I played my first song, “The Streets of Laredo,” also known as “The Cowboy’s Lament,” on a five-dollar ukulele that my mom bought for me after I pleaded relentlessly, and not too successfully, for a guitar. At the time, I was in first grade and living in Buffalo. After a few weeks of struggling through the sad story of the dying cowboy, alongside my guitar-playing older sister, I put the ukulele down and did not pick up an instrument for five decades.
Then, on one fateful day in 2016, I was at the Co-op and I heard that old, familiar sound. I wandered into the community room where a guitar and ukulele duo was performing. After introducing myself to Roger Allen and Cynthia Mulford, I learned that they lead a free monthly folk music instructional workshop on the second Monday of every month at Honest Weight. I arrived at the very next class and found myself surrounded by guitars, ukuleles and a banjo. It was a cozy mix of beginners and experienced players who enjoyed making music together. They welcomed me with enthusiasm, although I clearly had no idea how to sing or play an instrument. When Roger and Cynthia led the group in “Buffalo Gals” (from the 1880s) as a warm-up song, I knew, being a former “Buffalo Gal” myself, that I was in the right place. I quickly discovered how accessible music is once you learn just a few simple chords. You do not need any special talent or skill to get started. Just tune your instrument, listen to the rhythm, and let the fun begin.
From there, I started by learning “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (Bob Dylan, 1967). Before long, I advanced to “The Happy Wanderer” (Friedrich W. Moller, 1954) which is a song that is decidedly about going somewhere, so, apparently, I was making progress.
Coming full circle from “The Cowboy’s Lament” (better known as “The Streets of Laredo”), I am now playing “Red River Valley” (also known as The Cowboy’s Love Song, 1896), which is still very sad but at least no one dies in the end. [A local connection; the same tune appeared as sheet music, entitled “In the Bright Mohawk Valley”, printed in New York in 1896! Eds.].
While folk music is the unifying theme of Roger and Cynthia’s monthly workshops at the Co-op, we manage to sneak in plenty of rock & roll, so all of you Rolling Stones and Beatles fans can jump right in with “As Tears Go By,” “Nowhere Man,” and other favorite tunes. Is music calling you? Give it a try—all are welcome. Join us next on Monday, August 14, from 6-8pm for “Folk Guitar and Ukulele” where, as advertised: “This instructional workshop is tailored to equip, inspire, and encourage participants to competently make and talk the language of music. Come learn to play and sing hundreds of songs and meet other musicians in this all-levels class.”