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Sean Mac Dubh-sìthe

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About Sean Mac Dubh-sìthe

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    New Member
  • Birthday 04/07/1983

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    Ohio, USA
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    My primary interests, besides those listed above, are organic cigars and spirits, discussion, poetry, folk, bluegrass, jazz, homesteading and natural healing.
  1. Hi Jenell, I really like your modification of the baby with the bathwater metaphor in your statement: "Advances of science and steadily increasing discreditation of so much of the superstitious and magical false hype and emotionalism in modern religion and humanity's over all world view has resulted in something of having thrown the baby out, but keeping and deifying the bathwater (pseudo-spiritual language and practices) as well as the bathtub (the religiouus structures that serve to contain those elements)." Also, I definitely agree with the point you make with it. What are some early (or late) "discredited" traditions that you (or anyone else who wishes to respond) think are worth rediscovering?
  2. Hi Mike, You're definitely right about the Platonic influence. The term "demiurge" has been acknowledged, in everything I've read, as deriving from Plato's "Timaeus". I have not read "Timaeus" completely, but it does seem that the Valentinian usage of the term is closest of any gnostic group to Plato's. In Einar Thomassen's "The Spiritual Seed", which in my experience is the most thorough English-language discussion of Valentinian systematic theology, he discusses the likely neoplatonic and neopythagorean influences on the main Valentinian myth. I also think you're right about the concept of the demiurge being attractive as a step between perfection and falleness, but I think it is a necessary step. How does liberal theology explain the divide between divinity and humanity? That is not rhetorical. I'm genuinely asking as I don't know. I see the Valentinian demiurge as a mythic depiction of a finite cosmic consciousness, the god we imagine. For me, it is a powerful mystical symbol for the limited mindset that governs much of humanity. I see the practical implication of the Valentinian view of the world as ultimately spiritual in their egalitarianism towards religious authority. All people have the ability to express the divine. I see, in their division of types of people (or, maybe better, parts of people), the realization that not all people do. Some choose to only express their limitedness. Furthermore, they recognized that even that limitedness ultimately derives from the infinite parent of all but not immediately from there. The demiurge is therefore the immediate parent of the limited aspects of the world, while the parent of all is the immediate cause of its divinity. The former is recognized as ultimately an illusion, a fascade, being derivative. To me, Valentinian thought is not dualistic in that good and evil, perfection and falleness are not co-equals. The latter are derivative while the former are not. I suspect that the aeons including Sophia, the demiurge and the archons are a necessary pantheon required to show the gradual nature of the derivation, much like the Egyptian ennead before them (which almost had to have served as a model for the aeons at least) and the Kabbalistic tree of life after them. The non-dualism of Valentinian Christianity is clear while also providing, in my mind, a cogent explanation of what others perceived as requiring a dualistic one. I think Progressive Christianity can tend to be mystically and mythically bland and might be enriched by embracing those traditions from ancient times that are closest to it. That would also serve to stem the misleading idea that Progressive Christianity is a new thing. Plus, one of the benefits of Progressive Christianity, for me, is the ability to reclaim valuable traditions that were put down as heretical by a much less tolerant Christianity.
  3. The connection with global warming is an interesting connection. Religion in its many forms often involves an attempt to make sense of mystery. Since the flood story originated in Mesopotamia, I believe, it's original intent may have been to explain flooding as the result of human irritation of the gods, and, therefore, something within human control. The great offense of mystery, after all, is that we can't control it. Whereas the original depicted gods bent on destroying humanity because they were too noisy, the Israelite telling recasts the reason to convey the idea prevalent in the Torah that they could, more or less, control the weather by obeying God. Also, I think the Israelite retelling, with it's mention of the angel-human Nephilim (i.e. fallen ones) who were "the heroes of old, men of renown" as a, if not the, precipitating factor in the flood, intended to demonize foreign gods and demi-gods and show their god's ability to triumph over them.
