A couple of weeks ago, this guitar was stolen from its home in Cape Town. The thing is folks, this is no ordinary guitar. It belonged to Bood Carver, who died tragically in 2017. Bood was a one-in-a-million type of character. He was full of life and mischievous energy. He did lots of stuff – built theatre sets, developed permaculture gardens, and played lots and lots of music. He was in several bands through the years, and this was his favourite guitar. Any musician reading this will understand why the loss of Bood’s guitar is so enormous for his family and friends. Our instruments are expressions of us – they are extensions of us – it’s deeply personal.
Some of us remember the first time we heard an instrument that stopped us in our tracks. Perhaps it was something like the edginess of a rock guitar’s distortions, or the sexy warmth of a viola, or the plaintive other-worldliness of an oboe. Our responses to musical sound are highly individual. It is an amazing experience to watch a child encounter an instrument for the first time and be transfixed. Sometimes this kind of experience marks the beginning of a long relationship with the instrument. There is something visceral about musical instruments: the individual character of their sound, their size and shape, the beauty of their materials – wood or metal, shiny or richly patinaed, that draw us to them in a special way. That connection is part of the reason we bond deeply with our instruments, and they become part of us.
One of the most satisfying things to see when watching a great musician is the ease in their body, the fluency of their movements. Their playing looks effortless, and their instruments seem like extensions of their limbs. Music seems to pour out of their instruments with practically no effort made. This kind of fluency comes from time spent – it’s a huge investment of time and care, some of it comes with quick rewards, but most often it is difficult, and the player has to really battle through, sometimes hating the instrument that can bring so much frustration.
Anyone who has spent many hours playing/learning/practicing will have strong feelings about the instrument they play. Horrible instruments are horrible to play, even if the player is skilled enough to make them sound half decent. Good instruments give a great deal back to the player. (This is why it’s a good idea to give students the best instrument you can possibly find for them). The care and love shown by the musician to their instrument comes back to them in spades as they get to know its idiosyncrasies, its quirks, its strengths, and its weaknesses. It’s a relationship of trust, you take care of your instrument and it will take care of you. The better your fingers know it, the more you can focus on creative expression and not have to stress over producing the sound.
Good musical instruments need the same ethos of care and love from the instrument maker. Their insight into materials, acoustics, ergonomics, mechanics, is absolutely crucial to the musician who will eventually play the instrument. Well made instruments mellow with age, so long as they are treated with the care and love they deserve. Music needs to be played into them – and when it is, something happens to them – let’s just say that music gets into their pores, and we can leave it to the scientists to sort it out the science of it all. Actually, science has still not figured out why Stradivarius’ instruments are so amazing. Perhaps we should just put it down to magic and leave it at that.
Another reason why musicians are so bonded with their instruments is that playing allows us to connect with music in quite a different way to being listeners. Not just making the sound, but hearing/experiencing it so much more intimately really gives us a fix. Feeling the vibrations in our bodies as the instrument resonates against it, hearing wonderful sounds so intimately is addictive. Playing with others supercharges that experience as we are surrounded and supported by the sounds of the band, orchestra, ensemble, (or choir, of course). Our instrument is what gives us access to the music that we come to love.
And it’s a communal experience. As social beings, making music together with like-minded folks is addictive. We make bonds with others through music making – and we couldn’t do it without our instruments. School ensembles, band camps and band/orchestra/choir tours are the things kids remember years later, because they provide intense experiences of togetherness. Many musicians have had the good luck to have had wonderfully supportive teachers and mentors, with the common denominator being the instrument that brought them together.
Human beings get attached to things. Often, they are things we’ve had for a long time, or that belonged to someone we loved. But when it comes to attachment, musical instruments are in a class of their own. If you have played an instrument every day for decades, playing the music that you love with people you love, if you have struggled to master it, lived through times when it needed repair, had some intense experiences with it, played wonderful music with it, taken it everywhere with you, your instrument becomes like another limb – it is part of you. If the instrument is damaged or lost, it is nothing less than devastating. Like losing a loved one.
So if you live in South Africa, particularly in Cape Town, do keep an eye out for Bood’s guitar. His family are waiting to have it back safely at home.