Silent Running

Over the years I have learned that one of the hallmarks of a teacher who is growing in their chosen discipline is change.

The tricky bit is deciphering if the change is real or just an affectation in a sweaty-palmed attempt at staying relevant.

Recently, I had most of what was left of my lower teeth pulled. It hurt (I’m still sore) and I look like a jack-o’-lantern auditioning for a job singing in The Pouges. Because of this, I knocked out a quick workshop without saying a word.

I was not trying something new or looking for a gimmick. This was not me trying to be cool. I was just doing what I always do: using my intellect, training and experience to adapt to my current reality.

I am a huge fan of the Taoist ideal of the happy accident, and this turned out to be a classic case of unintentionally stumbling across something new. After thousands of live or recorded workshops where I talk my head off, keeping my mouth shut for a change created an environment where the attention was shifted from Patrick Costello to the music.

Roughly concurrently with my wordless workshops, another instructor posted a workshop acting like holding a power chord and strumming the banjo like a dysfunctional ukulele was a new approach to the banjo. This is a classic example of forced or even faked innovation versus stumbling across something new.

You can’t fake inspiration. There is no formula or recipe. The process changes us as we roll along, and as we grow our perspectives change. If you want an example of changing perspectives over time in everyday life, go back and visit a place you knew well as a child. The last time I visited Havertown, PA, I was horrified at how different the place looked. The streets that I remembered as wide enough for a baseball game now seem too narrow for traffic.

I am going to keep the wordless workshops going until the concept grows stale, I come up with a better idea or the plagiarism squad sets in the way they did with Sing the Banjo! or The Folk Song of the Day. Whatever I do, it will be an honest expression of who I am and where I am in terms of the craft at that moment – and that changes every time I pick up my banjo.