A Note on the 5-String Banjo | Bowing Down Home

There’s quite a bit of 5-string banjo accompaniment on this website, all played by me . Since the favored instruments for fiddle accompaniment on PEI are piano (or electronic keyboard) and guitar – and until fairly recently banjo players were in fact quite rare on the PEI – it makes sense to say a few words regarding the banjo and why I elected to use it freely on these recordings.


Essentially, I can offer a few rationales. First, the most important thing to me was getting fiddlers to feel comfortable in the recording situation and to play their best.  I found that in general fiddlers were not only intrigued by the sound of the banjo, but also energized by it. And in those cases where fiddlers came to their sessions without an accompanist, having the banjo on hand was far better from their viewpoint than being forced to play without any accompaniment at all. Second, by joining in on the music making I was able to reduce or even remove social barriers; instead of “folklorist” vs. “subject” or “outsider” vs. “local,” we all simply became fellow musicians.


In the end, however, bringing the banjo into the proceedings was essentially an esthetic judgment on my part.  I felt strongly that the underlying rhythms and spirit of Island fiddling suited the 5-string banjo so well that I did not hesitate to use it for accompaniment when necessity dictated. In the words of one Island fiddler, "The fiddle and the banjo, they go together pretty good, eh!"


- Ken Perlman, Curator