Couldn’t Have a Wedding Without the Fiddler: The Story of Traditional Fiddling on Prince Edward Island
New From University of Tennessee Press
by Ken Perlman
Couldn’t Have a Wedding without the Fiddler offers a social, cultural and musical exploration of traditional fiddle playing on Canada’s Prince Edward Island (PEI). Based primarily on oral histories collected from about 150 fiddlers and other “Islanders,” the narrative colorfully brings to life the electric atmosphere of the old Island dances and the central role that fiddlers and their music once played in community life. And as implied by the book’s title, it was almost unthinkable to plan any important event in the community without first making sure there was at least one fiddler available to play for it. The book also explores attitudes about fiddling, learning patterns and strategies, playing styles and repertoire, dancing and accompaniment, fiddle contests and the role of mass media, the decline of fiddling in the decades following the second World War; and the uneven progress of the Island’s subsequent fiddling revival movement. To widen the scope of the narrative, material is often presented in the context of parallel cultural developments in Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere in North America. Couldn’t Have a Wedding is the first published volume of a new series at the University of Tennessee Press named for, and financed by a grant from the estate of Dr. Charles K. Music Wolfe (1943-2006), the great historian of Southern vernacular music. As noted by Professor of Appalachian Studies Ted Olson in the Foreword, “Not only does Perlman explore an overlooked music culture located far from the exhaustively studied South, but, like earlier books by the namesake of this series, Perlman’s study is both groundbreaking in its research and passionate toward its subject.” 462pp., plus introduction by author and foreword by Ted Olson.; features c. 40 photographs and dozens of musical examples.
Ken Perlman’s book on Prince Edward Island fiddling is a watershed accomplishment in the study of a grassroots art form. It supplies a rich and textured analysis of a fiddle tradition that, till now, has been virtually ignored in scholarly research. But it does not simply fill a gap in research. The book is the most thorough and comprehensive exploration of any fiddling tradition anywhere. It is a model for artistic ethnography. (Alan Jabbour: Director American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, 1976-99)
With an eye for detail and an ear for nuance, Ken Perlman’s in-depth study deftly deconstructs Prince Edward Island’s distinctive fiddle culture, artfully embedding the music in its social milieu. The result, like a well-played reel, is deeply satisfying—and deeply respectful of its subject. (Ed MacDonald: Associate Professor of History, University of Prince Edward Island)
With rich commentary from the fiddlers on learning, style, and social occasions, with Perlman’s historical research, sensitive observation, and deft analysis, Couldn’t Have a Wedding without the Fiddler is among the very best musical ethnographies ever published. (Henry Glassie: Emeritus Professor, Dept. of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University)
Over the past many years there has been mutual respect, appreciation, and friendship established between Ken and the P.E.I, fiddlers. It is amazing to see Ken in action. He has the ability to quickly dissipate and dispel any fear and intimidation initially present in the fiddlers as they encounter strangers, especially in front of video and audio recording equipment. Indeed, before too long they are sitting down in the kitchen playing their familiar tunes and talking freely about fiddling, completely oblivious to the recording apparati. (Fr. Charles Cheverie: Emeritus Professor, parish priest and former Director of the Prince Edward Island Fiddlers’ Society)