The Rock Creek Tavern is a family place full of tapestry rugs, original art and stained glass windows. It’s five country miles from our house, past tall red barns, flooded wheat fields and acres of horse-fenced hills. Every Tuesday they host bluegrass music in a non-performance environment. Being there is like walking into someone’s living room where a group of friends have gathered. There are no microphones, just kindred spirits coming together to play stand-up bass, mandolins, banjos, guitars, fiddles and dobro. It did not surprise me that most of the musicians were my age, because playing music in that way was such a strong part of our past.
After a hard day at work, my mother would lower her tiny frame on the piano bench and allow her raven hair to move free against her face. She would pour the sorrow from her heart into the songs she sang and lament in minor keys and sultry tempos. My older brother played guitar, my younger brother played drums, while my sister and I sang background duets.
We danced in the village once a week. Accordion music propelled us in great skipping circles as we learned to polka and follow the commands of square dance fiddlers. We swirled until we were out of breath and red in the cheeks. We never went to visit neighbors without migrating to the piano to play hymns, folk songs or show tunes. Schools required every student to play an instrument or go to choir. People played music on the porch after dinner, and children in elementary school had music day once each week.
I remember thinking, when I first worked in dinner theater, how odd it was that a whole room full of people would sit in their chairs, heavy from too much dinner and watch me do what we should all be doing together.
I am truly saddened by television, our cultural Chernobyl, because it put an end to all of that. Instead of playing music, singing, enjoying community and feeling alive, we became inert and comatose by comparison.
When did we forget how to dance?
When did we forget how to sing?
There are children leaning over the railing that divides the upper dining room at Rock Creek from the musicians below. The woman playing the stand up bass has stopped, and turned her attention to them. She invites the little ones to stroke the strings and experience the magic that’s created. The dobro player is telling them about his slide guitar, a cherry wood instrument with a shiny silver top. Her name is Rosie, he explains. She’s one hundred years old and lived undiscovered in a barn for a long time. I found her and brought her to life again. I take good care of her because she is beautiful and important to me.
The children are laughing and smiling, the wonder of music alive in their eyes.