  4. Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora": http://www.gnosis.or...brary/flora.htm Here are the next two paragraphs: "For it is evident that the Law was not ordained by the perfect God the Father, for it is secondary, being imperfect and in need of completion by another, containing commandments alien to the nature and thought of such a God. On the other hand, one cannot impute the Law to the injustice of the opposite God, for it is opposed to injustice. Such persons do not comprehend what was said by the Savior. For a house or city divided against itself cannot stand [Matt 12:25], declared our Savior. Furthermore, the apostle says that creation of the world is due to him, for Everything was made through him and apart from him nothing was made. [John 1:3] Thus he takes away in advance the baseless wisdom of the false accusers, and shows that the creation is not due to a God who corrupts but to the one who is just and hates evil. Only unintelligent men have this idea, men who do not recognize the providence of the creator and have blinded not only the eye of the soul but also of the body." That Ptolemy recognizes a disjunction between some of the commandments in the Torah and the perfect God seems to me indiscernible from the majority progressive opinion. Also, his discussion of the other extreme shows that Valentinians valued the teaching of Jesus and certainly did not accept the position of Marcion and those that considered the creator (i.e. demiurge) of the world to be evil, but instead, considered the creator a lover of justice and hater of evil, one whose providence should be acknowledged. Perhaps, the mention of "blinded ... the eye ... also of the body" is meant as a further criticism of those who "saw" the world and the body as evil.
  5. What happened to "being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails ... conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege"? Is it just me, or does it seem like the new version is really watered down, and almost repetitious of some of the other points, particularly 4, 5 and 6? I like the new wording of the other points, but this one seems pointless now.
  6. Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora": http://www.gnosis.or...brary/flora.htm Here are the first two paragraphs: "The Law ... ordained through Moses, my dear sister Flora, has not been understood by many persons, who have accurate knowledge neither of him who ordained it nor of its commandments. I think that this will be perfectly clear to you when you have learned the contradictory opinions about it. Some say that it is legislation given by God the Father; others, taking the contrary course, maintain stubbornly that it was ordained by the opposite, the Devil who causes destruction, just as they attribute the fashioning of the world to him, saying that he is the Father and maker of this universe. Both are completely in error; they refute each other and neither has reached the truth of the matter." I've commented on the first paragraph above. As to the second, Ptolemy is introducing the Valentinian case for a middle way between outright acceptance of the Torah as the word of God (per Jews and proto-orthodox Christians) and outright denial of it as the work of the Devil. I believe that Ptolemy's "the Devil" is referring to the malevolent demiurge described by other gnostic groups like the Sethians. However, as will be seen in the rest of the letter, the Valentinians considered the demiurge something between God and Satan.
  7. Hi Jenell, I've listed some of the positive points in brief above, where I correlated them with the 8 points. I will try to elaborate some more later.
  8. Hi Neon, The problem with "Gnosticism" is not that it is a modern construct. It is that it's an inaccurate construct. It was constructed mostly from the very hostile heresiological accounts of various ancient groups, that had no more in common with each other that today's religions do. Certainly, we do not take at face value the definition of "religion" proposed by militant atheists, culled from all the most negative aspects of the world's religions. My argument is that neither should we use "Gnosticism" to dismiss a whole variety of religions that it aims to caricaturize. As to the sex issue, there is no reason I'm aware of to believe that Valentinian Christians were any more ascetical, as a matter of course, than their contemporaries. Most of the ideas relating to sex that I've seen brought up come from Manicheism, and even in that case, they are exaggerated. Manicheism was one of the most widespread religions in ancient times, and while its elect were celibate, the majority of it adherents were householders (i.e. married and engaged in procreation). This division of elect and householders is the rule in religion generally, not the exception. The proto-orthodox, in my view, were much more opposed to sexuality. Augustine left Manicheism, after all, and formulated his opposition to sexuality after he converted to othodox Christianity. Regarding comparing Valentinian and Progressive Christianity, my point is that I don't see progressive ideas as modern constructs. These ideas were espoused in ancient times by the Valentinians (and others).
  9. Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora": http://www.gnosis.org/library/flora.htm I have a couple questions on the opening lines to get the discussion going. Why might Ptolemy have chosen this topic as a good introduction for Flora to possible initiation into the Valentinian mysteries? She may have written him first, specifically asking he discuss this, but let's assume this wasn't the case. How likely is it that he chose it because ethics and particularly God's ethics as disclosed by Jesus were considered a necessary prerequisite to Valentinian initiation, similar to the way Kabbalistic initiation was later restricted to only those committed to Torah observance?
