When I was sixteen, I bought a guitar. The Everly Brothers were very popular back then, and I wanted to be just like them. I quickly learned about five chords and figured out how to tune the thing. (Get the low “E” string to sound about right, then tune the other five off that string). There was a music book out called “The Real Fake Book” which purported to enable one to play any song with a minimum number of chords. Fingering the chords properly was key, and doing so made for a smooth transition from one chord to the next. I couldn’t quite get it right, so I made up some of my own fingering. This fact, along with a severe lack of musical talent forever doomed my chances of becoming the third Everly brother.
So I played, mostly to entertain myself. I had a whole repertoire of Everly Brothers and Kingston Trio tunes I could fake. Later in life, I faked some of the campfire tunes and popular Christian songs so that as a youth leader, I could inflict myself on the teens in my charge. A few years ago, even though I, by then, could finger about a dozen chords, I gave my guitar to my grandson. Never heard my guitar sound so good as when he played it.
It was one of the Kingston Trio, I think, who quipped during a pre-song tune-up “That’s good enough for folk music”, meaning that close is adequate if you’re not in a symphony orchestra.
Most guitars have six strings. The high “E” is very thin, and each string gets progressively thicker, and some are wrapped with a thinner wire. You put tension on the strings by winding them up on the pegs.
If there is no tension on a guitar string, when struck it will make no sound; it just kind of lays there like someone who has binge-watched fifteen seasons of “Midsomer Murders” on Netflix. If wound too tightly, the pitch gets way out of range, or the string might even break; like someone who has been petrified about going out to the store, who trembles at the sound of a cough, who feels a tickle in the throat is a precursor to certain death.
It is only when the tension is correct, will a guitar string sound its own clear note exactly as it was made to do. And when each string is tuned just right, and when all strings are properly fingered, and stuck together, a beautiful sounding chord results. Music happens.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well, we are slowing coming out of three months of isolation, and before we re-engage with other humans, it might be a good idea to tune up a little; it might be a good idea to check the tension. Some of us may need to take out the slack and sharpen up; for others, ease off the tension to get just the right note. If everyone does a little tune-up before we go out again, we might just make some beautiful music together. Or at least sound good enough for folk music.