|A Fiddle and Banjo Keeping Traditions Alive, One Tune at a Time.
By: Dave Swanson
Last Sunday night, the old maple floors and soaring ceilings of the Woods Hole Community Hall warmed up quickly. Two master
musicians, armed with only a fiddle and a banjo, transported an enthusiastic crowd of all ages to the days of old.
For Old-Time music enthusiasts, Alan Jabbour and Ken Perlman are rock stars, without the microphones and trendy hair. With
an impressive list of credentials, publications and awards, they have dedicated their lives to preserving and promoting
traditional dance music from Scotland, Ireland, Eastern Canada and the American South. Their music brings back images of
simpler times, when people spent their precious free time enjoying simple pleasures. Their musicianship, as they proved
Sunday evening, is par-none with Perlman weaving in and out of the melody with his precise melodic-style banjo and Jabbour
lilting the time-honored tunes with his fiddle. The flawless delivery was direct and very personal, like a house concert and a
fireside chat with good friends.
Their approach to the music is steeped in tradition. Every tune has a story, a lifeline of how it was passed through generations.
Perlman likens the survival of tunes to an hourglass, “If no one is there to pick it up before the sand runs out, it will be gone” and
lost forever. Both Jabbour and Perlman have had an active roll in “catching” tunes before they are forgotten, and passing them
on to the next crop of budding musicians through their multiple teachings, recordings, instructional books and enthusiasm.
Jabbour explains that it is very common for traditions to skip generations and be passed from grandparents to grandchildren.
This is not surprising when you think about it. How many teenagers really want to learn their parent’s dance moves?
In the 1960’s, Jabbour, then in his early 20’s, sought out an 80-something year old fiddler, Henry Reed of Glen Lyn, Virginia, on
the West Virginia border, and absorbed everything he could until Reed’s death in 1968. Likewise, Reed learned much of his
repertoire when he was a young man, from an elderly fiddler named Quince Dillion, born in 1826. Therefore, Jabbour shared
with us tunes that he learned only second hand that have a direct link to the Jacksonian era! That’s pretty cool stuff indeed.
Perlman followed a parallel journey, which led him to Prince Edward Island and Eastern Canada to seek out, and document
dance tunes particular to that region. Learning the tunes is one thing, but doing so on the 5-string banjo is something never
before attempted. In fact, Perlman quipped that an old fiddler in eastern Prince Edward Island gave him the biggest compliment
ever given to a banjo player, when he said, “You play that banjo so well, I think you could have been a fiddle player!”
So, this is how the evening went. Tongue-in-cheek, heart-felt melodies, both lively and melancholy, played with vibrant energy
with reverence for the past. A poignant story for every tune helped bring the music to life. The music was elevated from simple
toe-tapping to rich appreciation of the value of keeping traditions alive. As the smiling crowd filtered out through the massive
doors of Community Hall into the cold salty air of Water Street, I was left pondering our personal role of keeping some nugget
from the past alive that will make our lives richer and more meaningful.
You can find more information on Alan Jabbour and Ken Perlman on their websites, www.alanjabbour.com and www.
[Appeared in the Falmouth Enterprise (Falmouth, Massachusetts), Friday, December 4, 2009]