  10. Hi Rivanna, Thanks for joining the conversation. Have you read my long response to Jenell above? I think it will answer some of your concerns. If not, please let me know so I can clarify further. As mentioned above, "Gnosticism" is not an actual unified ancient movement that ever existed as defined. Rather, it is a recent scholarly construct that is often used in an uncritical and heavy-handed manner to dismiss any or all gnostic groups. It is a "definition" made by amassing, usually, the most negative beliefs of various groups that all valued gnosis, but had little else in common. I will try to point out correspondences between Valentinian Christianity and the 8 points here briefly and elaborate as individual cases present themselves in the ongoing conversation. Point 1: Jesus is the embodiment of the Christ aeon sent to bring the world back into harmony with the parent of all through gnosis. Point 2: Valentinians drew spiritual inspiration from many sources both Jewish and Hellenistic and did not consider themselves dogmatically bound to the teachings of Valentinus or other prominent Valentinians. Point 3: At Valentinian meetings, the determination of who would act as bishop, priest, etc. was left up to God by the casting of lots and all initiates were included regardless of race, gender, social standing, etc. Point 4: Valentinians upheld the ethical teachings of Jesus. For example, in Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora" (see link above), while discussing the law of retaliation in the Torah, he states "The person who is the second one to be unjust is no less unjust than the first; he simply changes the order of events while performing the same action." Point 5: Valentinian Christianity was an ancient school of thought and sometimes was described as a mystery religion, which focused more on direct experience of God than any specific doctrine (see point 2). Point 6: Valentinian myth served to oppose not the world itself but the powers of the world that create injustice among people, just as Jesus did with his parables. Point 7: The original Valentinian cosmology is a panentheistic one. In his poem, "Harvest", Valentinus explains everything as extensions of the spirit, another name for the parent of all. For Valentinians, matter is limiting, but the whole world is in the end spirit-filled. I liken this to the fact that Buddhist's view the world as an illusion, but nonetheless are deeping concerned with its stewardship. Point 8: Valentinian Christianity new its share of sacrifice. The entire faith was, in fact, wiped out by the same Roman Empire that executed Jesus, but now in Jesus' own name, and many times quite violently. Regarding the three types of people in Valentinian thought (i.e. the hylics, psychics and pneumatics), these were not "by-nature" categories in the sense of the concept of a sinful nature passed on at birth. They were what different people associated themselves with. Hylics associate only with matter and their fleshly selves. Psychics associate with the demiurge, who in many ways is symbolic of the god we imagine, but pneumatics have attained gnosis of God, linguistically the way Adam knew Eve, spritually the way a Buddhist becomes enlightened. These categories are not permanent, but the psychic, being in the middle, is the most likely type to change for better or worse. I hope this all helps clear things up a little more.
  11. Hi Mike, Here is a link to Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora" per your suggestion that it might be helpful to go over a specific text: http://www.gnosis.org/library/flora.htm. This is from Hoeller's site, and he explains in the "Archive Notes" that Bentley Layton's translation in "The Gnostic Scriptures" is better, and I have to agree. This text covers what Ptolemy considered a good introduction to Valentinian Christian thought. It also addresses some of what you expressed interest in, and since I mentioned it several times above, it seemed like an appropriate place to start. Also, it is fairly short and does not require much if any special background knowledge. Mike, Jenell or anyone else, please feel free to comment or raise questions on this text or anything else. I will try to submit some of my own comments, soon.
  12. Hi Jenell, There are definitely modern reconstructions of gnostic traditions, such as Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller's Ecclesia Gnostica, for example, but that is not what I'm talking about, nor is it where my interest lies. Everything I've read has been about the ancient school, which scholars refer to as "Valentinian", since Valentinus was the founder of it and as "Christianity" because it was as Christian as the schools of Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria and the like. In fact, the Valentinian school was the gnostic tradition that most closely aligned with the proto-orthodox, which is probably why they opposed it above all others. Nonetheless, Valentinian metaphorical exegesis strongly influenced the proto-orthodox tendency to interpret the Bible symbolically, especially in the cases of Origen and Clement of Alexandria, but the content of their interpretations were, of course, different in many cases. In other words, they borrowed their method of interpretation from the Valentinian Christians, but opposed the conclusions that the latter came to with that method.
