A window with a different view, a bird feeder with a slight variation of birds, new rooms to arrange furniture, different community and culture, ease of visitations with family, a golden retriever and a chocolate lab joining on walks and at our side. Many changes occurred in 2016. After living out of state for a number of years, the year 2016 was the year of coming back home. In a way, it was like stepping into a suit I once wore, but it not fitting, the fabric familiar in appearance and feel, but the stitching something before I never took note of. I was adapting though, and my body and mind were finally easing and beginning to find comfort in my new home.
Do you hear it, the rattling of tins and old pales, the banging on skillets, the clatter of bones? The sound of Rough Music?
“The Rough Band played on occasions such as a marriage which the village considered reprehensible, or in cases of adultery, incest, wife – or husband – beating. Although its’ playing was nearly always reserved for sexual offences, unpopularity of any sort sometimes called out Rough Music. It was used to ‘drum a man out of the village’ if his offence had been a gross one.”
-Evans, George Ewart. The Pattern Under the Plough: Aspects of the Folk Life of East Anglia, p. 110
As I move into the New Year, amongst the worries and fears that echo across the country, I first aim to follow my heart.
I’ve taken an interest in woodcarving, and my first class begins this evening. In preparation, I’ve collected my chisels and gouges, some new, and some old. To feel the “pleasure” of carving through the wood, I must first find pleasure in the process of sharpening.
As I sharpen the curved edges of my tools, I sharpen my character as well. Winter is a choice time for this. Reading new books and learning new bits of history, experimenting with new fingerings and styles on the guitar, and discovering new fiddle tunes. Which reminds me, I’ve opened my heart’s door to a region specific fiddle. I never knew I’d take interest in a Hardanger fiddle until I moved to Stoughton, WI. While I’m here in this town that identifies greatly with Norwegian culture I might as well take in as much of the heritage as I can. My Grandpa would be proud.
It’s nice to envision a future, but things can change, and they can change fast. So today I’m going live and try to notice how beautiful the view out the window is, and how lucky I am to be able to watch the birds, and how grateful I am to have a roof over my head, and how awesome it is that I can take a wood class in my small town, and how easy it is to have a meal with family, and how comforting it is to have a couple of worry-free dogs laying beside me...
...and I better pull out the old pots and pans too.
'We Are Our Parents' Children
"...we are our parents' children and the primary instrument of our fate is the behavior of your mother and father...Their joint unconscious psyche; the rages they suppress, the longings they cannot fulfill, the images they dream at night, basically form our souls..."
-A Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman
When I have the chance, I like to ask fellow musicians about their path into music. I often wonder if their parents had anything to do with their lifestyle, especially if it seems they are on the path of their calling, but who am I to be the judge of that? Recently, I asked one of my favorite multi-instrumentalists, Danny Knicely, about his background. His dad played fiddle and guitar at local dances, and at some point put an upright bass in his hands so that he could join in. That lead him to every other instrument you can think of. Well, my parents play the stereo.
The stereo has been one of the most used devices in my parents' home since as long as I can remember. I imagine you won't be surprised when I tell you that coming out of those speakers, still to this day, are the voices and songs of John Denver, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Mary Carpenter, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Kate Wolf, just to name a few. And the instruments, obviously acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos, and fiddles. My parents have had quite an influence on my musical leanings. It's not a coincidence that the music I create reflects the music that has surrounded my parents, even before I was born. Therefore, I cannot tell my story without sharing a few words about Bob and Kathy Peck.
Back in Mom and Dad's hometown of Rockford, IL, in the late '70's, you might have found my parents at a venue called Charlotte's Web. It sounds like it was a fine place to capture artists touring the Midwest, like Steve Goodman, Robin and Linda Williams, Peter Ostroushko, Leon Redbone, Leo Kottke, and Greg Brown. I don't know what prompted them to attend these shows, but what matters is that something interested them and they returned time and time again to hear more songs and stories. It worked out quite well when the location of my dad's work moved him, my mom, and my older brother to a suburb of Denver, Colorado. Turn's out Denver was a bustling hub of folk and bluegrass music in the '80's.
