When I was a teenager, my parents went to the French Creek Dulcimer Retreat without me. I think I had to work. Anyway, at the open mic my father, surrounded by a motley crew of dulcimer aficionados, introduced the pickup band that had gathered around him for the open mic as The God Knows We Tried String Band.

As band names go, this was a good one.

Thereafter, my father and I started performing together under that grand moniker. The two of us start gracing and disgracing stages up and down the East Coast.

The God Knows We Tried String Band in 1993
The God Knows We Tried String Band in 1993

Making music with my dad saved…

In 2009, while I was still waiting for my Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) to be activated, I spent a week in the tropical heat of a Kansas summer teaching music at a special needs summer camp.

Patrick giving a banjo lesson at Camp Adventure 2010
Patrick giving a banjo lesson at Camp Adventure 2010
The author with a student at Camp Adventure. Kansas, 2009

Playing music when you are nearly deaf is a challenge. Teaching music in such circumstances presents an even greater degree of difficulty. Teaching at Camp Adventure took things to an almost surreal level of complexity.

I had to develop the entire music program on the fly. Just setting up all of the instruments took me nearly two days of around the clock work.

I was playing “Sí Beag, Sí Mór” this morning on my Theremini. The melody, written for the harp by Turlough O’Carolan, always stirs something in my heart. Turlough was an Irish harpist who used his composition skills to pay debts and honor is patrons. To a handicapped musician like me, Turlough is a hero.

“Sí Beag, Sí Mór” is an interesting melody in that it is childishly simple. I think that is the key. There is something about the tune that draws out the best in a musician. The slow pace. The lack of complexity. The flow of the melody…

The first thing I learned over the last two days is that a Moog Theremini through a Peavy KB1 amp can produce sounds that only exist in the section of hell where they punish bagpipers. I am sure it will be lovely once I have some control over the instrument, but, right now, it sounds like a cat trying to verbalize the ugliness of a vintage polyester leisure suit.

My neighbors two houses down are still mad.

Besides, with the little speaker built into the Theremini, I have enough volume to practice.

Practicing, it was tempting to turn the pitch…

As a lifelong musician/cheesy movie fan, the theremin has always had a special place in my heart. The only thing that kept me from getting one was the instruments notorious difficulty.

That and the fact that I had no idea where to begin.

So, what is a theremin? The history of the instrument is worth checking out, and the science behind it is wild. Long story short, a contactless musical instrument where you change pitch by interacting with the theremin’s electrical field. To some, it is a hellish noisemaker — a love child born after David Bowie got freaky in…

Patrick Costello

A broken cyborg awaiting repairs.

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