my limited knowledge of guitar as well. Maybe I will actually make it through one of those many beginning books I purchased long ago. But for now, I will release. Just play to play, write to write. Occasionally scream for the fun of it. And also avoid coming up with a band name that sounds like we play heavy metal. At least a name Jane Austen would approve of — what’s more cultured than that?

Eleanor Van Buren graduated from Riverdale High School this year. She is continuing to write her student column this summer. To contact her, email education@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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