John Sirdevan



Old Time Music and Me


For me “Old Time Music” has always meant more than its current definition, i.e. Appalachian Rural Music. I see it as any and all of the diverse musical traditions that come out of the 19th century and which to a lesser or greater degree, found their way onto early commercial recording or were discovered later; basically true to themselves because of geographical or cultural isolation.

As a person growing up at a time when the aural landscape was largely defined by radio and recordings – while I listened to popular music and enjoyed it like my peers, I was always tantalized by elements in the landscape which pointed to much greater riches and truths – the real gold amidst all the costume jewelry.

An inexplicable fascination with musical instruments led me down many paths:


First the Banjo

I loved the sound – and the instrument itself. But until I heard Fred Cockerham, none of its music spoke to me. The first time I heard Kyle Creed and Fred - Fiddle and Banjo, it was like I discovered why I loved the banjo. John Burke's banjo book – I lived with for years – working up Irish and Canadian tunes. Finally playing a lot with Tim, I realized the banjo worked best for me as rhythm and melody. I play gut string – love a thick sound, often fretless. Rolling River has been a treat.


Jack Kemp, an Old Time Musician

I worked for 15 years with a wonderful man and guitar player – Jack Kemp. He had grown up in the thirties near Parry Sound , Ontario, went to war, was engineer on the railroad until the end of steam and then worked as a violin repairman. All his life he'd played music: square dances, swing guitar, accompanying many great Canadian fiddlers. He was subtle, had great rhythm and a very personal style. I think he had integrated all the elements he liked in music into the way he played. This is a great achievement.


The Wooden Flute

I was probably about 10 or 12 when I saw the flutes behind glass at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto; maybe 10 years later that I finally managed to get one and thirty-five years later I am still trying to play it. Now I play an English 8-keyed flute made about 1850.

Irish music has been one focus: 18 th and 19 th century music and the flute's place in popular music making in that time – a real interest. The flute deserves a larger place in old time music.



The Violin

I am a bowmaker. I play the fiddle. I guess it's led me everywhere in music. I don't play much now – it's too hard and I don't play well – but the violin is one of the centers of my life.


~ John Sirdevan