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By Dan Peha
Special to The PREVIEW
Paul Roberts will introduce the cello banjo — a historic American instrument — at the 20th annual Durango Bluegrass Meltdown this Saturday at noon in Durango’s Strater Hotel in the Pullman Room. The festival is dedicated to promoting and preserving bluegrass music as an American art form.
“When the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown decided to offer a workshop on the cello banjo there was no question but to ask Paul Roberts of Pagosa Springs to lead it,” says festival board member Dan Peha. “Paul has been very passionate about this instrument and is one of the top players in the U.S.”
There was a big boom in banjo orchestras from the 1880s until a little after the turn of the century. Cello banjos were used in these orchestras. Colleges and private high schools were hotbeds of banjo orchestras. Different size five-string banjos would mirror the violin family instruments in the orchestra. When musical fashion shifted, the cello banjo went into near extinction for almost a century, until its recent reintroduction into the banjo world.
“Composing music for the cello banjo is a wide-open frontier,” says Paul. “Once it was used only for low-range accompaniment but, now, in its current incarnation it’s a landscape of possibilities all its own.”
For more information about this weekend’s Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, visit the festival’s website, www.durangomeltdown.com, or call 335- 9771.