Once upon a time, (I will never tire of using that beginning), in the late 1980s a young girl chose the acoustic guitar above instruments still considered more feminine: the flute, the clarinet, the piano, singing. The only girl amongst boys, it was a more difficult task than it would have been if more girls had been encouraged to learn how to play. But for a few years she persevered, zealously attended lessons at an all boys' school and practised, practised, practised. After school, at weekends, and during the holidays; the guitar and sheet music travelling with her if she went to stay by the seaside, where because of her, her cousins had also taken up the guitar and so some mornings they'd sit tuning and twanging with frowns of concentration etched on their faces. She, the more seriously dedicated of the two; for the others it was a passing whim, an imitation of the first grandchild.
exams came and new levels were attained, group recitals were played
with stumbled success, yet lone performances, most notably one, were
overcome with failure. The tutor who was meant to accompany his pupil
on a piece didn't show and the result was an humiliating mess. In
front of the whole school. And its attending parents. Every wrong
note echoed, every fumble observed, as Mr Rynn, the teacher drafted
in, patiently played the absent tutor's part. The pupil crushed, a
new tutor was found, but a lone performance would never again be
attempted, at least not if it wasn't in the confines of home. The
confidence to pull it off gone in a single tick of the metronome.
in a male-dominated-guitar-world needed nourishment, not just from
tutors, but from society. An extra belief that girls if taught well
and with firm encouragement can play equally as well as boys.
Sometimes, to such girls, the impression is that of pandering: a
female child will have her fancies. Let her try for it won't be a
long-lasting experiment, and when that attitude becomes apparent, a
girl quickly loses interest. Spurns the 'hobby' completely regardless
of aptitude or talent because they have felt themselves to be
rejected, informed non-verbally that they cannot compete at the same
level or to the same standard as boys. Guitars are male; woodwind,
female, unless it's an oboe.
how it was then. Attitudes, I believe, have changed, but I can't be
sure because I've been following this girl and she left that scene.
Gave it up, as she has done since with other things. Her ability to
read music dimmed, yet her fingers still remember the feeling of
strings. And how the curved body rested on her knee as she bent her
head studiously over its long neck, and the muscle fatigue after. The
placement of hands and the callouses that developed for her skin was
fleshy and soft. None of which mattered because she always had a
strong sense of discipline, a determination. A need to perfect. Anger
arose if she fluffed it, missed a note or got the pace of the rhythm
wrong. Try again, start over. Which she did, over and over.
was always boys she waited for in the corridor to finish their
lesson, and always boys that waited for her. She listened behind the
closed door to them as they must have done to her if they were early
or she was late finishing, and she blushed with that knowledge.
Simply for being a girl as boys were better. She never saw another
girl pupil or a female tutor to make her think otherwise, so that
gradually as time moved on, as it does, and she saw no outward sign
that a female could pursue this, she abandoned the lessons but not
guitar, she clung to for a number of years. Even after it was little
more than an adornment which she could no longer play, until one day
she met a young girl who, like her at that age, wanted to learn. And
so the guitar got a new home, a new beginning, a possible more
hopeful more used future.
original owner, grown, relinquished because although she has never
been lucky enough to possess the same womanly shape as the
instrument, her nerves when twanged have the same
effect. They reverberate through her being long after each individual
note has been plucked.
As published in Shadowplay: Memoirs of Light and Shade
Picture Credit: The Old Guitarist, 1903, Picasso