  13. Hi Jenell, My last post was written prior to me seeing your last two. Hopefully, it addresses some of what you mention specifically in the second to last post. However, let me at least add that the belief you describe is most prominant in Manicheism, which came later, and is definitely not present like that in Valentinian Christianity. This is a good example of the problem created by lumping these diverse gnostic traditions into a single category called "Gnosticism". Also, Manicheism is Kurt Rudolph's specialty, and is one of the gnostic traditions which was most familiar to scholars before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scriptures and primary sources like it. Therefore, Manicheism had a profound impact on his "Gnosis" and, I think, on definitions of "Gnosticism" generally that make them woefully inaccurate when applied to Valentinian Christianity. Furthermore, Augustine was a Manichean before he converted to orthodox Christianity, which is probably largely where the influence on Christianity's disdain for women comes from, as you have, in that case, rightly indicated.
  14. Hi Jenell and Mike, Jenell, I have to say I was surprised by your statement that "Gnosticism was largely the source of anti-feminine, degradation and disregard for women as it entered the church after the first century". That is not an objection I have encountered before. I spent some time thinking about why you might think that, because my readings of gnostic texts like the Nag Hammadi scriptures and scholarly studies drawing both from these texts and the heresiological reports of the gnostics have consistently espoused the exact opposite. I do not mean to be disagreeable or condescending towards your religious studies experience, and you certainly have a right to your opinion. However, part of my intent with this topic is to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding gnostics generally and Valentinian Christians in particular. Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect you may be drawing this conclusion from the negative aspects of the gnostic depiction of Sophia's fall or the last saying (i.e. 114) in the Gospel of Thomas, which some have attributed to gnostic redaction. Before I attempt to put those two ideas into context, let me explain why I think that is necessary. As I mentioned above, Karen King in "What is Gnosticism?" and other scholars have recently argued that "Gnosticism" is a problematic, relatively recent, scholarly construct that perpetuates many of the heresiological biases toward the various traditions so labeled. They base this understanding on the relatively recently discovered Nag Hammadi scriptures and other gnostic texts that give the straight-from-the-horses-mouth account of their various traditions. These texts pose significant problems for the "Gnosticism" constructed from the heresiologists hostile, simplified and therefore distorted accounts of gnostic beliefs and practices. To give an analogy to the heresiologists portrayal and previous scholars acceptance of it, let me ask whether or not we should take the Roman and Jewish portrayals of Jesus and early Christians at face value. To be fair to these scholars, the heresiologists were all they had to work with until relatively recently, whereas we have always had the accounts of Christians in addition to Tacitus and the Toledot Yeshu. However, this is no longer an excuse, and scholars like Karen King are recognizing this. Another reason that they have pointed out the problems with the fantasy religion "Gnosticism" is that scholars have yet to offer a consistent definition of it that fits all the evidence, especially the primary sources. This is true, as I believe Karen King discusses, even when a conference such as that in Messina on the topic of gnostic origins was held in 1966. All that being said, let me return to the items I mentioned might have lead you to your conclusion. One of the main problems with the construct "Gnosticism" is that it defines a single gnostic myth that is supposed to be applicable to all traditions so labeled. However, in many cases, especially with Valentinian Christianity, scholars can say no more than that their texts presuppose such a myth, and in such cases, the actual details of the devised myth rarely mesh with the newer primary evidence. Recent scholars have recognized the familiarity of the Valentinians with Jewish interpretations of the Bible and their adept use of such interpretations in their own exegesis. It is also debated whether or not gnostic ideas originated originally amongst Jews and were later Christianized or originated with Christians, I believe, with the direction of recent conclusions tending toward the former or a third Pagan source. Therefore, it seems most likely that the various gnostic speculations surrounding Sophia, especially those of the Valentinian Christians, were derived from the Jewish Wisdom tradition which places her as present with God before creation and makes her in significant ways co-creator with God. This certainly raises the feminine to levels as high or higher than proto-othodox and othodox theological treatment of women and should always be kept in mind when interpreting gnostic discussions of Sophia. The following two