Theory and Practice of Tension (duet for guitar and mandolin)

Aging Guitar

Theory and Practice of Tension (duet for guitar and mandolin)

By compromise I mean the gap between desire and
ability, the difference between mist and fog, cold air
and warmer water. Held taut, the line remains constant,
reciprocated energy observing Hooke’s Law. Though
inadequate in our attempts, in singing we often express
more than words convey, a bridging of music and lyric,
the extension commensurable to the force, as in the
bended A string trilling at dusk, words shimmering
nearby: equilibrium in thought and deed, in body and
intent. And what is the yield strength of need, of want
and notion? The fertile tremolo, plying note upon note,
peace through constant velocity. Presuming failure,
I limit my attentions and compress. When the sum of all
forces equals zero, we attain balance, owing no one.
Proportional to distance: the strings and bridge.


My friend Chuck and I get together on occasion to make noise with guitar and mandolin. We are not musicians. But we laugh, sing tunes written for better voices, drink good beer, and enjoy ourselves. Occasionally the sound we achieve transcends our abilities. I live for those moments.

Mando 810

48 thoughts on “Theory and Practice of Tension (duet for guitar and mandolin)

  1. “Occasionally the sound we achieve transcends our abilities. I live for those moments.”

    That’s what music and the arts are all about: transcending the mediocrity of this mortal existence, rising above it all!

    Sadly, music and art have been bastardized by commercialism/consumerism, and so most are missing out on this.

    But we can still find the joy for our selves, if, like you and your friend, we make the time for this great gift to touch us!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is inspiring. I have read it three times this morning and have bookmarked it for later enjoyment again. In education we refer to that gap between desire and ability (sort of) as the zone of proximal development. I feel the tension of that gap often in my writing and drawing myself. This is a beautiful description of that tension but also that harmony between friends. This poem is so well crafted. I look forward to reading it again and again.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, LuAnne. I always feel that gap in my writing – where it stands now, where I’d like it to go. But it’s even more evident in my “musicianship,” which admittedly is lacking, and which I don’t devote much time to. Such is life.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Know exactly what you mean, Bob: “I mean the gap between desire and/ability,” I’m able to close it up a little sometimes, but not terribly often. All I can do is head for that usually invisible bridge. Beautiful work—hope you’ll “save” it for future publication.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As a writer of poems who wouldn’t call himself a poet, I understand your point about desire and ability. As a musician, teacher of music and enjoyer of musical get-togethersa with friends, this post brought me a duet of enjoyment and inspiration.
    By the way, is that a photo of your mandolin? It’s a beauty.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I play Irish music and most people play the type with the round sound hole in the middle, called ‘A-style’ for reasons unknown to me. However I was traveling through northeastern Tennessee when I happened to find myself in a hamburger joint which prides itself as being responsible for Hank Williams’s final meal, when I saw a beautiful f-hole style mandolin for sale in a window across the street. I bought it that day and played it onstage that night. I still use it to this day and it sounds pretty good, in my opinion. The instrument at least, if not the playing…

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s known as “A-style” because the Gibson instrument company produced so many in that style. They produced both oval hole and f holes in that style. The type with the scroll, as in the photo, is commonly called “F-Style,” regardless of the type of hole(s). My instruments often sound much better than my playing. Funny how that is. 🙂


  5. What a great poem! Fascinating! It strikes many chords (no pun intended).
    Somehow I believe when the sum of all forces equals zero, there is balance but no music, only silence. The strings need the impulse, an imbalance that may last only a fraction of time, to carry the musician’s feeling into the air… What a great metaphor for life.
    I, like you, spend too little time (unfortunately) playing guitar with my friend–Chris, not Chuck–but we wouldn’t dare call ourselves musicians, although we play in coffee shops and busk at farmers markets. The “we” in “the sound we achieve transcends our abilities” is key. I can never replicate the elation of the experience alone…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What we strive for when we share our creativity, something more than what we are, and when we do so with others something that is more than the sum of its parts, a beautiful moment eloquently expressed, keep on living.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: A poet’s slant on sharing | Coachinguitar

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