Out West, according to my parents, there were music festivals that folks could enter for the cost of a song or two. This, however, was not a price Mom and Dad were willing to pay. Marti and Doug, on the other hand, loved this deal. These two good old friends of my parents would carry along to the festivals their guitar and dulcimer. My folks managed to find other deals here and there though. For instance, my Dad and his friend Jeff, while at work, would listen in to the local radio show that would give out free tickets to upcoming shows for being the first to correctly answer music trivia. Their combined knowledge paid off countless times. Donovan, Leo Kottke, Tim O'Brien, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, and The Amazing Rhythm Aces, are just a handful of shows they attended in and around Denver.
The Response to an Opening
"[Openings] arrive on schedule, like molars. Each of these openings needs a response from family or culture in order to remain open, to become a part of the life...The conclusion is that if the outer world responds, the inner openings will remain open for life, and that corresponding power becomes an integrated part of the psyche."
-The Maiden King: The Reunion of the Masculine and Feminine, Robert Bly and Marion Woodman
Like I mentioned in a previous blog, I began my studies on the violin at age 8. I cannot thank my parents enough for their "response to an opening". Not only was this a financial burden to them, but I know their ears took a toll as well. Early sounds on the bowed instruments are quite unflattering and dissonant. This is not something that cleans up in a matter of weeks, it's more a matter of years. In fact, the cleaning up never ends. Classical music is not my parents first choice, but that didn't keep them from supporting my classical studies, and attending all of my classical recitals. Who would have known my performances would evolve later on into "lyrically driven neo-traditionalist folk music"?
Today, when I walk into my parents home, it's very likely that fiddles and guitars will be filtering out of of the stereo speakers. Or, my mom will be singing and playing her guitar. Yes, about 10 years ago, after I moved out of town, Mom began playing the guitar. Well, first it was mandolin, but guitar was what she ended up being more drawn to. She said she missed hearing the live music in the house. Now she can create her own. When Madeline and I visit, or she's visiting us, we often pull out our instruments and sing and play songs. Funny thing is, they're often sad songs. We have a few of those in our repertoire. Dad will be in a nearby chair reading a book, or using his hands to make Fendrick & Peck T-Shirts. It's good to live so near them again.
I don’t know about you, but I was always more interested in school when I wasn’t in the classroom. So I didn’t hesitate when my 4th grade teacher announced it was time for us to line up to head to the school’s theater. An introduction to the strings, brasses, and winds was planned for us that day, but I was simply happy to be going for a short walk and heading to a less familiar place, even if it was still on school grounds.
Passing through the classroom doorway, shifting from the room full of desks and bookshelves into the hard-floored, metal-locker lined hallway, was plenty to ignite my senses. I could hear the bouncing sound of other classes heading to the same location, and see the sunlight from the distant double-door exit windows reflecting on the same surfaces. I imagine my classmates and I were probably chatting on the way about the latest Goosebumps novel we were reading, and likely bragging about how many from the series we had collected ourselves.
After funneling into the theater, joining the other 4th and 5th grade students, and sliding into rows and plopping down onto thinly cushioned seats, the teachers settled us in and the program began. Ms. Munson was her name, and she began by sharing some music on a little wooden box called the violin. She drew a stick over the strings and a sustaining tone filled the room. After playing a few simple ditties, she placed it down and did the same with the viola and the cello. Now that we had reached the 4th grade, she said, we had the option of learning one of these stringed instruments. Ms. Munson went on to show the instruments available to the 5th graders: the brasses, winds, and percussion. Something about that violin struck me though. I don’t know why, but I went home that evening and asked my parents if I could take up the violin. Fortunately, even though my parents were not instrumentalists themselves, they supported my interest. So, the violin rentals began. Being within ear range of a beginning violinist can be quite straining, so I feel quite lucky that my parents, and any other care takers that were around my practicing, were able to put up with it. So that’s what I did. I practiced, practiced, and practiced.