paragraph discussion of Sophia's fall comes from my reading of Chapter 6 of Ismo Dunderberg's "Beyond Gnosticism", an excellent if not the best explanation, in my estimate, of Valentinian Christianity. It should be noted before addressing Sophia in Valentinian Christian theology/theogony, that in one of the most significant Valentinian Christian presentations of this fall (i.e the "Tripartite Tractate"), a male Logos occupies the feminine Sophia's place. This indicates that for the author at least, the aeon's gender is in some ways irrelevant to the point of the myth. When Sophia is the aeon under consideration, it seems to be her "excessive" emotions that are of most interest to the Valentian Christians who considered this myth important to their "therapy of emotions" as Dunderberg calls it. Her offense is that she actively seeks to experience the parent of all apart from her syzygy (i.e. her male partner Desired). This result in the eventual creation of our imperfect world. The impression is left that this has to do with her acting alone, and the same result would have occurred had a male aeon done the same. The aeons in the gnostic view of the pleroma (i.e. the fullness of the spiritual world) are given in pairs of male and female with the exception of the parent of the all, who though sometimes referred to as the father is shown by this and other things to be without specific gender. Also, the first aeon emanating from the parent of all is, in all cases I recall, feminine. Also, and probably especially in the context of myth, male and female genders are understood metaphorically. That last point leads appropriately into the context of saying 114 of the Gospel of Thomas, assuming that is a gnostic redaction, which if it's not denies it relevance in any discussion of gnostic views of women unless, of course, Valentinian Christians employed it or something similar, the latter of which at least Dunderberg and Elaine Pagels argue to be the case. In rereading some things for this response, I realize that John Dominic Crossan's discussion of saying 114 on pages 297-298 of "The Historical Jesus" may be the source of your complaint that anti-feminine gnostic views influenced the early church. I can't emphasize my appreciation for Crossan enough. I have just finished reading "The Historical Jesus" and his follow-up "The Birth of Christianity" back to back and found them extremely valuable. He deserves, in my mind, his place as one of the foremost prophets of Progressive Christianity. With all that as a disclaimer, I must say I find his views on gnostics lacking. He is after all, not an expert on such traditions, as his emphasis is before their time, and his "Prologue" to "The Birth of Christianity" displays, if not outright admits, his dislike of gnostic views. Again, even this dislike may just be because his knowledge of the latest research on various gnostic tradions seems lacking. I say this, especially since the epigraph to that prologue, which Crossan mentions in two other places and relies on almost if not solely for his definition of "Gnosticism", quotes Kurt Rudolph's "Gnosis". While this was certainly a landmark work and, I believe, the first scholarly attempt at a complete description of "Gnosis" that considered the Nag Hammadi scriptures and other recently discovered primary sources, it is also therefore somewhat outdated and other scholars I've read (perhaps Karen King) point out that it suffers from the problems inherent in "Gnosticism" as a unified contruct. The discussion in the following paragraphs comes from my reading of various excerpts of Elaine Pagels' "The Gnostic Paul", which is a description as the subtitle indicates of "Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters". I would point out, though, that the word "Gnostic" in that subtitle is somewhat misleading as the focus is primarily if not entirely on Valentinian Christian exegesis and not that of other gnostics. On pages 1 and 2, Pagels cites Clement of Alexandria's report that the Valentinian Christians claim that Valentinus was a disciple of Theudas who was in turn a disciple of Paul and suggests that Ptolemy, a disciple of Valentinus espouses this in his "Letter to Flora" (a woman who is apparently interested in Valentinian Christian teachings) when he mentions "'apostolic tradition' that 'we too have received from succession'". On page 4 and 5, Pagels mentions how Tertullian protests the Valentinian Christians denial of Pauline authorship to the Pastoral Letters, which interestingly most scholars now agree are not authentically Pauline. Therefore, any passages in those letters that may be understood as anti-feminine need no Valentinian Christian explanation. Pagels also points out that the available Valentinian Christian interpretations corroborate the heresiological report by only referring to "Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and Hebrews (a list that corresponds exactly to the earliest known Pauline collection attested from Alexandria)." I should explain that Valentinus was from North Africa and Valentinian Christians had a strong presence in Alexandria as well as Rome. The entire body of Pagels' book proceeds through the extant Valentinian Christian interpretations of those letters. From