musical lives, remembered in story & sound

Blanche Coldiron -- 10. The Teacher

Blanche was an encouraging teacher, an inspiration. Two of her students went on to success, moved down to Nashville as their teacher never had. The two shared some of their memories of Blanche, by email.
Lisa Shaffer, a songwriter and singer, wrote, “I’ve never met a more selfless, giving, heart of a child woman in my life. She truly was a living saint… Music was a constant in her life that she enjoyed between taking care of her sick child. “
“Blanche was the only person in my life that had a passion for music as much as I did. Because of this, I spent most Sunday afternoons at her house playing music all day… Like two kids getting ready to embark on an adventure we’d get our guitars ready and I’d take a drive two miles down the road. She’d already have a pot of beans on the stove. Sometimes we’d get so busy playing music we’d burn ‘em, but mostly we had us a heck of a meal when we were done feeding our souls with music. While we were frying up the cornbread for our beans we’d talk about music the whole time. I miss those long talks by her old stove next to the frying pan… We would talk for hours. She was a talker and loved people. She never met a stranger.”
“What she taught me as an artist is to always sing from your heart and be who you are. I remember her on occasion talking about artists who had changed their appearance for one reason or another and she’d say….I loved them without all the glitz and glam. Blanche was a sensible woman who believed in simplicity and the beauty in that. I try to remember that now as I have embarked on one major record deal and am working on my second one… I feel blessed that I got to hear great music that I wouldn’t have been able to had I not met her. I think fate has a hand in a lot of things and this is one that was truly meant to be. While she was nearly 60 years my senior she was and is the best friend I have ever had and I miss her dearly.”
Brandon Godman, a fiddler living and working in Nashville, learned his first licks on the fiddle from Blanche. “I remember the first lesson I had,” he wrote. “I walked into her house. There were music pictures all over the place, little banjo and fiddle ornaments, signed pictures by Alison Krauss, the Osborne Brothers, etc. She had her fiddle laying on the couch, and asked me to get mine out. We had originally decided on an hour lesson, but she said since we were distantly, sort of related that she may go over a little bit.” Some lessons, he said, would go for four hours.
“That first lesson, after she worked on my fiddle a little bit (setting the sound post, adjusting the bridge, tuning it), she taught me "Bile Them Cabbage Down". We learned the whole song on the first day, plus a few variations. Our lessons ran in a sort of monkey see monkey do fashion. She would just show me what she was doing and I'd try to mock her. The real cool thing is after I'd learn the song, she'd pull out her banjo or guitar and play along with me to teach me timing and the feel of the rhythm. Sometimes she'd call her son Jim over to come play with us. In that case he'd play guitar and she'd play banjo or mandolin. They were two of the most patient people on the planet.”
He took lessons for about a year and a half, learning a new song each week. “I blame her for my fascination with the instruments themselves,” he wrote. “We could sometimes spend up to an hour just going through her house looking at all the different instruments. Of course she always had some kind of little luthier project going on, whether it be cutting a fiddle bridge, or working on a banjo.”
“Words really cannot begin to describe her personality. She had a laugh that you would never forget! We'd get in the middle of a song, and either her or I would mess up. I remember she would lean back in her recliner and just laugh as hard as she could. She had a mountain soul. Everything from her cooking to her mannerisms reflected that. I remember sitting at her kitchen table one day eating fried cornbread, soup beans and blackberry jam! It was WONDERFUL! “
In the end, he said, Blanche not only “gave me my wings as a musician, but she also taught me things about life that it takes some people a lifetime to figure out.”