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Davis, California

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Column: Stay tuned

Our generation, in my opinion, has the most convoluted ideas about meeting people. We congregate in the most pungent bars, scour internet chat rooms, spend hours in dark coffee shops reading a clever book conspicuously held up to our faces for passersby to inspect.

Love though, does not conform to meticulously crafted schemes, and instead rides the ebb and flow of chance. It is the same with music. Inspiration itself seems elusive enough, and finding your musical inspiration in the form of another musician can feel impossible.

To be clear, this is not a story of boy meets girl. This is a story of melody meets harmony, of strings meet percussion. I am not interested in the story of John and Yoko. I am interested in the story of John and Paul.

My quest for a musical soul mate started around the time I had begun to branch out from my background in classical guitar. I had grown up listening to those who stood solidly on their own: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez. But I wanted to find the Simon to my Garfunkel.

I used to think this was about finding someone with great talent or similar music tastes. But really, it’s all about chemistry, as I learned from playing with some incredibly talented and driven musicians, who I have zero interest in playing with again.

When I was a freshman in high school, a boy who knew I played guitar asked if I wanted to come over after school and “jam.”  Maybe this was it, maybe the combination of our skills would produce something unique and inspiring. I had never been propositioned to “jam” before, but to my socially awkward 14-year-old self, it had that same cool ring to it as “chillin’ out” or “hanging” (two things I never did), and I enthusiastically accepted.

On the bus ride to his house, he explained to me why the Rolling Stones were completely overrated, and I agreed because opinions are a scary thing to have during puberty. When we arrived it was straight to business. He passed me a guitar and sat down at his impressive piano.

“Ready?” he said, as if we were about to take off. He looked over his shoulder as if to check if I was wearing a seat belt.

“Ready?” He asked again. I nodded because “no” didn’t sound like the appropriate answer here.

He began to play, his hands a blur as he busted into a tune that to my anxious ears sounded like a mix of jazz and ragtime. I wasn’t sure when to go, what to play. I felt like I was in second grade watching the jump rope swing by at an alarming speed while my friends waited for me to jump in.

I looked at my fingers, clasped tightly to the fret board. Do something I willed them, but they remained stubbornly clamped in the shape of a G chord, one of the five chords I knew. Eventually the rush of piano slowed and then stopped.

“Why didn’t you play?”

This felt like a trick question.

“I play mostly classical … and some chords”

“Oh … do you play any blues? Jazz?” No.

“Not really”

He stared at me for a while before deciding that we should take his dog for a walk. It felt like hours before my dad picked me up. Needless to say, I wasn’t invited over for round two.

My most wonderful music connections all came from chance and friendship. Also in my freshman year of high school, a girl with classical training was in my homeroom period. The teacher kept a guitar in the closet, and after about a week we shyly asked if we could use it.

It became routine. Every homeroom we would grab the guitar, sit outside, and for 20 glorious minutes we played and sang without restraint (or skill, for that matter). We would disturb the entire hallway as we painstakingly plucked the four chords of whatever pop or folk song we’d printed out the night before.

We began to work on harmonizing, and slowly our voices became in tune with each other, to the point where I’d sing a new song and she’d pick up harmonies after a couple tries.

We never took ourselves too seriously, so it was easy for either of us to point out when the other was off-key. To this day, she is my closest musical counterpart, and one of my closest friends. Some of my favorite songs to sing are the ones we’ve written together. All it took was four simple chords to ignite what became a four-year-long adventure.

It is chance. Serendipity. All those cliché and overused rom com themes. To find someone who is in tune with you both mentally and literally is not an easy task, but it is certainly a worthy one.


To help ELLY OLTERSDORF find her Davis musical soulmate, contact her at eroltersdorf@ucdavis.edu.


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