Low tones create a musical high
When Janet Feder first heard the baritone guitar it made her cry.
The American instrumentalist had played music for most of her life and it was the sound she’d been dreaming of.
“Typically baritone guitars are the sound one hears in heavy metal,” she said. “Those guys play baritone electric guitars to great effect, a very heavy and full sound. [A friend of mine] played this Macedonian folk tune which he had arranged for the guitar. I listened to it and I spontaneously began to weep. It was the most beautiful thing.”
The friend then showed her the instrument that had had such a dramatic effect on her. Its lower tones came from its size.
At 25 per cent larger than a regular guitar it was “enormous”, Ms Feder said.
“From the second I held it in my arms I knew that, after a lifetime of playing guitar, I had entered into this new world of it. It was as if I had been internally translating music my whole life into these low tones.”
The 57-year-old will perform at Bungalow 56 on Friday. She plays the ukulele and the banjo in addition to the guitar, and in recent years started singing.
“I always felt like I sang through my hands — everything I wanted to say was through my instrument and however anybody understood it was completely up to them. I liked that. I was very comfortable with that. I’m such a critical listener, so I never really felt like my voice was a performing artist’s voice because it’s not a big voice; it’s a little voice. I think I finally got to a place in my life where I accept that this is my voice.
“Once I accepted that I can’t make it different it started to become something that I really like.”
Three years ago she was invited to make a recording of her latest work. The only problem with the “dream” offer was that it came at short notice.
“I wasn’t entirely ready to have a whole album in two weeks,” she said. “I kept thinking about a song that I had written with words and I thought, well, I’ll just show up to the studio and sing this song and play the guitar parts and, if they like it, great. They really flipped over the song so I ended up singing.”
Ms Feder describes her compositions as “postcard pieces”.
“I try and describe a place, time or situation and then the music is what I play to support that image,” she said.
Her love of music started as a young child. At five, her parents gave her a ukulele; she soon taught herself to play.
“I’ve been fascinated by the guitar since I was a very small child. Before I even imagined that I could play it I loved it,” she said. “My dad had this old guitar and I would play it like it was the ukulele.” She prepares her trademark baritone guitar with horsehairs, steel and rocks to manipulate the sound.
“Sometimes we like what’s familiar. Of course we all do. And yet the moments when we get to hear something that’s completely unexpected are so enriching. And I get to have some little part in that,” she said.
“It happens when I go to museums, when I see art, when I read books. Musically, it happens all the time — when I hear sounds or a combination of notes I never expected. It creates this feeling in me. It’s like a bubble that flows from inside of me into my head and bursts with ideas. If I can inspire that in someone else, that’s amazing.”
Watch her perform at the Reid Street club on Friday at 6pm and 8.30pm. Tickets available at ptix.bm or Polished Nail Boutique on Reid Street. Admission is $49; members $39. Tickets can be bought at the door, $55.