Old-Time Fiddle Lesson

To learn, lock yourself and your fiddle in a room all winter, and practice until you play with a twisty heartfelt rhythmic punch that approaches trance; fiddling is not technical repetition anyone can master. it's the sound you make once you know in the blood you clog with your fingers while that old devil music dances inside the box.

--Ken Waldman

Ken Waldman warms hearts
By Naughty Mickie  notymickie@earthlink.net

I looked at the cover of the CD. Ken Waldman, "A Week in Eek" it read, Alaskan fiddling poet music it stated. On the cover was a fuzzy-looking bespectacled man holding a violin. He had that "friendly look" about him. Hmmm... my only tie to Alaska has been as a devoted viewer of the now long-gone television show "Northern Exposure." Intrigued, I popped the release in my player for a listen.

There was a burst of old-time fiddle joined by banjo, which instantly transported me back to the Harvest Festivals I would go to with my parents in upstate New York. During the first few fests, I could only appreciate the musicianship of the artists, but then the music grew on me. It was something special I shared with my father who is no longer here to point out the nuances of the bathtub bass player, the beats ofthe washboard percussionist or the quick attacks of the bow by thefiddler. I closed my eyes and let Waldman's music wash over me and I caught myself tapping time. Then a soft warm voice began reciting poetry over the music. I was hooked. I had to speak with this man.

I knew it was Waldman when he answered my call-- it was the same soft warm voice, but this time tinged with a smile. He explained that I had caught him at the end of washing dishes and he would be happy to speak with me.

More than 300 of Waldman's poems and stories have been published in national journals, magazines and newspapers, he has self-publishedn numerous poetry chapbooks and has just released a new book, "Nome Poems." When it comes to music, Waldman focuses on archaic Appalachian tunes, as well as some compositions of his own and uses his own poetry
to complement the songs.

Waldman grew up outside Philadelphia and later spent time traveling the country, stopping to live in North Carolina and Seattle, Washington. In 1985, a graduate program in creative writing called him to Fairbanks, Alaska and he "just stayed."

"I knew when I graduated, I wasn't ready to leave,'' explains Waldman.

He has lived in Fairbanks, Juneau, Nome, Sitka and Anchorage and has worked as a writer, a tennis teacher, a fiddle player and a university professor. In fact, during his time in Nome, Waldman was a "one-person English department." He would conduct his classes via teleconferences and take time during the year to visit each of his students in their native villages.

"I'm making my living right now being 'Alaska's Fiddling Poet,''' Waldman says.

At any given time, he is out on the road, performing at festivals, universities and coffee houses throughout the American West. He also visits schools and uses his talents to get children interested in writing.

Waldman, who has not owned a television in 25 years, gets the inspiration for his writing and composing from "a mix of everything." He takes ideas and stories from the people he meets and his experiences in Alaska and has even looked inward to pen his thoughts on his near-death experience in a plane crash in 1996. He advises other aspiring writers to read, attend writing programs and classes and "be open to what comes up in your life."

During his lectures on writing, Waldman employs a curious technique to make his point. "What makes me a writer?" he asks the audience. He then puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out a pen, and another, and another until he has a small pile of pens on the lectern.

Waldman cautions, "Have a pen and paper on you and write your ideas down, what you say you remember you often lose."

And how good is this advise? Waldman tells me that he has received letters from several people who claim that they were inspired to visit Alaska after reading his works. You can count me as yet another.

Waldman has simple goals which are the envy of many of us creative types.

"I would like to keep doing this at some level," he says. "I would like to have a life where I can balance my music with the novels I'm writing and I would like to have a sweetheart to share music with."

As our conversation comes to an end I query Waldman about life in Alaska.

No, it's not really dark six months of the year he says. It's really more of a deep gray, but the amount of light and the duration of darkness, or dullness, depends where you are.

I remark that it must be beautiful where he is. Waldman laughs with embarrassment as he explains his current living conditions. It seems he has a small place in the middle of Anchorage. Natives often joke about the growth of their city, calling it "Los Anchorage," comparing it to Los Angeles. But, for his credit, moose are still seen roaming the streets and it's a short drive out of Anchorage to the middle of nowhere.

A pleasant face, a pleasant man. Maybe he'll meet me for dinner at Rosie's Cafe in Cicely, Alaska some time.

Check out Waldman's CD, "A Week in Eek" at www.elderly.com. His book, "Nome Poems,'' distributed by University of New Mexico Press, may be found in bookstores and at www.amazon.com. For more information e-mail notymickie@earthlink.net and your questions will be forwarded to Ken Waldman directly.

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