the first passage in these letters that may be understood as anti-feminine, the Valentinian Christian interpretations consistently insist that male and female are to be taken symbolically for the pneumatic and psychic types of people, respectively, both categories potentially contain both actual men and actual women. Therefore, it would seem that this understanding should be extended to any saying interpreted by or originating with Valentinian Christians, even saying 114 of the Gospel of Thomas, again if it is indeed a gnostic redaction or even a non-gnostic saying that the Valentian Christians employed. All this being said, I would argue that neither Valentinian Christian myth nor exegesis can accurately be used to support anti-feminine views, but what of their practice? Heresiologists criticized gnostics, usually Valentinian Christians, for praying upon women, which is probably just a hostile indication that their teachings appealed to women who found more acceptance, freedom and power to participate at the same levels in their more egalitarian meetings. The Valentinian Christian participated in proto-orthodox churches and professed the same beliefs, even according to the heresiologists. They did not separate themselves from these churches but, instead, were driven out by their opponents, at least partly if not primarily because they also held their own meetings outside the authority of these churches. This particularly infuriated their opponents, since they determined participation in various roles by casting lots each time they met as Irenaeus relates, according to page 41 of Pagels' "The Gnostic Gospels". Pagels states, "All initiates, men and women alike, participated equally in the drawing; anyone might be selected to serve as priest, bishop, or prophet. Furthermore, because they cast lots at each meeting, even the distinctions established by lot could never become permanent 'ranks'." She goes on to say, "They believed that since God directs everything in the universe, the way the lots fell expressed his choice." Mike, not only did the Valentinian Christians on the whole not separate themselves from other Christians, the following hostile quote that Pagels gives from Tertullian on page 42 also partially addresses your question regarding the inclusiveness of Valentinian Christians more generally. "How frivolous, how worldly, how merely human it is, without seriousness, without authority, without discipline, as fits their faith! To begin with, it is uncertain who is a catechumen, and who a believer: they all have access equally, they listen equally, they pray equally—even pagans, if any happen to come.... They also share the kiss of peace with all who come, for they do not care how differently they treat topics, if they meet together to storm the citadel of the one only truth.... All of them are arrogant ... all offer you gnosis!" The last part about arrogance seems to me to be a clear-cut case of projection. Nonetheless, in Chapter 26 of Einar Thomassen's "The Spiritual Seed", he discusses Valentinian Christian initiation and cites Ptolemy's "Letter to Flora" as promising further instruction "If God permits" when she has "been deemed worthy", suggesting, according to Thomassen, "that a scrutiny of the candidates took place". He also mentions Tertullian and Hippolytus referring to the long length of such initiation. Therefore, the statement about not being able to distinguish catecumens is apparently an exaggeration, although there is no reason to think the equality and welcoming is anything less than accurate. Returning to your concern, Jenell, Pagels, again on page 42, goes on to say, "Tertullian protests especially the participation of 'those women among the heretics' who shared with men positions of authority: "They teach, they engage in discussion; they exorcise; they cure"—he suspects that they might even baptize, which meant that they also acted as bishops!" Hopefully, Jenell, all of that acquits the Valentinian Christians from any anti-feminism. I really appreciate you raising this question and giving me the opportunity to explore my understanding of this aspect of Valentinian Christianity more fully than I had previously. This is why civil debate is so helpful to me. Please, feel free to continue to disagree if you still do and help me see your side of things. Mike, I will try to address the things you brought up more fully later. Thanks for your patience in advance.
  15. Hi Scott, Jerry Garcia played bluegrass with David Grisman, right? I just started building a collection of jazz standards. So far, the only pianists I have are Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk. I really like Thelonious Monk's "Monk's Dream" and Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" and "Jazz Impressions of Japan". I'll have to check out the ones you mentioned. I've definitely heard of Herbie Hancock. Duke Ellington was a pianist, too, wasn't he? What do you think about the Rudy Gelder series of jazz recordings? I've read that some people think he really distorts the sound of a piano in particular. I wonder if there is such a thing as jazz banjo? Dixieland would be the closest I can think of. Thanks for the recommendations.
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