my instruments: Brune

When I think about my patrons, that is to say the people who supported me while I was trying to get my start as a musician, the one that pops to the top is my Great Aunt Mae. She was an important figure in my life. My mom’s maternal aunt, she treated my mom and her offspring as though they were her own. To say she favored my mother would be an understatement of epic proportions. Aunt Mae was an odd duck to say the least, but was always kind and generous to those she held dear. And she held us dear.

She was financially responsible to a fault. On the salary of a teacher, she lived very frugally and was able to make a little into a lot. Every year, she gave us savings bonds for our birthday and Christmas. I can still remember looking at the paper with her to see what the interest rates were. She treated me as though I was an adult before I was 10 and that meant never explaining why bonds were important. She assumed that I knew.


So these bonds piled up in a safe place over the years. I didn’t think much about them. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

I went off to conservatory with a Yamaha classical guitar. It was a cheap student instrument that was not really fit for serious study. Halfway through my freshman year, I started looking at real instruments. That was when I went off to see Roger Thurman in Kent, Ohio. He’s a great luthier and at the time ran a great shop with a fantastic little performance space (he may still have it…I should stop in the next time I’m home). I knew him through a buddy of mine from high school. He was really great about showing me some good instruments and providing me with a fair price. He also cut me a deal by letting me pay in installments. That was a huge risk for him as a small business owner, but he knew where my mom lived so I guess it’s relative.

In Mr. Thurman’s shop, I saw a Brune. It was simple in appearance and had a solid tone. My take at the time was that it wasn’t a brilliant performance instrument, but quite respectable. Having played many instruments over the intervening years I have a very different opinion. It’s a great instrument. It was also at a price that a poor college kid could afford (in installments and with a decent chunk down). But I didn’t know where I was going to come up with the money.

And then I remembered the bonds. I cashed a few in. I paid for a good chunk of the guitar and happily resumed my studies after the winter break with gusto.

I still have it. It has followed me everywhere I’ve gone since I first brought it home. It’s one of two instruments that I have had for 20 years. There are plenty of reasons for my keeping it with me. The simplest is because I love to play the classical guitar. I enjoy the sound and the repertoire. Another is that the instrument itself, that specific guitar, makes me want to play it. I like to touch its strings when I walk by. It’s never work to pick it up and strum. It is inspiring – the best thing an instrument can hope to be. But the real reason for keeping it is because it symbolizes discipline.

I was never so disciplined as in conservatory. Practicing for hours and hours, the focus I developed was fairly impressive. The time passed effortlessly and the act of memorizing music and reading it became fluid. Instinctive. A reflex. There is something beautiful about the ability to step outside of oneself and listen objectively to what is being played. I could do that then. While certainly not at my peak in terms of musicianship, I was dragging myself up the mountain at a good clip. That guitar was with me every step of the way. I don’t know that I spent so much time with anything or anyone as I did that instrument during those four years.

I restrung it a couple of weeks ago and have been practicing every night for an hour. It’s not much, but it’s what I can afford. I’m doing my exercises and reading through etudes. Pie in the sky goals are running through my head about what pieces I would like to have some proficiency with by the end of next year, but there’s a little girl waiting in the wings to derail that with a smile, some crying, and a pile of diapers. It doesn’t matter. The thoughts are there. The joy has returned. And a piece of me feels more connected to something simply because I’m putting that instrument in my lap every day.

My Aunt Mae has been gone since 2005. It hardly seems possible, but the calendar doesn’t lie. I miss her. I’m so glad she got to hear me play.

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