I successfully progressed on the violin, and in 5th grade, my parents thought I might want to take additional lessons outside of the school’s violin class to help prepare me for an upcoming school music program. These private lessons took place at a shady looking music store in town, with a large messy front counter, dusty songbooks, and a variety of mostly guitar and drum-like instruments along the dirty white walls. I imagine if my parents weren't new to town, they'd have chosen a different place. Practice rooms were in the dark hallway in the back with cheap flooring and walls. Turns out, the shop wasn't such a bad place after all. Little did I know, I’d be spending much time at this shop over the next several years! This funky shop is where I met an outstanding violin teacher that I would study with for the next 3 years, until sadly he moved out of town. My teacher, John, even introduced me to the mandolin. My parents jumped on the idea of me playing the mandolin and surprised me with one of these odd stringed instruments the following holiday. It was a foreign object to me, though, and I hardly touched it until years later. I had plenty keeping me busy just on the violin alone. John had me not only working on school music, but additional etudes for nerve-racking concerts called “recitals”.
The upcoming school holiday music that I was preparing featured me playing Silent Night...alone! The ensemble arrangement of Jingle Bells hit the last note and the applause rose, then withered away. Ms. Munson gave me a nod, and as if I knew what I was doing I stepped out of my chair and up to the front of the stage. I could feel the eyes following me. I settled on a spot, took a breath, raised my bow, and a sustaining tone filled the room. There, in the very theater I was sitting in a year ago, I was now on stage sharing my first violin solo.
Back at school, I was a happy camper. Periodically throughout the week, a few kids and I would be excused from class to join Ms. Munson. I’d slide out of my desk, pick up my violin case, and head out the door. I don’t know about you, but I was always more interested in school when I wasn’t in the classroom. I was simply happy to be going for a short walk and heading to a less familiar place.
Now that the ornaments, ribbon, lights, and pickle had all been removed, wrapped in tissue paper, placed in their plastic or foam storage casing, and packed into boxes for their lengthy rest until next Christmas season, we stood back and observed the bare Frasier Fir. I thought about where we first saw it over at Hann's Tree farm. We wandered from tree to tree; too skinny, not consistently round, not the right kind, too tall, a bit empty on this side, and so on. Mary Lou, Madeline's grandmother, spotted it as we walked disappointingly treeless back to the car. Hundreds and hundreds of tree hungry families obviously ignored this one because of it's small stature, but it was wonderfully full and round. After a couple minutes of debate, I plopped down and satisfyingly sliced through it's trunk as if it were butter, truly. "We'll spread the canvas, lay the tree down, slide it out the back door, and stand it up in the backyard. The birds always appreciate it", said Madeline's grandpa, Richard. It happened just like that, and it was the last Christmas piece cleared from sight. All that was left was to sweep up some fir needles, specs of glitter, small bits of foam, and a tiny jingle bell.
The time had now come and gone, the time I had been envisioning a few weeks earlier as I was hanging roping, straightening candles, placing ribbon, and much more with the Christmas set up at Mary Lou and Richard's home. It began with the outside display, a display that the locals make sure to see each year and new folks in town will stop in their tracks upon walking, or driving by. You simply cannot ignore the comedic scene on the roof with Santa, questionably looking down upon his clumsy reindeer, all twisted up in ribbon, with Rudolph's red nose bobbing up and down. With ropes, ladder, drill, bags, and many hands, the roof display was cleared. We moved to the front porch. Down came the roping along the awning, above the front door and up the railing. Down came the colored lights wrapped around the two cherry trees that were placed so that the trees would appear to be twirling as cars passed by. This year, thanks to Madeline, there was even a reference to Harry Potter on the porch, an Owl making a delivery. It floated up and down "mysteriously" each time the front door was opened and closed. It's now cleared away too. The human size St. Nicholas, with his long Pinocchio like nose, whose bobbing head seamed to follow the owl up and down, is now leaning against a wall in the tool shed. Inside the house is just as spectacular for those fortunate, or should I say brave enough, to visit the Fendricks. However, the time has passed and the roping, ribbon, faux birds, mistletoe, Richard's hand-crafted nativity scene, the electrified miniature village with miniature townsfolk and frosted trees, the raggedy old Santa puppet, is all tucked away upstairs in several large storage bins stacked to the ceiling.
