Families who squeezed into the Sellwood Branch Library's multipurpose room earlier this year had a great, toe-tapping time when 'Professor Banjo' brought his one-man show across the Columbia River to Inner Southeast Portland.
As he tuned up a five-string banjo made by Mike Ramsey in North Carolina, the Professor - who also goes by Paul Silveria - told THE BEE that he's been interested in old-time American banjo music for about eight years.
'I wasn't playing any instruments at the time,' Silveria explained. 'I read a book about Pete Seeger, and the banjo sounded like a goofy instrument. I decided to give that a shot. Once I started playing, was 'taken' by it, and by the community of old time music that had grown up around it here in Portland.'
When a grade school teacher, Silveria said he'd occasionally play for his classes. 'I found that traditional mountain ballads, country blues, jug band tunes, novelty songs, and some of my original songs really 'speak' to kids. You put those two things together, and the idea of performing for kids is pretty natural.'
Just recently, Silveria confided, he'd decided to tour his show - designed for libraries, school assemblies, and family fairs and events - on a full-time basis.
'Just seeing kids getting excited about being a part of music is really fun,' the professor told THE BEE. 'It's great, because kids don't have any preconceived ideas about how to interact with the music. Whenever I ask them to join in sing-alongs, to dance, or to offer suggestions, they're right there with me. And, they come up with all kinds of great ideas.'
While he's happy to have bookings for his upcoming shows on the road, Silveria added that he'll miss playing his 'family shows' at local places - such as the Warehouse Café, in the Brooklyn neighborhood - calling family square dances, and performing in a local old-time jazz band called 'Quality Shine'.
With that, Professor Banjo picked up his instrument and started pickin' and grinnin', instantly winning over a new group of fans. You can learn more about him at his Internet website: www.squaredancepaul.com .