`Think we should tune up?' I ask unnecessarily

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MAKING music in the home is a satisfying hobby, and my friend Greg and I have spent many Saturday afternoons pursuing it. We do encounter slight difficulties, however. So we tend to look skeptically at the fellow in the movies who, being suddenly moved to song, discovers a tuned guitar at his finger tips and an invisible 50-piece orchestra ready to guide his voice along. Typically, Greg invites me over, saying, ``Bring any equipment you have.'' I understand his request. He's imagining that this will be a day of inspired performance, that we will explore uncharted musical regions, and he doesn't want to limit the sonic palette.

Into my truck I load an acoustic guitar, a tape recorder, an eccentric electric guitar (regardless of which of its frets I play I seem to get the same note), a microphone, and a microphone stand (misnamed, in that it would much rather fall down than stand). From this load, I will really only use one item -- the acoustic guitar -- but somehow I never realize this ahead of time.

When I arrive, Greg and I begin carrying my cargo from the truck into his spare room. Greg, who has just finished lugging his own equipment from the garage, is beginning to get tired. So we decide to relax for a minute, and we get to talking.

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We reminisce about the days when we were beginning guitar players in high school and about how all we ever seemed to play back then was ``When the Saints Go Marching In.'' This leads to a few more high school anecdotes. One hundred thirty minutes later, I interrupt, saying, ``Hey, remember we were going to play music?''

Snapping into action, we pick up our acoustic guitars, assume standard C chord finger positions, and strum, only to unleash a dazzling array of sour notes. ``Think we should tune up?'' I ask unnecessarily.

Since we have both put on stiff new guitar strings for this auspicious occasion, we can bring the notes into accord only after interminable twisting of the tuning pegs. Had we applied all this twisting motion to the task of opening sardine cans, we would have about three dozen open tins of fish to show for our work.

Thinking we are now prepared to burst into song, we pluck the arpeggios of a familiar introduction, but a certain timidity overtakes us. In previous sessions, the usual Saturday sounds of lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and engine tuneups masked our crooning a bit, providing welcome camouflage. This day's silence exposes us, and we feel as if we're broadcasting to the whole neighborhood. A neighbor starts up a power saw, and we feel much more comfortable.

Comfortable or not, we had believed that a formidable fund of music was stored in our memories, but most of it dwells just beyond the mind's reach. It's getting late, and we don't know what music to play. Then Greg's eyes light up, and he launches into the opening strains of ``When the Saints Go Marching In.'' Eureka! Now we are rolling.

Having finally gotten a song started, we don't want to let go of it -- not until 80 lively minutes have passed, not until our fingers are raw and the saints are tired of marching. At one point, Greg's wife chips in with some virtuosic kazoo embellishments. (One would think she'd been conservatory-trained on the instrument.)

Feeling happy and satisfied, we break up the session, realizing that we will be unable to get the ``Saints'' melody out of our heads for at least three days.

After about two weeks, we start looking forward to our next music session, imagining that, when the day arrives, we will be seized with inspiration and will explore uncharted musical regions. Of course, the odds are we will end up singing ``When the Saints Go Marching In'' again, but that will be OK, too.

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