Canada’s Prince Edward Island is home to one of the oldest and most vibrant fiddling traditions in North America. First established by Scottish immigrants in the late eighteenth century, it incorporated the influence of a later wave of Irish immigrants as well as the unique rhythmic sensibilities of the Acadian French, the Island’s first European inhabitants. In Couldn’t Have a Wedding without the Fiddler, renowned musician and folklorist Ken Perlman combines oral history, ethnography, and musical insight to present a captivating portrait of Prince Edward Island fiddling and its longstanding importance to community life.
Couldn’t Have a Wedding without the Fiddler draws heavily on interviews conducted with 150 fiddlers and other “Islanders”—including singers, dancers, music instructors, community leaders, and event organizers—whose memories span decades. The book thus colorfully brings to life a time not so very long ago when virtually any occasion—a wedding, harvest, house warming, holiday, or the need to raise money for local institutions such as schools and churchs—was sufficient excuse to hold a dance, with the fiddle player at the center of the celebration. Perlman explores how fiddling skills and traditions were learned and passed down through the generations and how individual fiddlers honed their distinctive playing styles. He also examines the Island’s history and material culture, fiddlers’ values and attitudes, the role of radio and recordings, the fiddlers’ repertoire, fiddling contests, and the ebb and flow of the fiddling tradition, including efforts over the last few decades to keep the music alive in the face of modernization and the passing of “old-timers.” Rounding out the book is a rich array of photographs, musical examples, dance diagrams, and a discography.
The inaugural volume in the Charles K. Wolfe American Music Series, Couldn’t Have a Wedding without the Fiddler is, in the words of series editor Ted Olson, “clearly among the more significant studies of a local North American music tradition to be published in recent years.”
A highly regarded banjoist, guitarist, teacher, and music collector, Ken Perlman previously published a collection of over 400 tunes called The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island: Celtic & Acadian Tunes in Living Tradition; he also produced a 2-CD set of field recordings for Rounder Records called The Prince Edward Island Style of Fiddling.. He has written several music instruction manuals now regarded as classics in their field, notably Clawhammer Style Banjo, Melodic Clawhammer Banjo, and Fingerstyle Guitar.