Nice Niche Part 2: Exquisite Privilege

As a teacher, I feel like I’m a contestant on  the Race To Mediocrity, a reality show where out-of-context assessment has become a reward challenge and failing to follow the go-along-to-get-along mandate might get me voted off the island. Until that happens, I’m Sisyphus rolling the system uphill to the place of creative risk taking that is the essence of true excellence.

It’s a good thing I have other interests.

When I asked Gusty, Mohr Fire’s sound engineer, about his professional style, I expected him to talk about turning the volume down, developing precision and depth because the guys in Angus Mohr continually gave him credit for that when I talked to them last summer.

Instead, he said his first goal is to, “… make a safe space for people  to bare their souls…Most musicians have a lot to say through their lyrics or through the emotions that become notes on a keyboard or plucks on a harp…and they just can’t rest until they’ve said it.”

Sitting at the console, Gusty puts his method where his mouth is. The atmosphere was low key and collaborative as he, Tamra, and Paul chat back and forth with Kailin between fiddle takes.

“The Parting Glass”

Tamra: Play the melody and break away..I think you have a good sense of it.

Kailin: Will you tell that to my mom?

Tamra: Sure what’s her number?

“Shenandoah”

Kailin: I’m human; I respond differently each time.

Gusty: Humid? As dry as it is, and you manage to be humid too?…That was beautiful from beginning to end.

“Loch Lomond”

Kailin: Let’s do a pass without me knowing what it is.

Paul: Working without a net.

Gusty: She wasn’t available that day.

Paul: Annette.

When the “Wee birdies sing,” symbolizing the highland lament’s ruined spring, the tweets of wee birdies leapt from Kailin’s strings before turning to the kestrel’s warring cry.

Gusty: Simply Marvelous… (Tamra, next to him, wipes tears from her cheeks while laughing a little) I didn’t realize Tamra was such a cry baby…

“Scarborough Fair.”

Gusty: That was almost an inversion of the melody. Let’s not do another take; there’s no reason to.

They did two more anyway because you never know, but Gusty was right about that first take.  Then it was lunch and Gusty’s story about an echoless room and the intimacy of sound.

And then it was over. I went home, feeling both cleaned out and renewed.  Gusty’s words from that morning circled back through my head. “I’m lucky that people like this exist; it sure does make for a beautiful way to get through the day for me.”

Yeah. Me too.

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