Pete and I met at the first church I worked for. He was the bass player in the church band. I sometimes sang with the band. I was a vocalist by training and I had also picked up the guitar my last semester in college so that I could lead songs for youth group. But my guitar playing was mediocre at best. One night I approached the guitar player in the church band and asked if he had time to give me some lessons.
When Pete told this story, he said, “I looked at my friend and thought, he is working such long hours with his job. He doesn’t have time for this so he said to me, “I’ll give you guitar lessons.”
And I said, “You play the guitar too?”
And Pete said, “Yeah.” (Meaning – I have guitars that are older than you are.)
So I asked him what he would charge. And he asked, “can you make coffee?”
I said, “Buddy, I make great coffee.”
And so that began my friendship with Pete Scibienski. He came for coffee on Monday nights and taught me guitar lessons.
Coffee and guitar turned into great conversations. Great conversation leaked into going out for cheesecake at the diner. And cheesecake led to a concert in the city one August evening. And the next morning, my phone rang and he asked if I wanted to go to breakfast.
And since then he has been my first cup of coffee and my last conversation. Every part of my life misses him.
Last night I pulled his guitar off the wall, dusted it off, and tuned it up. It’s a Martin D28; he bought it somewhere between 1968 -1970. Like I said, it’s older than I am. And like any Martin, the bass notes are so full. The first strum rang within me and produced a smile.
Several years ago, I took more guitar lessons because although Pete was helpful to me not making a fool of myself during youth group, I was and still am such a hacker when it comes to playing the guitar.
I adjusted my grip just as my teacher instructed and I began practicing scales – the Ionian, the Dorian, the Phrygian, the Lydian, the Mixolydian, the Aeolian and Locrian. By the time I got to the last two, my fingertips were aching something fierce. But I kept going because I had promised myself that if I practice my scales and run the chords up the neck, then I can play a song.
And so I kept at it, fingertips screaming and the strings buzzing from a lack of pressure because my wrist was hurting as it tried to bend into the proper position.
Start the scale, start over, come back from the bottom. Try it again.
For over two decades I have relied on Pete to help me play the guitar. We figured songs out together, him plunking it out. When I didn’t like the key, he would help me convert it – and help me find easier ways to play chords because I’m still a hacker on the guitar.
Sometimes when I’m figuring out a song for church or for chapel or if I was playing at an open mic, he would holler from the other room, try the minor 6. And he was right. I had the chords wrong.
I chose a song to play after my chords and I had forgotten how the bridge went. As I was plunking it out, I stopped to listen for the inner voice of Pete who said, try the minor 6.
So I did but it was wrong. So I stopped again and listened for the inner voice of Pete who said, yeah ok, go back to the 4 not the 1. And then we had it right.
My strumming is uneven just like most of my life right now. And I got the chord sequence wrong on the bridge that we had just worked out. But here is me singing Christine Kane's "This Is the One Thing I Know" to Pete’s beautiful guitar.
Books I'm currently reading:
The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation