“Start Something.”

I was near tears through much of the service today, unable to join in the singing (which I think for the people sitting close to me qualifies as a plus) and getting lost in thought about the shooting. Not that the service itself was a downer, quite the contrary. Leslie’s musical taste was impeccable as usual, Zoe’s reflection demonstrated once again what an articulate young woman she is becoming, and Chris had enough light moments in the sermon to provide good balance to the more serious parts of his message. No, the emotion was inside, still present enough to break through given the right mix of external circumstances.

Today was the last day of the Grainger County Tomato Festival; sales had been minimal for my books, which isn’t all that unusual; my books aren’t about sex, or the Vols, or the hiking trails in the area, or impossibly cute puppies or kittens, or inspirational stories of faith, so most of the time I get a quick glance and the person next to me gets the sale. I had decided on Saturday night that I would bring my hammered dulcimer with me on the last day so I would have something to do. Veterans of the festival had told me that Sunday was a slow day. So after the above-mentioned church service I made my way to Rutledge and found a place to park.

I was only an hour or so late and it was in fact pretty slow, so I set up my dulcimer and played a few tunes, stopping to answer questions about the instrument. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Then a woman walked by and said something about enjoying the music and I said, “Are you a musician?” She shook her head and pointed to her daughter, who had a hard-shell violin case strapped to her back. I asked her if she played, and within a few seconds she had the fiddle out of its case, the bow was in her hand, and she looked at me and said, “Start something.”

I jumped into “Whiskey Before Breakfast” and had not made it through the A part the first time before she was right there with me, and by the second go-around she was solidly in the groove. We played that through a few times and when we finished she said “Play something else,” so I started “Road to Lisdoonvarna” and again she was with me almost from the start. By this time both of us are grinning ear to ear, her mother had her iPad out recording, and people around us are smiling and tapping their feet.

She didn’t have time for more songs; she was heading for the outdoor stage to do some clogging. I found out her name is Emily, she’s from Texas, and she’s a UT student, studying to be a musicologist. Never met her before, probably will never see her again, but that ten minutes or so lifted me up and what I needed this afternoon was something to lift me up.

This is the power of music.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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