Thursday, October 16, 2014

Michael Smith's Music Magic

Mom's banjo uke
Mom's banjo uke, minus strings...
About one week after mom died in June, I sent a Facebook message to friend, musician, and neighbor, Michael Smith. I attached a photo of a musical instrument I found hidden in one of mom's closets. It looked like a miniature banjo at 21 inches in length and with a seven-inch diameter head. It had two "f" holes in the resonator's back and it was branded Ferry Quality.

I know mom told me when I was much younger that she played the ukulele, but I never remember her playing one. I definitely don't remember seeing this instrument before I found it in the closet. Michael informed me that this instrument was more than a ukulele -- it was a banjo ukulele.

I searched high and low on the Internet and found little about the Ferry Quality banjo uke; but, I did discover Banjo Ukulele Haven, which details the history and value of some other banjo uke brands. Either the banjo uke mom owned is very rare or it's not in demand, but Michael seemed to like it. He encouraged me keep and preserve it by putting it in a display case. I almost took it home with me in August, but something told me to keep it at dad's house.

Fast forward to September. I am back at the folks' house, helping dad with various and sundry things. Before I left, Michele Larocque from Deep River Studio interviewed me for a book trailer that she was making for my Indiegogo fundraising project. We talked briefly about music for the video, but we were at a loss as to what to use for background sound. Mom liked all types of music -- opera, classical, gospel, folk...anything but rap. The tone of the video also needed consideration, and I thought about my choices on the way to dad's house.

I finally decided on blues, so I asked a musician friend to help me out. He didn't respond, and time wasn't on my side. Several people nudged me to use royalty-free music or to pay for a popular artist's piece, but I wanted desperately to ask someone local to help out. I know plenty of very good local musicians, so I went to Facebook to ask if anyone could help with an original piece.

I received a ton of responses over the 24 hours after I posted, but Michael was the only musician to respond with a video and an original piece -- within 24 hours! I was floored...the music was a great mix of eastern, bluegrass, and blues (yes, obviously this mix is possible), so I wanted Michael to provide the music for the video.

Unfortunately, Michele needed a longer piece for the project than the one that Michael originally produced, so I talked to him about this issue. I liked his original music and he did, too -- but after he saw the rough cut for the video, he was excited about pushing his music to another level. To make a long story short, he wrote and performed a final piece that was dedicated to his brother, Paul, who recently died from cancer.

"Paul's Song" is beautiful. Michael shared it with me after he recorded it in a local studio (All Things Music at 522 Washington Street in Shelbyville, KY). I knew Michael was a stellar musician, but I was stunned by this piece. I was honored that Michael was willing to share his music with me, and I was humbled by his inspiration.

Michael's music on the video comes in bits and pieces, and it doesn't represent the entire song as Michael wrote it. But, that's what happens with a music/audio/visual mix, and Michele, in my opinion, did a bang-up job on the video (shown at the top bottom of every page, because I'm that proud of the final product). This lack of musical continuity is sad, however, because the full rendition of "Paul's Song" could melt your heart. On the other hand, Michael still retains the original piece in all its glory, and it is up to him to decide what he wants to do with that music.

I do know that mom's banjo uke belongs to Michael. In fact, I could almost hear her voice say a resounding "Yes!" at the exact moment I realized what I needed to do with that instrument. When I return home, I will return with that Ferry Quality banjo uke and hand it -- and the accompanying "Original Guckert's Chords for the Ukulele at Sight Without Notes or Teacher" booklet -- over to Michael's care.

Michael, thank you for blessing me with your talents, skills, and love. I only hope I can do the same for you one day, friend. Cheers.

NOTE: Michael doesn't have a website, but he does give uke lessons in La Grange. If you'd like to take lessons from Michael, please message me on Facebook or Twitter, and I'll ask him to get in touch with you.