Gar-banjo Lessons

Her "jingle jacket" rings and rustles as her arms brush past the hundreds of buttons, beads, bottle caps, bells and film canisters she has sewn onto the old garment.

Kelly Armor is playing a suit coat.

Her "jingle jacket" rings and rustles as her arms brush past the hundreds of buttons, beads, bottle caps, bells and film canisters she has sewn onto the old garment.

Similar creations fill Armor's home in Erie, Pa., including a thumb piano made of bobby pins, a tennis racket-turned-cello and a flute that was once a plastic pipe. She and her husband, Dave Sturtevant, have been crafting instruments from recycled junk for more than a decade. They will hold a workshop at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes on April 9 at 1 p.m. and a family concert at 3 p.m.

Perplexed, I stare at the boxes of junk Armor has retrieved from her "basement of fun." Being pathetically nonmusical myself, I challenge Armor to help me make an instrument that even I can play well.

"Where do you want to put your effort?" Armor asks. "Making something that is easy to play is hard, but making something simple takes time to get a technique."

I opt for the simple-to-make, figuring that, for me, anything would be hard to play.

Armor hands me some fishing line. She tells me to tie a knot in one end and string it through the bottom of a plastic basketball-shaped Dubble Bubble jar, then put some beads on it. After that, she tells me to poke a hole through a bottle cap, string the line through it, put on more beads and tie it.

Minutes later, I'm plucking a one-string banjo. The harder I pull, the higher sounding the pitch.

"It'll take practice to get a tune. But with an instrument you make yourself, you are the one who knows how to play it," Armor says. "There is no right and wrong."

Her words are music to my tone-deaf ears.

For more information about the workshop or concert, call (216) 321-5935 or visit www.shakerlakes.org. To learn more about Armor and Sturtevant, call (814) 456-0947 or visit www.naturalsound.com/armstur.htm.

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