Sparrows Wedding Weekend: Post 2

Dave Massey Photo got some great pictures of Sparrow Brian’s wedding, including the following shots of the band:

Sparrows Wedding Weekend at the Cape

As one more Sparrow gets married, the band reunites for one weekend on the Cape.And we all agree it's been too long.

Posted by The Sparrows on Saturday, June 27, 2015

Special performance by The Sparrows #hitchedtotheuniverse #wedding #capecod #brewster #danceparty

A photo posted by Jenni Mällinen (@jennimmal) on

Quite possibly the most beautiful first dance ever 💖 #hitchedtotheuniverse #capecod #love #brewster #brianandemma

A photo posted by Jenni Mällinen (@jennimmal) on

Holiday Card Update

Sasha Boak-Kelly just informed me that the final Bard Holiday Card from 2012 won a Bronze award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education District 2 Accolades Award Committee. I posted about the Bard Holiday Card last year. The video features The Sparrows’s song, “Brave.”

Bard College Holiday Video 2012 from Bard College on Vimeo.

The highlights of the judge’s comments included “Nice use of music, poetry, and text within the video medium.”

How exciting!

Supporting the Outs

QUEER NOT COOL will take place SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 8th at 10:30pm at THE SECRET THEATRE (44-02 23rd Street, Long Island City, Queens). For transportation, take the G, 7, E, or M trains to Court Square or the NR trains to Queensboro Plaza.

This is an extremely cool thing – I’ll be playing with fellow Bard alum Chris Rubeo as we support the web-series The Outs, created by fellow Bard alum Adam Goldman! Bard in the house!

July 28 Show

Just wrapped up one of the most satisfying events of my career to date.

Performing with me (and each other):
Blue Plate Special
The Sparrows
Mark and Don Whitener
and a handful of Bard A Cappella grads! (not pictured)

photo by Bill Geiger

photo by Bill Geiger

photo by Bill Geiger

photo by Bill Geiger

All photos thanks to Bill Geiger.

Blog Post about the Sparrows

Chelsey Heath interviews Perry Allen, and has some nice things to say about the Sparrows!

Before the “Blue Door Sessions,” the Sparrows’ last album was “Rattle Creak and Murmur.” …
Off “Rattle,” I like “Hole in the Floor,” a snarky track Whitener dreamed up while on a plane, according to Allen. With the vision of a song, he put it together without instruments, and blew everyone away that night when he unveiled the song.


Howdy, folks!

Well, Chris Rubeo gave me an idea today as we were talking about the many ways to increase internet visibility and successfully advertise our projects, like our band the Sparrows.

He’s putting together several sites, both for the band ( and for himself ( and we were talking about putting up links to each other’s sites and to the sites of the other band members, Perry Allen, Brian Barth, and Odetta Hartman.

And then he suggested that I start a blog.

And the strangest thing was that I actually thought I could do this. I mean, anyone can put together a blog, but I might be able to post content that is relevant to interested people, content that I have some authority on, content that will drive traffic to my page and then move that traffic over to other pages and generally boost the internet economic cycle in some intangible way.

So here goes: Since I am a banjo player, this blog is going to be about playing the banjo. I’ve been playing for about seven years now, and in that time I’ve been exploring this instrument, its sound, its history, its alluring charm. I’ve experimented with playing techniques and hardware modifications. I’ve tried different strings, picks, bridges, drumheads, pickups, even armrests.

With the banjo I’ve done some pretty fun things, too – I’ve played with groups and solo, in public and countless hours in private, at home and on tour around the country. I’ve taken musical and personal journeys as well, learning and writing songs for the banjo, and recording the banjo on several CDs, ultimately on my own CD in ten original songs.

At the time I am writing this, I may not be super-famous. While my CD is available on iTunes and Amazon, and you can hear it for free on Pandora, I don’t believe a huge number of people know who I am or have even heard of me. And the more I think about getting famous, becoming known to thousands or even millions of people all over the world, the more I wonder if it’s worth it. I’m not even talking about the “moral” cost of fame: the idea that when you become a superstar you lose a part of your soul. No, it’s just that our world has become so superconnected with the rise of the internet and of social networking norms in our generation, that the way fame works is a little different now. It’s easier to create content and to access worldwide availability, but it’s also harder to make your content stand out from all the rest. Things like memes and hit count have become more prominent, and maybe even more important, than they were before.

With all this new craziness, it’s important to remember two things – first, that this is pretty much a slightly different version of the old craziness (remember fast-talking radio ads? or door-to-door salesmen?) and second, that how popular you are on the internet doesn’t really matter as much as you might think.

What does matter, as far as I can tell, is the stuff that would matter anyway. Like, for example, playing the banjo.

I’ll step off my soapbox now and answer any questions about playing the banjo. That’s pretty much what I’m going to do here.

Posts will consist of information, experiences, and opinions that I think will be able to preemptively answer some of the frequently asked questions about playing the banjo in my own personal, different way. I’m sure that I will end up restating some answers to these questions almost word for word. I hope so. When it comes to things like music theory and good technique, it’s comforting to know that there are often, in fact, right answers to many questions. So if I say something that you have heard elsewhere, take it as a sign that it’s just true (or at least believed by many people, which is good enough, right?).

One more thing – I might occasionally have a musical idea that is best expressed as a video or sound recording, so that’s what I’ll do. I don’t want to try to express something in text like “move your hand a little to the right, but not that far, so that it is relaxed and slightly bent” that could be more clearly expressed visually or sonically.

Okay, so to recap: playing the banjo, how I do it, things I use, technique, music theory, composition and innovation, and the vaguer, broader category of real-world application, i.e. where and how to book a gig, how to fly with a banjo, or things like Pete Wernicke’s article in Banjo Newsletter about being a banjo ambassador and the value of sharing your music with others.

I won’t stress too much about posting constantly, so don’t expect a post a day. I don’t think I could come up with something meaningful every day even if I wanted to. Instead, I’ll just aim to fill this blog with helpful information as more of an archive resource.

Oh, and finally – it just occurred to me that there might be people out there, reading this blog, who do not in fact play the banjo. For those of you who are not yet convinced, I offer this encouragement, taken from the website of the American Banjo Camp at

“The ability to play the banjo soon places one in a position to pick and choose among scores of social invitations. Everywhere, the banjoist is assured of a hearty welcome.”
-1927 Gibson catalogue

I don’t know what’s funnier, the idea that a banjo will open all your doors in life, or the pun about “picking” among your invitations.

Pick away!