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  • Writer's pictureLucas Nava

Dr. Barry Gainor and "Banjo Rehab Center".

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

The following is my written contribution to a group project for my journalism class J2150 in the University of Missouri-Columbia. My teammates contributed most of the remainder of the work. Their bios can be found by following the link.

     On Sunday afternoons for the past 10 years, Barry Gainor and his band of bluegrass musicians have sat together on the Broadway Brewery stage to perform. They play with the harmony of a band that’s been together a lifetime, but if you sparked conversation with the band’s orchestrator, Barry Gainor, he’d tell you that they’ve actually never once practiced together. Gainor comments, "My band that plays on Sunday? We have never practiced. Never. They’re all very skilled… [the violinist] she's not even reading her sight music. She’s just playing.” The group is known as Gainor and Friends, and they have been playing different venues across Missouri since the 1990s. For over two decades, the money they raise from their performances goes directly to the MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and playing for the children is, according to Gainor himself, one of the highlights of his musical career; “There’s a children’s psychiatric ward (at the university hospital)… and, of interest, that is one of the favorite gigs that we play all year. The band loves it, going to the psych ward” at holiday time because the kids can feel isolated and enjoy an interactive seasonal songfest. Gainor is more than just a bluegrass musician, though. He’s also the founder of the Banjo Rehabilitation Center where he takes old, worn, and broken banjos and remakes them into beautiful, impressive works of antique restoration. Sometimes he builds modern instruments with all brand-new materials. At the Columbia Art League on Nov. 8, Gainor displayed one of his newly constructed banjos. Gainor comments that the winding, tree-like designs along this banjo’s neck symbolizes “the interconnectedness of the Tree of Life. The roots go up and up here, they go up to the heavens. And the interior, I had it built on a sine wave curve so that it's endless; it goes all the way around, forming a complete circle like a sine wave, once again, to show our inner connectedness.” For Gainor, antique banjos aren’t just simple instruments. They tell the stories of the people who once held them, and of the kind of lives that they lived. Gainor owns and has seen multiple banjos with the signatures of their owners on them, some of them older than he himself is; “I always think to myself, ‘who played this instrument?’” Dr. Gainor’s skill with repairing banjos isn’t just from repeated practice. He is a retired surgeon who used to work at the Missouri Orthopedic Institute and occasionally at the MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where precision and slow, steady hands were key. He brings those talents to good use when refurbishing his instruments. After serving in the military, he did international medical volunteer work and gained an appreciation for using the simplest tools available for the job due to a lack of instrument resources abroad. “Having worked overseas in very meager settings, I’ve learned to operate with the simplest of tools… that is also reflected in my workshop. I do not use elaborate tools, just the simple ones.” Gainor has carried these experiences with him, appreciating the slow and simple aspects of life as a humble musician playing in his bluegrass band — both for the enjoyment of the patrons of his venues and for the benefit of the hospitalized children he raises funds for — and he never takes any of it for granted. While he may be something of a local celebrity, Barry Gainor still sees himself as just an average person with a love for both music and learning. “When do you make a mistake? When you get in a hurry. Always prepare yourself. One thing I enjoy about doing this is that I spent my life in education, so I enjoy learning, and with every instrument, I always learn something new.”

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Jan 06, 2020

I loved the story I could not stop reading...

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