Why do we go through with the trouble of setting up an entire house, inside and out, pulling all the stops, unpacking all the bells and whistles, to only pack them away a few weeks later? Back at my parents home, besides putting away the tree ornaments, the strings of white lights would be removed from the front of the house, and the wreath removed from the front door. Inside, the mistletoe would be taken down from the front entrance, and the red clay alter scene boxed up. The stuffed Santa's, with fat bellies and skinny legs and arms, and the stuffed reindeer I looked forward to playing with each year, all packed away. The Christmas themed kitchen plates, glasses and mugs, all gently wrapped and boxed. Quite the job now that I think back on it.
Seasons end and are followed by the next. So why not mark these moments as apposed to watching them pass by, as if each day were the same. Enter into the realm of the stories and myths of the community and the cyclical nature of the earths seasons. Ritual is human nature. It brings meaning into our life. It presents a theme. It gives us something to celebrate or mourn. It supplies an environment to reflect on. It inspires a meal, an outfit, a gift, a game, a painting, a photo, a journal entry, a song.
So what now that the tree has come down? What now that the sky is gray and the field grasses are asleep under a blanket of snow? The bears are in hibernation. The geese have flown south.
"It's nice to see our living room back," said Mary Lou. Richard: "The light is free to enter the room again."
I had visited Matthew and Shelly's small one bedroom brownstone apartment several times, gazed up and down the walls lined with books from floor to ceiling, admired the framed photos that shed light on youth and extended family, and pressed a few notes on the upright piano that had stacks of songbooks and sheets of music, many of which were songs of Matthews' that he had notated out by hand and printed copies of. As Shelly unlocked the storage unit in Harlem that she and Matthew had rented and used for 30 or more years, my thoughts were steeped with curiosity about this extension of Matthew and Shelly that I was just then being introduced to for the first time.
I was co-leading a summer kids camp when I first learned that Matthew was in the hospital. Always seeking an adventure, the other teachers and I arranged a field trip for later that week to walk over and visit him. As the class walked up the sidewalks of Upper Westside Manhattan, I did my best to teach the kids this very line of one of Matthew’s songs, “Freedom, fighting for freedom, 30 or 40 years down the line.” The kids and I would sing it to him upon our arrival.
Time passed by that must have felt like days, but it may have been months or years. However long it was since Matthew had given his last human breathe in this world, Shelly had decided it was time to take on the enormous project of sifting through this heavy weight, sitting on her mind as much as in storage, collecting dust. Among the stacks of cardboard boxes, the racks of cassettes and VHS tapes, resting alongside the other odds and ends, were two guitar cases.
I took a peak inside the first case, and there it was. The small nylon string guitar with the large white sticker that says, “LOVE ANIMALS, DON'T EAT THEM”, that I’ve seen Matthew holding in several old photos. This is a guitar I hope someday to see displayed in an American Civil Right’s Movement exhibit hall, along with his courageous story. I closed the case and peaked inside the other to find another beautiful guitar, this one a Martin D-28 steel string guitar. Shelly told me it was gifted to him in the early ‘70’s, but Matthew never used it much since he preferred the size and feel of the nylon string guitars. We had much to do that day, so I only took a quick minute to please my curiosity. The day began with renting a van, loading it, driving it back to Matthew and Shelly’s neighborhood, then making several trips up and down the 3 flights of steps to the apartment. Madeline, Shelly, and I got quite a work out.
Four or five years before that day of heavy lifting, at Advent Lutheran Church on 93rd and Broadway during a meal, I first met Matthew Jones. And it wasn’t long after that meal that I began accompanying his music. I would carry my guitar and violin across the city to an occasional event at the People's Voice Cafe on East 35th St. in Manhattan, always in memory of other musically inclined activists, and each year Matthew would lead a Martin Luther King Day event at the same church I met him at, usually just as the cold winds of January rolled through the city. The rehearsals took place at he and Shelly’s apartment and were short and sweet followed by good conversation.
