Inspired by an Artist at Work

The moon rose up behind the small stage atop a sleeping volcano in Salem, Oregon. Birds tweeted in the dark forest beyond, a squirrel chirped warning, and leaves rustled gently, none intruding upon the moment when the master of the harp guitar caressed the twenty strings, and a new sound rose up through the trees to touch the stars.

John Doan is indeed a master of the harp guitar. He specializes in what he calls beyond six strings, dancing his fingers through the ancient instruments of a tremolo, harpolyre, ukelin, chartola, banjo – I’ve lost count. One of his unique instruments from his vast collection is a blog oak guitar made from recently uncovered 5,500 year old wood in England. He performs on tour around the world, and spends part of the school year introducing students at Willamette University about the history and magic of music.

As I listen and watch John play, I see more than an artist at work. I see a dedicated master of his craft.

Traveling around trying to get work in the early years, harp guitar on his back, he tells stories of no one believing one instrument could make such a sound or even existed. When Windham Hill first solicited a sample of his music, they specialized in solo artists. They rejected his first submission as this clearly wasn’t the work of a single instrument. He had to get a film made of him performing before they could accept that this was indeed a single artist with a single unique musical instrument. Others were impressed by the instrument, more eager to get their hands on it rather than listen to him play. He willingly obliged, finding enjoyment in sharing the wonder of this more than 200 year old historical stringed guitar.

Time and again, he had to prove himself, giving into the expectations and will of others who told him that only this or that type of music would sell and interest fans. He quietly pushed forward his own artistic agenda to become a leader in his own right. Today, a master of the harp guitar, he teaches at the university and to students traveling e to his workshops from across the globe, and dazzling audiences in his world tours, returning only a few days ago from a tour in China, his second just this year.

John’s music and stories take me to another place. I’m lost in history, wandering through field and forest in the wilds of Ireland, fighting in France and Spain in the Napoleonic Wars, sitting beside a stream in China, or sitting in a Victorian parlor with friends and family singing along to traditional holiday songs in the early 1800s.

Long dear friends of ours, he and his wife stay with us often. We wake in the morning to the sound of practicing and composing in our living room window overlooking the valley below. I make a cup of tea and sit near but not too close as to distract him, and just rest in the places his music takes me. On a weekend, he will wander out into my husband’s workshop and the two will play with wood, exploring its grains and textures as well as its science and history. His wife will prepare a beautiful meal and we will talk late into the night often debating world history, sharing stories of self-discovery, far away places, tapping into vast knowledge and wild philosophies late nights encourage.

Having such friends is wonderful. Not for their fame but for the joy of their craft and their ability to be real in person and in talent.

John, and his beautiful wife, Deirdre, inspire me. They inspire me to do better and more. As a master storyteller, John encourages me to study my craft of blogging more deeply, digging into the past and history of diary and journal writing, memoir, and our need to share our stories with others. Blogging is just another method of storytelling, an art form older than music. As he composes in our living room, I find myself composing my own work, yearning for the keyboard, my instrument, to express the thoughts flooding my mind.

Who among friends and family inspire you? They don’t have to be artists, musicians, or crafty. They can just be thoughtful and well-educated, willing to explore the ideas in their head and do so with you.

Gather them around you. Cherish and treasure them.

They are your muse. They are your source of inspiration.

And when they inspire you, remind yourself to thank them for the gifts.

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