At least one of the instruments used on Friday night by musicians Art Lang and Cathy Ciolac could only be described one way—green.
Art ‘n Cathy, as they are known to their audiences, played the Cranberry Thistle Friday night, entertaining with a stage-full of instruments.
But one among them caught the eye immediately. It appeared to be a banjo made of aged, rounded wood held together with jute and macrame’ knots. Several people who noticed seemed anxious to see what Lang would do with it. Their wait was well worth their time..
“Now I’m going to play the old vegetable,” he finally said, as he carefully picked up the instrument, which looked like it might have come from the folk revival era. White-haired, sporting a mustache, a floppy old hat and a belt festooned with a brass banjo, Lang picked up the strange-looking instrument he called a “gourd banjo”, the bowl of which is a fairly flat gourd, and commenced to play Lorena.
The music that came from that gourd was a sweet, plaintive, naturally earthy sound that stayed in the mind long after the song was finished. Tuned to B-flat, it uses gut strings and sounds much like a minstrel banjo with a similar pitch although there is no metal on the instrument.
That’s pretty much the way it went all night - old songs, old instruments and performances by two people obviously who love the music and their instruments. The duo are aficionados of old time and traditional music. They sing mostly duets and play a variety of instruments including the afore-mentioned gourd and traditional banjo, fiddle, guitar, mountain dulcimer and auto harp.
“Old time music is primarily string music,” said Ciolac. “It was played all over the country by rural folk. There was old time music in Illinois and Minnesota - not just the south, and probably a time period beginning before the civil war up to the 1930’s. It’s not bluegrass music, which started in 1945. It’s not country-western, it is country music. It started in the country.”
A retired high school biology teacher born in the suburbs of Chicago, Cathy’s passions are the mountain dulcimer and auto-harp. She restores autoharps professionally and when she is finished with one, she “signs” it with a daisy motif. Ciolac’s says her love of music began in her youth when she played flute in the school music program. She learned the rudimentary elements of music and one day, while still in high school, took the family’s old banjo which was in the attic, had it repaired and restored and learned how to play it. She’s been at it ever since.
Lang who is from Baltimore, Maryland, and had a long career in computers, began playing hillbilly music when he was fourteen, and moved on to folk when the Folk Revival began. Now living in Roan Mountain, he has returned to his musical roots with old time music.
Art and Cathy have been making music together now for twenty years and you can get more information about them from their website, www.ArtandCathy.com. For autoharp restoration, repair and resale, email Cathy at cathy at ArtandCathy dot com.