Saturday, November 5, 2011

Banjos and Wolves

Do you know the origin of the banjo?  The idea of stretching strings over gourds with an attached neck has roots in Africa and the Middle & Far East.  In fact, early African slaves brought to the Americas were said to have created these instruments during their captivity.  The guitar, on the other hand, quite possibly came about in Spain (in its modern form).  Its predecessor possibly using a bowl or a turtle shell with strings and a neck.  It then spread to other European countries in the 17th century or so.

Now I am not so musically uninclined as to believe that guitars are the same as banjos, or that the sound is the same by any means.  I just find it interesting that folks from long ago unilaterally produced music-making devices with a similar concept.  The spirit of invention often stems from necessity or the desire for increased convenience.  In the case of the arts, a pleasing sound eminating from a gourd or a tortoise shell is somewhat foreign to me.

I'm not sure that I would have the foresight or the wherewithal to create musical instruments where none existed previously.  I've made my fair share of cereal box guitars, and plastic bucket drums, but that is with the help of the modern instruments as a pattern.

And there is the concept I find most intriguing- to concieve a design or a concept where no pattern lies.  Quick, imagine a color that you have never seen!  Hmmm.  I can't do it.  How about a shape?!  A sneaker?!  A car?!  I fail again and again to imagine the nonexistent.  It's like trying to percieve eternity or the scope of the universe or something.

That's why I used to love to read about Thomas Edison.  As a boy, I loved biographies and especially ones about him.  His mind fascinated me.  Often, his inventions were a means to an end in solving a problem, but it was the way that he approached these solutions that made him who he was.

I resolve to have more open-ended conversations with my children.  They are master non-conformists.  Yesterday I sat outside behind a row of bushes with my 5-year-old pretending we were wolves.  We howled and growled and enjoyed the cold wind on our wolf noses.  From that vantage point I began to think about some new landscaping ideas for that part of the property.  It was nice over there, but I'm not sure everyone would be comfortable on the ground behind a bush.  Maybe a nice glider or something.

The point is, there are some things that only occur to you  from a different vantage point.  So, force yourself from your comfort seat.  Assume the four-legged position of the canine variety, and string up a gourd.  It just might become the world's next great idea!

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