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Folk revival comes on strings of fiddle, bow

A scholar uses his head and heart to research and perform old-time tunes. You can hear him at Sertoma Youth Ranch.

By LOGAN NEILL
Published March 30, 2007


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SPRING LAKE - It's unlikely that the fellow who first scratched out the jaunty strains of Old Joe Clark on his fiddle back in the late 1800s ever thought too much about the tune. To him, its significance probably went no further than the notion that it was a mighty fine dance tune.

Alan Jabbour would agree. However, the celebrated musicologist, who happens to be a pretty fair fiddler in his own right, believes that the music has rightfully earned much more than its usual arcane knock as the sound track for "hillbilly" dances. It's a true art form unto itself.

"People sit around and listen to it, to appreciate it," Jabbour told interviewer Ann Oppenheimer in a 1999 article for The Folk Life Messenger. "They are profoundly conscious of the beauty they are creating."

Though now retired from his job as director of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, Jabbour hasn't ceased his scholarly pursuit of old-time music.

The author of several books and numerous essays on folk music and culture, the 64-year-old Jabbour stays busy on the lecture and concert circuit, entertaining and enlightening audiences around the country. This weekend will find him performing at the Sertoma Youth Ranch's Florida Old Time Music Championship.

No stranger to Florida, Jabbour developed his love for the fiddle and bow through classical music as a child growing up in Jacksonville. He later went on to perform with the Jacksonville Symphony, the Brevard Music Festival Orchestra and the Miami Symphony before graduating magna cum laude from the University of Miami in 1963.

From that point, however, Jabbour's musical path took a major detour. While on a research trip from his graduate studies at Duke University, he stumbled across the rich fiddling tradition of rural central Appalachia and fell in love with it. To his delight, he also discovered that a number of "original source" musicians - those who had learned traditional music before sound recordings had been invented - were alive and well in North and South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Just as folklorists John and Alan Lomax had scoured Southern prisons and labor camps during the 1930s and 1940s in search of traditional blues singers, Jabbour went to rural Appalachia to search for country music's authentic roots. In 1966, he was introduced to West Virginia fiddler Henry Reed, considered one of the region's premiere hoedown musicians.

Through Reed, who was in his 80s at the time, Jabbour became something of an apprentice. He not only learned Reed's intricate fiddling style, but also carefully documented the notes into a written music format. In addition, Jabbour's extensive tape recordings of Reed's music later became part of the Library of Congress' extensive folk music collection.

Along with a handful of friends, Jabbour launched the Hollow Rock String Band, an old-time music revival group whose 1968 album, Traditional Dance Tunes, is still considered essential listening to old-time music enthusiasts.

Through his performances and writing, Jabbour has sought to keep alive what he believes is an irreplaceable link to America's cultural past.

As Jabbour told Oppenheimer: "Our lives are changed when we meet these people. We are part of the cultural process. Our interaction is helping to create it, and we are part of that creativity. We have become part of a larger process that is bigger than any of us as individuals. We have helped it along."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 352 848-1435.

If you go

Old Time Music Championship

The 25th annual Florida Old Time Music Championship will be today and Saturday at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, south of Spring Lake, off Spring Lake Highway on Myers Road. Admission is $5 today and $10 on Saturday. Children under 12 are admitted free. For more information, call Ernie at (352) 588-4734 or Jim at (813) 991-4774.

[Last modified March 29, 2007, 23:50:26]


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