The Lost Art Of The Serenade

Serenade Guitarist

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The Lost Art of The Serenade

It’s a familiar scene: crickets chirruping on a summer night, the eerie green light of fireflies flickering in the garden, thick heat hanging in the air like a steam bath.

Serenade Guitarist
A guitarist serenades the pants right off someone. Right in front of the competition too.

A strapping lad stands on the lawn underneath his sweetheart’s bedroom window with a guitar at his fingertips and a song rising from his lips. His paramour leans on the windowsill, smiling, with her chin in her hand. The patio bricks below still radiate heat from the torridly hot day. Above the lovers’ heads, the sky looks like someone went to town on it with a weapons grade Bedazzler.

This romantic image has been carved into our brains by TV shows, movies, fiction, Shakespearean comedies, medieval epics, you name it–the serenade has a history stretching back roughly a thousand years. It’s centuries older than indoor plumbing.

Sheep gut strings have since gone out of fashion; adjustable frets got swapped out for slices of shiny nickel; guitar bodies have been poked full of wires and electromagnets; hosiery is now optional; cholera just isn’t hip anymore… but the serenade lives on as a gallant romantic gesture, just as it was way back in Medieval times.

The tech has changed, but we guitarists are still fundamentally the same. We’ve spent one thousand years trying to charm the pants (or tunic) right off a certain special someone. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon, do you?

A Love Letter Sung Aloud

The appeal of serenading isn’t hard to figure out. It’s a display of emotion, it’s proof of desire. It shows creativity, skill, and thoughtful planning. It’s heartfelt, passionate, and highly personal. The song may even have been written specifically for the person being serenaded. And of course the act of serenading–like performance of any kind–takes confidence and courage. Especially if this fetching gal still lives with her card-carrying NRA member father…

As often as serenading scenes have been written into stories over the centuries, though, and as familiar as the idea seems, most people reading this have never themselves been serenaded and have never serenaded anyone.

I’ve thought about it and I actually can’t decide whether or not I’ve serenaded anyone. Do these scenarios count?

January 2009. Gigging in a Maine pub. One of my friends walks in the front door, already a bit sauced–it’s his birthday and he’s celebrating with straight whiskey, apparently. I saunter over to his table and embarrass him with an especially rousing rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” while confused patrons stare.

Summer 2007. I’m just starting to learn how to sing. A girl I’m dating spots the guitar leaning against the couch and demands drunkenly that I sing her a song. Nervously, I start playing Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”. I manage to reach the second verse before she slurs: “Shut up! You can’t sing!” She passes out not long after.

Does that count as having serenaded somebody? I don’t know. You be the judge.

Anyway, my point in all this is: If you’re a guitarist, I figure you owe it to yourself to give this old tradition a try at least once in your life. Serenade someone. Even if it’s your wife. Or a total stranger. Or a friend. Or your drummer. Surprise someone, get down on one knee and sing them a song of tribute–even if you have to do it as a joke.

Have you ever serenaded somebody? Have you ever been serenaded? Tell your stories of gallant romance and crushing defeat in the comments below.

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Nicholas Tozier

Nicholas Tozier is a book hoarder and songbird from the woods of Maine. In 2012 he made a small cameo in Songwriting Without Boundaries by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and was named one of CDBaby’s top 10 Songwriting Resources to follow on Twitter.

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9 years ago

I serenaded a girl once, she was one of the singers of the school band I was in at the time (about 10 years ago). It was the last day of school before the summer break, right in the school yard with a specially written song (one of my first). Played my guitar louder than I sang and did not get the girl, but some fellow students sitting across the bench from us threw me some dimes and nickels, so at least I got something out of it 😉
Well, she did compliment me, saying I had wrote her a pretty song and then it got awkward and she went away on vacation.

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