Tim Jongo Skehan met his friend Andy Gertler while in line at a bagel shop about 25 years ago. By the time they reached the cashier they were lifelong friends. Recently Tim and Andy created a music video for YouTube that overflows with whimsy, fun, musicality, and melody. This song, "Just Enough Time," was composed by Tim for the strumstick, a simplified 3-string instrument. In this video, Andy plays percussion on dining- room chairs. Yes, you read that correctly. He plays percussion on dining-room chairs.
Go watch the song and come back to learn more about its story. Tim found out about the strumstick because he was a big fan of the Martin Backpacker Guitar, a portable guitar invented by Bob McNally. After inventing the very successful Backpacker Guitar, McNally didn't stop there. His creative urge led him to design the strumstick, a very light, easy- to-play 3-string instrument. When Tim saw photos of the strumstick on Bob McNally's Web site, he knew he had to have one.
Andy Gertler also loves musical instruments--all kinds of musical instruments. Tim says that if you show Andy a musical instrument he hasn't seen before, he'll be playing it within an hour and composing songs on it before the end of the day. Shortly after Tim bought his strumstick, he composed the song "Just Enough Time." When he showed it to Andy, Andy immediately came up with the idea of adding percussion to the song--using dining-room chairs, of all things.
Those chairs are a favorite of Andy's wife, who saw them in a store and was impressed by their aesthetics. When Andy's wife asked Andy what he thought of the chairs, he gave the chairs a smack with his hand. He loved the tonal sound made by the chairs--and so they bought them.
Tim explains his love of the strumstick this way: “The strumstick is the perfect instrument for me because it has such a limited musical palette that it forces you to push the envelope. I liken writing on a strumstick to writing a haiku; both seem to be nothing but a set of artificial restrictions of freedom, but each is capable of expressing anything a human being can feel.” Andy explains the strumstick this way: “Being that it's diatonic, you can't play a wrong note. It's all good!”
You can find many strumstick videos on YouTube, but not many songs where the song was composed for the strumstick. "Just Enough Time" is an instant strumstick classic. Children and adults who learn the strumstick can be playing and enjoying this song in less than an hour. This song can be played at family reunions, summer camps, coffee houses, college campuses, retirement homes, on the street, and anywhere else people enjoy some foot-tapping fun.
If you already play guitar or another string instrument, you might be able to master the strumstick in less than 15 minutes.
What I enjoyed most in watching this video was the depth of the friendship of these two musicians. You can just see how much they enjoy each others' company. At 45 seconds into the video Andy looks at Tim and gives him a little hip twist. Tim immediately picks up that he needs to twist his hips to be at a better angle to the camcorder. Unspoken small gestures like this define friendship. Friends don't speak to each other to understand each other. All they need to do is look at each other, and they gain quick understanding of what is being said.
Tim explains friendship this way: "The Hindus say that God 'plays' the physical universe from inside, where no one can see Him. That may be true, as I have the typical songwriter's sense that the songs are somehow writing themselves through me. (It may also explain why the best songs are completely universal while being wholly personal at the same time.) In any case, playing songs with friends is like transmitting human hearts through words and intervals, and for my money it doesn't get any better--or deeper--than that."
Watching this video I could not help but think about Bob McNally, the inventor of the strumstick, and how he was invisibly sitting and smiling in the same room--gazing upon what he had made possible.
I asked Tim to tell me what's so special about Andy Gertler, our fun and frolicsome percussionist: "I admire Andy for his amazing musicianship, his apparently endless supply of other talents (drawing, painting, sculpture, sand sculpture, ice sculpture, computer animation, writing, etc. ...) and his childlike interest in and enthusiasm for virtually any and every aspect of life." So there you have it, creative magic assembled in a living room, recorded for all the world to enjoy via YouTube. Much more than a song is being played in this video, though. Watch carefully and you'll learn oodles about play, trust, friendship, improvisation, patience and surprise.
If only more people in the world could experience the delights of creating music in this way with friends. How do you think that could happen?
(The blogger is a musician, writer and educator in the Washington DC-area. He enjoys dabbling with his Grand Strumstick, among other things. His hope is that all community members experience creativity in ways that nourish their souls. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/philshapiro)
Note - You can quickly reach the music video described in this article by searching YouTube for: strumstick chairs
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This story, "Whimsy and Fun Overflow in YouTube Music Video" was originally published by PCWorld.