Hilarie Burhans

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Hi! I’m Hilarie Burhans. 

After a childhood spent all over the world, my family moved to Athens, in the Appalachian part of Ohio, when I was in 10thgrade. I guess I was eager to put down roots, as the majority of my life since then has been spent in Athens (where my husband Mark and I run a “global cuisine” restaurant called Restaurant Salaam.) Mark and I met in high school. He was learning to play the fiddle and I first became interested in old-time music through him. I used to go to the music library at the university to sit and listen to the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music records with headphones. I had a couple of banjo lessons from the fellow that owned our local music store, and from any passersby who were willing to show me what they knew, and I went to festivals with Mark in Kentucky and West Virginia and got even more hooked: the Fraley Family Festival, Carter Caves, Glenville. And we began visiting with the fiddler Ward Jarvis, who lived nearby. He was always glad to have visitors in his little house in the country, where although the coal stove blazed in the middle of the room, he always wore multiple layers of warm clothing. Ward always initially protested that he had too much arthritis in his hand to play, but each time, he eventually allowed himself to be wooed into playing fiddle, or sometimes the banjo, and didn’t seem to mind us fidgeting with our crappy cassette recorder. 

I think I’ve been teaching the banjo almost as long as I’ve been playing. I’ve never felt like I’m much of a solo player, but I do feel good about my ability to really play with rather than next to other musicians. I have always really loved the feeling of being biomusically entrained, whether through dance or through music, and I think playing old-time music is a very accessible, hands-on way to connect with other people musically. I’m always trying to urge my students to get out and attend (or start) a local jam, and/or go to festivals, because you miss SO much of what this music is about if you just sit in your room and play by yourself. 

I spent about 20 years, in my 40s and 50s, not playing much old-time music but playing a LOT of banjo, because I was in a fairly well-known contradance band, the Hotpoint Stringband, that was playing a lot of gigs. During this period I got tons of practice playing the banjo (and unusual and original tunes, sometimes in unusual keys) but learned almost no old-time tune repertoire. I do think that playing for dancers for so many years, though, is what really helped me learn what “drive” is all about in music. When our band sort of split up (we’re back together these days but only playing a few select gigs a year) I started getting more interested in old-time music again, and for the first time, got a chance to play with lots of other fiddlers. (Apparently, when you’re happily married to a fiddler, everyone assumes you wouldn’t want to play tunes or be in a band with anyone else. Mark, though, was finding his interests at the time were mostly in swing fiddle and trombone). Happily, about that time I met my good friend, Jane Rothfield, and we began playing together in a couple of bands. I began to spend more time playing  with various folks, including our son Ryland (who had always been a musician, but began fiddling at last, and got good at it fast!) 

These days, with our restaurant running fairly smoothly thanks to an incredibly great crew, Mark and I have had a little more time to play tunes together and go to festivals and jams, and I’ve been enjoying adding more teaching videos to my free YouTube lesson channel. Life is good, and we feel really lucky to be members of the warm, friendly, world-wide community of old-time musicians.

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