Keep reading to see a rundown of key points you'll find in the article.
Self-TaughtFrom a very young age, Vigil yearned to play music and therefore taught himself to do so. He reports that around eight years of age, he would sneak out of his family's house at night to go dances and watch the performers play their instruments. There, on a pad of paper, he'd record the finger positions the musicians used to play the chords heard in the songs. Armed with those notes, Vigil would then teach himself those same chords on his guitar.
In his teenage years, Vigil was performing music throughout the region in which he lived. During that time, someone presented him with some sheet music to play a particular piece. To his chagrin, Vigil discovered a glaring flaw in his musical self-education: he couldn't read music. So, he set out to learn how to it. That path led him to earn his GED, then a bachelor's, then two master's degrees, and later a doctorate, all in music-related studies.
That progression in Vigil's music studies is particularly inspiring to me. I, too, am a high school dropout. That fact has always made me feel like a weak learner and a lesser person. The story of Vigil's desire and determination to immerse himself in music motivates me to stoke my own recently-sparked musical-flame: learning to read sheet music. In turn, not only am I learning the language of music but because of the effort, I'm also feeling a bit more self-worth. For the rest of the cigar box guitar world, I know that sheet music isn't a hit. It is, however, something I'm leaning into and hope to learn enough about to use in teaching certain songs to the rest of the cigar box guitar community.
Self-MotivatedNot content with solely learning to play music, Vigil set out to learn about the cultures that created the music he played. With a cassette-recorder in hand, Vigil traveled about his home-state to learn the traditional Spanish folk music he loves from the people who played it. In the article, Vigil is quoted as saying, "I started doing it for my own enjoyment [...] These people are gone, but I captured them."
I can't tell you how much I love Vigil's efforts. His motivation wasn't only to learn how to play the music but to also learn about the music. Who are the people that wrote these songs he loved? Why did these people play them? What circumstances led them to create the tunes and tales and musical folk history he celebrated? That's the kind of stuff that really jibes with my perspective of the cigar box guitar community and my own developing interest in old-time Appalachian mountain music. In turn, I think Vigil is a role model for anyone, including myself, learning music history to inform his or her way in musical self-education. Put differently, what better way for us to learn the songs we enjoy, then to learn about the cultures that wrote the stories to the tunes that so profoundly resonate with us?
Self-lessThat Vigil is a self-taught musician who went on to collect the songs and stories from the cultures that surround his home is uplifting. So is his continuing education that led to a succession of esteemed degrees. But what really makes Vigil a true inspiration is that he turned to his community to share his knowledge through cigar box guitar-building workshops. In so doing, Vigil connected children in his home-state to their cultures and histories. Moreover, he has shown them that playing music is within their grasps, especially on instruments that each of them is capable of building themselves. As Thomas Goodrich, an administrator for the New Mexico Music Commission, is quoted in the article as saying, "His cigar-box guitar-making workshops are the stuff of legend and have impacted the lives of thousands of New Mexico children."
Final ThoughtThe article linked above is worth the few moments it takes to read it. Because of Vigil's humble roots and his indomitable determination to learn as much about music as possible, Vigil's story is nothing short of inspiring. If cigar box guitars rough-and-ready, DIY nature speaks to you, you'll be motivated by Vigil's story to dig deeper into your own music studies. Who knows? Maybe you'll create an opportunity to pass your knowledge on and to link others to the wonderful world of DIY music.
Who is a self-taught musician and folk collector that inspires you?