Driving the van back to their apartment, I was taken by surprise when Shelly told me that she believed that Matthew would want me to play that guitar, that they would both be delighted for me to have and play the steel string guitar that he was gifted for his acts of kindness and courage.
Thank you Shelly, and thank you Matthew. I'm incredibly honored to share songs and stories with this lovely guitar. I know, from the depth of my heart, that I continue to spread Matthew's love every time I play it.
There are many others who knew Matthew much better than I. To learn more about Freedom Fighter Matthew Jones, follow the link below.
About a year ago, on a visit back to my parent’s home in Wisconsin, I began hearing news about our neighbor Joe. At 95 years old, he was no longer riding his red bicycle everyday, and his quant red brick home was becoming too much of a responsibility for him alone. His son Jay was coming over more often and plans were being made to move Joe into a small apartment, something more manageable for this new chapter of his life.
Back when I was still living on Oregon Street, and running around with the other boys on the block, Mary and Joe would make their presence known, especially Mary. Mary didn’t trust us boys much, and I don’t blame her. I’d be concerned as well if kids were hitting real golf balls with clubs around the neighborhood, or launching paint balls across yards. However, our interactions with Mary and Joe weren’t always out of concern. We were in awe when Joe showed us his model train track that took up half their basement with miniature towns and grassy slopes and even tunnels and bridges. And there was that summer day Joe taught us how to make an unusual, yet effective paper airplane model. However, like all neighborhoods, the years go on. Neighbors move out as other move in, new and unfamiliar boys and girls are seen running around, and older folks, like Mary, pass on.
Joe’s son Jay likes to tell stories, and now that he and his wife reside in the quant red brick home next door, I get to hear a story occasionally when I visit my parents in the old neighborhood. One story that tickled my fancy a few months ago was one about a guitar he’d been keeping with him for years.
Over 40 years ago, when he was 18, his mother Mary brought home a small guitar that she had purchased at a rummage sale for $10. He dabbled with it, but never got into playing it much. However, he kept it around because he loved to share it with his buddies who could play it. They’d always be impressed by the sound of this little guitar. About a year ago, one friend prompted Jay to get this guitar looked at, because it was an old Martin Guitar. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these guitars, the old Martin Guitars have become quite the collector’s item these days. I wasn’t ready to see it the first time he mentioned it.
The next time I was in town, I walked over just to see this guitar of Jay's. He took it out for me, and his friends were right, this was an impressive guitar. Jay was so generous, he said, “Go ahead and take it with you for a day or two, and use it at your gig if you’d like.” Madeline fell in love with it. We’d actually been talking about finding a smaller guitar, but this one was out of the question. I went to return the guitar just before hitting the road back to Nashville, and when he opened the door I said to Jay, “Can Madeline and I take this guitar down to Nashville with us?” I knew the guitar needed some attention if it were to be played seriously, and Jay must have seen the twinkle in my eye.
The guitar needed the neck and frets reset, but all in all the guitar was in unusually great shape according to our friends at Cotten Music Center. Andrew the luthier said, “Buy this guitar. If you don’t have the money, find someone to borrow it from.” That’s the story of many musicians it seems. Kees Kooper, the Danish concert violinist I mentioned in a previous story, comes to mind. At 18 years old he borrowed $50,000 for his first “real” violin. Fortunately, the kind of money we needed to find was just a fraction of that. We found the money for the guitar and it’s repairs, which we are still paying back, but we’re very happy to have added this 1926 0-18 Martin Guitar to our family of instruments. Jay seems pretty happy as well. He was recently waving to us from his front porch, just above his freshly laid concrete walkway.
While I was living in NYC, just as I had met the lovely Madeline Fendrick, I was given the opportunity to join a care team for an incredible elderly man named Kees Kooper. My position was that of an overnight care assistant, to essentially live with him. At the time, Kees was an 89 year old, retired concert violinist and he was full of fascinating stories. In fact, Dutch native Kees Kooper played Carnegie Hall several times in ensembles, 8 of those times as a solo violinist! He played all over the world, and performed often with his wife who was a pianist and painter.
