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Forthcoming book: Dan Levenson: Old-Time Banjo and Fiddle Teacher, Performer and Storyteller

Posted by dbrooks on Thursday, May 25, 2023

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In the coming weeks, McFarland Publishing Company will release Dan Levenson: Old-Time Banjo and Fiddle Teacher, Performer and Storyteller.  Lew Stern and I collaborated on this book which looks at the influences and life decisions that led Dan Levenson toward a career in music as a performer and teacher.  In many ways, he has been a “Johnny Appleseed” for clawhammer banjo and old-time music, introducing countless aspiring banjo and fiddle players to old-time music through his concerts, workshops and books. His “Old Time Way” quarterly appearance in Banjo Newsletter broadened the reach of that magazine with its reviews, articles, tabs and interviews.

Our book also looks at the demands and decisions that face someone who decides to leave a traditional career path in order to pursue the life of a professional musician. Lew had unlimited access to 6 or 7 feet of Dan’s personal files, including master tapes from recording projects, reel to reel field recordings, performance contracts, workshop preparatory material, drafts from the books Dan has written, files of correspondence and articles and more. These materials, along with interviews with Dan, members of his family, his bandmates, and students, offered a wealth of information about Dan’s journey from his youth and education in Pittsburgh, the influences of his family’s appreciation of folk music and square dancing, his stints in social work and the retail world and, finally, his epiphany at the Evart Dulcimer Festival that he would pursue a life as a professional musician.

But one doesn’t go from a decision to be a performer and teacher directly to success in those roles.  The required preparation takes many shapes. Chapters in our book examine steps Dan took to learn old-time music and become proficient on his instruments, the banjo and fiddle. Elder mentors, such as Les Raber and Charlie Acuff, offered important insights into the music they played and what they appreciated in the playing of others. Contemporaries, such as Bob Carlin and David Holt, offered encouragement as well. Years of playing in bands, such as the Boiled Buzzards, and in solo performances were important in honing his skills.  Dan’s emergence as a successful and influential teacher, in his workshops and books, are built upon these lessons he learned in his own journey.

While this is a book about Dan Levenson, it also has much to say about old-time music’s growth and popularity in the last 20 years.

I’m hoping it will be out by June. 

And I’m hoping BHO friends will check it out:

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