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Thursday, April 22, 2010


mr pasley--fiddle made by floyd reeves

The Library puts on a variety of programs just about every week. Tonight's program was from the Hometown & Heritage Series, Traditional Music of Alleghany County, NC,' a presentation by Lucas Pasley. I feel like Time Magazine writing half a paragraph of credentials to the name mentioned in an article to focus on expertise. Wouldn't want to leave out they went to Harvard. Not that Lucas did. No, he's not a Harvard graduate, nor was meant to be. He parcels out his life in coffee spoons, roasts beans, grinds them, makes exotic coffees available to his friends and neighbors and the internet, picks old-time banjo, guitar, bass and fiddle. He's an old-time mountain musician with a strong musical heritage on his Brooks side. Lucas teaches English at the high school, is known as Mr Pasley, wears a sport coat, is well liked by the kids because he liked them first. He's a teacher who respects each of the kids as a unique individual and they respect him in turn. Times I've mentioned to someone in high school or recently out that I know Mr Pasley, they always light up. I feel good for Lucas, because it tells me he has become what he wants to be, a teacher who makes a difference.

The library's space for the event this evening was packed with audience. I'm not one to guesitmate crowd sizes. The place was full. I found it curious the number of people there fit the size of the place perfectly. Like there's always a parking spot at the Post Office. Quilts were hanging all around the wall. The quilters were showing this month. Perfect for spirit to go with the subject of Lucas's presentation and acoustics. Made a good sound box. Lucas's music and the music he talked about worked well with the spirit in the quilts around the walls, like the quilts illustrated the music and the music illustrated the quilts. The traditional music of these mountains, specific to Alleghany County, the musicians of the county Lucas did not hesitate to give their due as exceptional musicians not to be dismissed for any reason, but to be listened to and appreciated.

Lucas said of the musical heritage of this county that it is not less than any of the counties around us. It's that the musicians of this county were not interested in recording. I see the musicians of this county purists in their art form. It's about having a good time making music together, playing for a dance, making music. It was all about the music. It was not about being a star, having a big name, making money. It was only about the music. There wasn't any money in old-time music. Nobody had any money to pay the musicians. Old-time music was taken very seriously musically in its time and is now.

To illustrate Lucas's talk about the music, he used the fiddle and the banjo to illustrate the styles of the different musicians. He has studied the styles of the various fiddlers, like Hus Caudill, Joe Caudill, Howard Joines, Guy Brooks, Lawn Brooks and T-Model Mack Brooks. Lucas can play the banjo as well as he plays fiddle. He played Bertie Dickens style Cindy. Lucas talked about these people individually as people who lived among us, some as relatives to many present. He talked much about the tradition of the music as it expressed here in individual styles particular to our county. He made a small leaflet for the show that got a great deal of information on a limited space and pictures of the musicians he talked about and played music like.

Lucas amazes me all the time with his talent not just playing old-time music, but he's doing what he believes needs doing and nobody else is doing it, making it his place to step forward and get it done. I was thinking Lucas's presentation would be as well received at every community center in the county as in the library in Sparta. And maybe not. Those things cannot be known in advance in Alleghany County. This county is so interesting in its own particular ways that a lot of people don't get, because anything that draws attention to itself falls flat here. It seems a shame we don't have at least a few LPs of Howard Joines and his band, Fred Roupe's Swampgrass, and Jr Maxwell's Green Mountain Boys. And these are just Pine Swamp / Whitehead bands.

The tradition in Alleghany County is that you don't hold yourself higher up than the next man, and you don't be calling attention to yourself. This is a strict code and not necessarily reprehensible. I'd guess it's a fair chance it came from the time when all the men carried guns. Diplomacy. Treat everyone you meet with respect, because if you don't the consequences will likely be serious. This code of not calling attention to yourself applies on stage for musicians, too. In the old way, the musicians stood still. They were vessels the music flowed through. It wasn't something to be paid for. It was a gift, a talent. Like in the old-time preaching, the preachers weren't paid, because what is freely received must be freely passed on. That old-time preaching and church singing are hand-in-hand with old-time music, though the fiddle music at square dances was considered by the church people as the devil's music. I think I heard something like that in the late 50s about rock & roll.

In an existing video of Jr's band, The Green Mountain Boys, the mandolin player, Bill Caudill, is bobbing about while he's playing the mandolin like he's been watching television, and Jr barked at him, "Stand still, boy." Bill straightened right up and it was awhile before he started moving again. Bill was from Wilkesboro, but lived away someplace when he was young. He came to mountain music with the urge that came in among white people with the 50s to flow with the music, and for musicians to bob up and down or move about to the music they're making. Standing still was new to him.

Lucas is giving another talk, Thursday, May 27 at the library, part 2 of his talk today, more musicians. It's quite a feat of him to teach himself to play a song in the style of these given musicians. I felt the whole time that this was an historic moment in Alleghany County. It belongs on calendars in the future of great moments in the county's history.

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