“The Beautiful Music All Around Us”

Stephen Wade holding a copy of his book

Last week I had the good fortune of introducing Stephen Wade at the Cambridge Forum in Harvard Square. Like an archaeologist revisiting a dig site 75 years later, Wade went back to 13 Southern towns where folklorists working for the Library of Congress had recorded locally known singers and musicians.  These field recordings went on to become iconic of Southern old time banjo and fiddle music, blues, children’s lore, cowboy songs, and other forms of American folk music.

William Stepp on horseback

In addition to doing some serious library research, Wade was able to track down living relatives or acquaintances, finding himself in places where everyday people made music:  living rooms, front porches, church pews, prisons, and dance halls. During his November 13 presentation in Cambridge, he told stories from his travels in researching and writing The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience. He also performed on a number of banjos, including one originally belonging to musician Hobart Smith. Take a look and listen —

 

Banjo music before bluegrass? Find out more

When Lowell’s textile mills were clacking, what parlor music was popular? Come join us for a musical journey back in time, to find out. This was a time when if you wanted to hear music, you had to play it yourself.  The  Lowell Folklife Series presents “Classic Style Banjo Concert: The Lost Art of America’s Instrument” on Saturday November 17th at 8:00 p.m. in the Visitor Center theater of Lowell National Historical Park.

Classic style banjo playing was popular in the 1830s and 40s, and became somewhat of a virtuosic tradition by the 1880s. Originally played on gut strings, this parlor music has a classical feel to it.

 

Seasoned musicians Peter LaBau (banjo) and Mitch Nelin (mandocello) will deliver an entertaining evening of music interpsersed with stories of a nearly vanished musical tradition.

The 8:00 p.m. concert is free and open to the public. For directions, click here.

 

Fiddle through line

Suhas Rao and Tara Anand Bangalore. Photo by Billy Howard.For years I’ve wanted to pair a kora player with an oldtime banjo player. Or get rhythm tap dancer Rocky Mendes together with swing fiddler Matt Glaser. We did just that and more at a recent concert, African Roots, Fiddle Tunes, and Fancy Footwork — one of two performances complementing Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum. The concert gave us the opportunity to hint at the diversity of performance traditions thriving in Massachusetts today — African kora, old-time fiddle and banjo, swing fiddle, South Indian Carnatic violin, and Irish accordion and fiddle. This is music that makes people dance — and so we complemented the musician’s offerings with some of the extraordinary dance steps their music has inspired: rhthym tap dance and Irish stepdance. It wasn’t “Riverdance,” “Hee Haw” or “Bollywood.” It was the living, breathing root traditions from which they sprang.

We’re putting something similar together for October 4th. Stay tuned . .

Photo by Billy Howard