For three months I worked with Kees and the care team, and since I was on the “night shift”, I was able to continue working my other odd jobs as a barista, church floor buffer, guitar teacher, and Sunday church service Musician/Psalm leader. This being the case, I was able to save money like I never had before in the high cost city of New York. This is what gave me the financial flexibility of entering into the mandolin market, which is a scary market to enter into. Those small instruments sure have a pricy tag on them!
There are two instrument shops that I frequented for the next month or so, one being Retrofret in Brooklyn, and the other being Mandolin Bros in Staten Island.
The first mandolins I was interested in sampling were the f models, those of which often have f sound holes and that fancy curly scroll on the body. I kept finding, however, that I was consistently unhappy with those within my budget. So I opened up to the A models, the pear shaped mandolins.
One of my favorite mandolin players, Peter Ostroushko, plays an A model mandolin. I checked into his mandolin, but unfortunately for me, the fellow who made his instrument was no longer in the business. It would have probably been out of my budget anyhow. This is when I began sampling the early Gibson models. Surprisingly, many of those old A models were in my budget!
After playing several mandolins and after many, many commutes on the NYC subway and the Staten Island Ferry, I finally settled on our 1921 Gibson A Model Mandolin. Since the ferry ride back home was somewhat unpopulated, I carefully removed it from it's case and joyfully played it on board!
Kees Kooper, being a concert violinist, was quite opinionated when it came to instruments. He actually called Madeline's violin "fire wood!" We still laugh about that. So I was quite pleased when he gave his subtle approval.
I’m still very happy with this instrument, and ever grateful for the opportunity to work alongside the extraordinary and greatly missed, Kees Kooper.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with it's stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.
I never seriously considered the tenor banjo until two winters ago. While visiting Madison, WI, a good friend of ours put the tenor banjo seed in our heads. We walked down to Spruce Tree Music to see and play one for ourselves, and we were immediately hooked! We could see many new possibilities!
I’ve used 5 string banjos before, and quite enjoy them. The tenor banjo, having just one less string, is a much different instrument. The fingering of scales is actually loosely comparable to the fingering of scales on the mandolin. The mandolin is like a violin, as a tenor banjo is like a viola. When Madeline picked the tenor banjo up for the first time, she played it as if she had played it for years! We had to have one, but how?
I had a sweet 1950 Gibson L-48 that I rarely used, so I thought a reasonable solution would be to find a new owner for that, so that we could then comfortably acquire a tenor banjo. This all happened just a few weeks before Madeline and I planned on moving south to Nashville; so with no luck, we attempted to sell our guitar privately. However, it was a blessing in disguise. We might have made a little extra money selling privately, but then we would have never met the wonderful people at Cotten Music Center and found the extraordinary tenor banjo we now use.
Within a week of moving to Nashville, I called all around town to find who had tenor banjos, and it was Cotton Music Center that, just over the phone, I felt good about doing business with. The voice on the other end said, “Wow! It’s rare to have folks call inquiring about tenor banjos in this town, but we do have two you might be interested in, and we’d love to have you come on over and check them out!” So we jumped in the car, with our Gibson guitar too, and headed on over. The banjo we fell in love with at Cotten was a Gibson too! They appreciated our Gibson guitar too and offered to help us out by selling it on consignment for us. So we wearily left the store with nothing in our hands, putting our trust in Cotten that our guitar would sell, and we’d be able to take that 1928 Gibson TB-2 home. Guess what, in a matter of weeks, that is what happened!
It’s good to now that some else is now playing and enjoying that sweet 1950 Gibson L-48. It’s better for it to be played and enjoyed than for it to be in its’ case in a closet for months.
We take our Gibson TB-2 all over with us now. We have also made great friends with the folks at Cotten Music Center, and have returned several times just to stop in and say hello! They’ve helped us out on other occasions as well, so you may hear more about them in more stories come.
Madeline Fendrick and Brian Peck
We're happy to share with you stories from our journey as artists. Stories from the road, and stories from our home base in Stoughton, WI.
Logo Art by:
Robert Peck (Brian's Dad)
Cover Photos by: