Daily Archives: 9 January 2007

A Quaker Transition to the Talkies

On New Year’s Day, my father turned 82. His Japanese driver’s license says he was born in the 14th year of Taisho. All during my childhood in Japan, his age advanced in parallel with the Showa reign year. Here’s a short, preliminary tribute to one of his best-honed skills:

Perhaps there’s an element of truth to my teasing claim that Dad left the Quakers to become a Baptist because he just couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough. But that cheap hypothesis fails to explain why the rest of his siblings also abandoned their Quaker roots.

Of course, Dad didn’t leave all his Quaker values behind. Not even the value of silence. During Wednesday night prayer meetings at the First Baptist Church in Winchester, Virginia (my mother’s home church), where he served as associate pastor one furlough, he made some of the Baptists uneasy enough to speak up when he allowed periods of silent prayer to go on a little longer than they were used to.

But Dad does believe in the value of talk—for preaching, for teaching, for learning, for sharing, to be sure, but most of all for healing. That must be why he chose to concentrate on pastoral counseling at seminary and to serve as an institutional chaplain, rather than a church-planting evangelist, during his first two terms as a missionary in Japan. And later to teach pastoral care at Seinan (‘Southwestern’) Seminary in Fukuoka.

He does preach a good sermon, though. He doesn’t shout, thump the Bible, or silently wait for the Spirit to move him. Nor does he read a dry lecture on comparative theology or religious history. Instead, he keeps his sermons fairly short, fairly conversational, and almost always tells a story to get his message across. He knows that great truths are best conveyed by great stories. His homilies have surely come a long way since he practiced his first sermons while plowing, preaching temperance to the back end of a mule.

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Appalachian Roots of the Klezmer Revival

Dumneazu (whom I think of as Klezmerescu) has a fascinating post about the Appalachian roots of the revival of Klezmer musical traditions in the U.S.

Like a lot of folks who play Klezmer music, I got my start playing American traditional folk music back in the 1970s. New York was a magnet for folk music, and there was a very active scene of people playing traditional Appalachian fiddle music and old-time southern music styles. One peculiarity of the New York Appalachian fiddle and bluegrass scene was that almost all of the local music enthusiasts were either Jewish or Italian…. Young New York musicians would make the pilgrimage south to North Carolina or West Virginia to learn to play at the feet of some of the old masters of traditional folk fiddling, like Tommy Jarrell of Toast, North Carolina. Tommy’s style (generally known as “Round Peak” style) became the New York City default mode for fiddling.

UPDATE: Nathanael at Rhine River sees the “Hillbilly Klezmer” pair of aces and raises the bet with a link to a current story in the Hartford Courant headlined However Unlikely, Connecticut Becomes A Center In The Ukulele’s Resurgence.

To stand in the Clinton home of Jim and Liz Beloff is to find yourself in an unofficial Ukulele Information Center.

The husband-and-wife team, both in their 50s, have carved out a rather singular niche for themselves as experts on all things to do with the plucky four-string instrument. They’re widely credited within the ukulele community (indeed, there is one) for the recent resurgence in uke activity….

Beloff figures we’re in the “third wave” of the ukulele (the first being in the early 1920s, the second in the 1950s). This new wave has produced a breed of ukuleleists, mostly from Hawaii, who defy expectations of what the ukulele can do. John King plays classical music on his uke (it sounds a lot like a harpsichord).

The current uke superstar is Jake Shimabukuro, a lightning-fast player who lists guitarists Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen as influences. In concert, he often uses guitar effects to manipulate the sound.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has brought an avant-garde sensibility to the ukulele by deconstructing old standards. Though not so big in its namesake country, the group is popular in Japan.

“Many started taking it up for the philosophy and for the iconography that the ukulele represented,” says Bill Robertson, whose recent documentary “Rock That Uke” chronicled the punk and alternative ukulele scene (yes, there is one). “Since that time, it has become the instrument for musicians to demonstrate their virtuosity.”

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Filed under Appalachia, music