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I have mixed feelings when it comes to banjo contests. Mixing music (or art, in general) and competition makes me a little uncomfortable.
Personally, I’d always reveled in the skill development and personal growth that came with competitive sports, but part of what drew me into music was that nobody lost if I got better.
The part of sport I wasn’t crazy about was that my playing well meant somewhat else might end up feeling lousy. Sports are, by design, a zero sum game.
Music, however, is not. Unless you make it into one, that is.
Plus, there’s the whole subjectivity of music competition. In sports, the rules are well defined. In music contests, so much depends on the particular tastes of those judging.
That said, contests have long been part of the banjo-fiddle tradition, and this past weekend was the annual Georgia String Band Festival, home to the Gordon County Fiddlers Convention. Plus, for the most part, the contestants take the whole notion with an appropriate grain of salt – the main objective is to celebrate the music.
And, like it or not, people like to watch contests (as the bank accounts of the creators of American Idol, The Voice, et. al can attest…), so it’s a nice way to attract an audience.
This particular festival got its start in the early 20th Century, and boasts an impressive heritage. Many icons of southern old-time music have been prior contestants and winners.
So Justin – my Georgia Jaymate – and I packed our instruments and made the hour long drive north to Calhoun.
For my two entries, I played Colored Aristocracy and a tune partly of my own invention: a blend of Sandy Boys and Clinch Mountain Backstep, which I present as this week’s tune.
You may recall me having played Clinch Mountain Backstep previously as a “Tune of the Week” selection. Many of you recognized it then as a close relative of Sandy Boys.
For that I arrangement I played it in standard A, but here played out of A modal to bring home its mountain roots.
Not surprisingly, for a contest with such heritage and a respectable bit of prize money, there was an incredibly talented group of competitors from all over. I did not envy the judges.
From a performer’s standpoint, I’m not sure there’s a more intimidating setting than contests like these – playing in a room full of some of the best players from around the country, and the primary purpose of the affair is for it your playing to be JUDGED.
Coincidentally, I’d just recently completed the latest “Laws of Brainjo” piece on “How to Scare Away Stage Fright.” And now here was a great opportunity to field test that advice!
I was fortunate to place 2nd. 1st went to Toronto native Kaia Kater, an outstanding and original talent who looks to have a lot more great music making in her future.
As a natural introvert, I don’t relish being the center of attention. But, as you probably know, I believe that anything can be learned, with the right tools.
So getting to the point where I’m comfortable on stages like this is a personal victory. And all of the 4 techniques mentioned in the article are ones I’ve relied on to get me there.
So if you’ve ever felt the sweat welling up on your palms when eyes are upon you, give it a read. If I can conquer stage fright, I know you can, too.
Sandy Boys/Clinch Mountain Backstep
aEADE tuning, Brainjo level 4
Notes on the tab:
Notes in parentheses are “skip” notes. To learn more about these, check out my video lesson on the subject.
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.
Level 2 arrangements and video demos for the Tune (and Song!) of the Week tunes are now available as part of the Breakthrough Banjo course. Learn more about it here.