A new friend's very musical birthday party changed my life

Tonight Abby and I went to a birthday party at the home of Henry, someone we both coincidentally know, but not very well, a professional musician who is quite an accomplished accordionist. The interesting thing is that I know him from having played two Pittsburgh Chess Club tournament games of chess with him seven years ago, back in February and March 2005, while Abby knows him from his involvement in the Accordion Pool Party in September of 2009.

Accordion pool party from Dhenuka Ganesh on Vimeo.

Abby was invited to his birthday party as a fellow member of the Accordion Pool Party event (which she played in). She asked me whether I was interested in going. I said, sure! I was intrigued because Henry had created a program for his birthday party including a mini-concert he was going to give after dinner, followed by a “jam session with musician friends”.

So we went. And my life changed, forever.

Bringing instruments

Abby brought her tambura to the party, while I brought my flute. I had no idea whether I was actually going to play anything, since I am still such a total, utter beginner.

(Update of 2012-02-01)

What I didn’t say in my original blog post was that I had just tentatively joined a non-audition orchestra, five days before Henry’s birthday party, but was feeling very depressed about how bad I was and how I could barely play any of the music at all on my flute.

At the party

It was a pretty big party, with lots of family members, neighbors, friends, musicians, kids.

Some people were already playing music when we arrived. They were on accordion, violin, piano, flute, taking turns playing music they had brought (or knew in their heads). I felt very intimidated and silly, because I had not even brought any music to play. And I knew what a beginner I still was on flute, when I heard one young woman playing flute herself. So I observed, listened, and tried to absorb what was going on.

Henry joined in periodically, accompanying people while on the piano, doing a lot of on-the-spot sight reading of what people had brought over to play. It was fascinating to see the sight reading at work.

Abby and I met a lot of people and chatted with them. Eventually dinner was ready and we ate.


Henry had a nice wooden chess set out, and it was perpetually occupied by some kids as well as adults. Henry told them that I was good, encouraging us to play together, so despite my having quit chess a year ago, I actually ended up playing two games!


Henry gave his mini-recital, playing waltzes, tangos, and other music, with true verve and virtuosity. He also played duets with a pianist friend. I somehow got called into being a page turner for Henry for these duets. That was a fascinating experience, watching how he dealt with the sight-reading issues, ornamented, and did a whole lot of other things that enabled me to observe a musician’s working mind in real-time action.

Jam session

Henry kept on encouraging people to play something. Abby got called into playing some Balkan music on her tambura. Henry really enjoyed that. He seemed upset that I didn’t want to play the flute I had brought; why had I brought it then? But I just didn’t feel up to it at all.


When everyone finally started to leave the party, I silently made a resolution to myself: this whole atmosphere of casual musical jamming and fun was something I wanted to get in on, so I promised myself that the next similar musical party I went to, I would play. I would be prepared with at least something I’d worked on that I could try to play.


I am very excited that Abby and I have made some new friends coming to this birthday party and hope that we will have opportunities to see them again in the future. And the warm feeling I had all evening made me realize, this is what I want my life to be like: being among musicians, playing together.

I am going to do whatever it takes in order to join this musical world.

(Update of 2012-03-17)

I played tin whistle and flute at the next party of Henry’s we went to.

(Update of 2012-03-30)

Another party: I played tin whistle again; and recorder with keyboard accompaniment for the first time in my life.

(Update of 2012-09-08)

Another party: I played Baroque flute sonatas for the first time in my life.

(Update of 2012-09-21)

Another party: I played more Baroque flute sonatas, and sang as solo vocalist with accompaniment for the first time in my life.

(Update of 2012-11-17)

Another party: I sang a whole bunch, and also began playing Romantic music on modern flute.

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