Flute, piano, guitar, banjo. These are the instruments Tony Trischka has in his repertoire – and the last is the one he is famous for. Trischka will perform a banjo concert at the Carroll Arts Center on Nov. 1, sponsored by Common Ground on the Hill.
Trischka has been interested in the banjo since 1963, when he listened to the Kingston Trio’s “Charlie and the MTA.”
“I heard it and just fell over,” Trischka says. “I became completely enamored with banjo.”
From there, he “hectored” his parents for a banjo of his own and began taking lessons. He says it wasn’t very difficult to learn, but adds that this was probably because he was “obsessed” with the instrument. He had a “good teacher” who taught him different styles, and he spent “hours and hours” playing.
Part of his fascination with the instrument comes from its cultural history. Trischka believes the banjo is entwined with America’s social history – it came from Africa and was primarily played by slaves in the United States before whites decided to pick it up. Only “upper-crust” society played it for a while – it became a parlor instrument and was often used in minstrel shows. Eventually, more people began to learn the instrument until it became more well-known. The banjo “follows the American story,” Trischka says.
Trischka claims that had he not picked up banjo, “[his] whole life would have turned out completely differently.” Trischka has been able to travel the world and play concerts in Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and just about every country in Europe. He has been able to meet celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Paul McCartney and fellow banjo player Steve Martin.
“There are other worlds out there,” Trischka says, and he’s glad to have discovered them on his travels.
Trischka once played a concert in Czechoslovakia, back when it was still a communist country. He explains that the people weren’t allowed to sing in English, but they still came out to his concert.
“We’re all people,” Trischka says. “The boundaries, religions, and ethnicities that divide us are so unnecessary.”
Another source of Trischka’s inspiration is the ability to bring music and happiness to people’s lives. Trischka occasionally plays solo shows for people who may not be able to come to concerts, such as those at rest homes or severely disabled people.
After a concert in the High Line in New York City, Trischka went out to dinner and set his banjo next to him. A group of women walking by noticed his instrument and lit up. After they asked him to play something for them, Trischka took his banjo to a less populated area for an impromptu concert. The women ended up grabbing people off the street and pulling them into a spur-of-the-moment square dance party.
It was an “unexpectedly fun time,” Trischka says. “You can play all the great music you want, but getting people to laugh and forget their troubles is a great thing.”
Trischka teaches banjo to whoever wants to learn in his “Banjo School,” a series of videos on his website. He believes it is important for everyone to take an interest in music and enjoys helping those who want to learn banjo.
Learn more about Tony Trischka at his website, www.tonytrischka.com. Trischka will perform at the Carroll Arts Center on Nov. 1 from 8 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $22 for students and children under 19 and seniors. Trischka will also be offering a banjo workshop on the same day from 1 to 4 p.m.
Images via tonytrischka.com.