Parlor Music

I’ve been playing an acoustic guitar at about half our shows lately. It’s a parlor-size Guild, “parlor-size” meaning smaller than most guitars on the market. Parlor guitars are named for their part in early 20th century house parties, when guests would gather in the parlor and listen to the hosts’ kids sing and play. Parlor guitars were popular in households that couldn’t afford pianos. Maybe they’re tiny because the parlors were tiny; I don’t know.

I love the idea of house guests sitting down for an evening of amateur music, but it seems implausible in New York. Not so much because space is tight, but because who here wants to be an amateur? If we’re not world class, we’re at least budding professionals. I am too proud and too vain to be anything else.

Which is why I was so floored when K borrowed my guitar and played a song she’d written me. K is a fiction writer, not a songwriter. She loves music, but has no interest in making a living at it. And although she’s a singer, she doesn’t usually want to sing for other people. But here she was, singing a song she’d crafted, a song she’ll probably never record and which probably no one but me will ever hear. I was speechless.

I want to do something to make her feel like I felt. But it won’t be by writing a song, because I am too proud and too vain to write for an audience of one.

Ironically, if I can’t learn to write for an audience of one, I’ll probably never write anything good enough to earn a living playing.