Mike Keyes - Renaissance Banjo Man by Paul Roberts 9/9/08
Mike Keyes is an aficionado of fine music and fine musical instruments. He is a prolific writer who has an instinct for seeking out and sharing knowledge. “It appears that I am addicted to hornpipes,” Mike muses. A psychiatrist as well as a musician, his music is a healthy addiction.
Mike was inspired to learn banjo in 1957 after seeing Flatt and Scruggs on television. He earned his way through college and medical school playing in bluegrass and Dixieland bands. Besides tenor, Mike plays five-string, octave mandolin, mandolin and
guitar. He lives in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin with his wife, Joyce, their two dogs and a house full of instruments.
Mike is best known for his keen interest in tenor banjo and Irish traditional music. He regularly travels to Ireland (home of his ancestry) to jam with Irish musicians and learn more about the music.
On the Irish tenor banjo section of his website there are several nice mp3s of sessions Mike has attended in Ireland, plus his articles, videos and music notation. In one of his many articles, Power Banjo, Mike writes:
“Musicians are starting to explore the full variety of musical qualities that the banjo brings to Irish traditional music (ITM.) If you listen to top-level musicians playing the older instruments such as the uillean pipes, you will here them testing the limits and developing new ways to present the music. Recently such musicians as John Carty, Gerry O'Connor, and Angelina Carberry have been doing the same on the banjo.”
I emailed Mike a request: “I was wondering if you would write a little statement on your philosophy about passing information along, as you do.”
Instead of the short answer I expected, I received a very thoughtful, caring and elaborate reply. As many others and I have already found, that’s typical Mike Keyes. Here it is:
“I have always been excited about the things that I love to do. I've played music since age 6 (I am 64 now) and my main instrument for the past 35 years has been the mandolin. When I started to play the Irish tenor banjo I was struck by the paucity of information available on the Internet. I had Gerry O'Connor's books and CD-ROM, Sully's books, and Seamus Eagan's tape. There was one site on the net that approached the banjo but it was not updated very often. I took a workshop with Gerry O'Connor and was inspired by his dedication to the instrument and (believe it or not) his very traditional approach."
"Since I have been a student all of my life, I decided to learn as much as I could from master level players. Joe Carr of mandolin sessions.com asked me to write an article about the Irish tenor banjo after reading some of my ramblings on thesession.org. I told him that I would write them from the perspective of a student trying to learn from the masters. From that point on, I have basically been reporting what I learned in various workshops. The Internet offers the chance for someone like me to pass on knowledge."
"Since I have also been a teacher for most of my adult life (in medical schools and nursing schools), it was a natural thing for me to try and parse out the important things and pass them on. I never try to pass myself off as an expert, but I am an expert on experts. One of my passions has been target shooting and during 1979-1984, I was the team physician for the US Shooting team, which put me in close proximity to world-class athletes. My interest is in mental training/sports psychology - including the development of master level shooters - and I have written over 200 articles on the subject mostly for Shotgun Sports Magazine."
"The same principles of talent+work+mental toughness seem to be present in anyone who has reached the expert level of any endeavor. Part of this is learning a technique that is consistent and efficient. Technical skills need to be learned in a layered fashion in order that you can build on them to develop a style. Talent helps the process speed along, but there are no experts out there who live on talent alone - hard work and good technique are essential."
"I think that knowledge such as this should be made available to anyone who is interested. The best way to learn an instrument is still with a teacher who can not only be a mentor, but can impose some discipline on student guiding them down the most efficient path to learning technique and developing style. Knowledge helps, but it is the hard work and putting in the time that makes someone a good musician. So my giving my take on the banjo is not going to interfere with a teacher’s living. In fact, I hope it encourages those learning the banjo to seek out a teacher."
"I try to present a consistent set of techniques based on my studies, which can be used as a critical basis for anyone trying to learn the instrument. Teachers will disagree with me about the particulars, but it does give the student a base from which to make style decisions. I have never felt that I offer absolute truth, just a consistent approach. Consistency is the key to learning an instrument.”
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Mike Keyes , Cello Banjo
from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Visit Mike's website http://www.mikekeyes.com-a.googlepages.com/irishtenorbanjo