Who are the Tremperskill Boys? A traditional string band neither all strings nor all boys!
The Tremperskill Boys are an old time string band whose core repertoire comes from fiddle tunes now native to the Catskill Mountains. One hundred or more years ago, the Irish and Scottish farmers and laborers of the Catskill Mountains produced a distinctive style of fiddling. Their sound could be described as hard driving northern Appalachian music. This is the music now interpreted by the Tremperskill Boys. Their sound is zestful, hard driving, foot tapping, and energetic, making sitting difficult and square and contra dancers happy. With humor they admit to being neither all strings nor all boys, which is true, but not foreseen at the bands’ beginning. The Tremperskill Boys come from varied occupations. Each member brings a unique element that blends into an acoustic ensemble with a sound that in turn might seem to come from an Irish Pub, a back hollow of West Virginia, or an old Delaware County Grange Hall.
It’s music made to dance to, and audiences throughout the Catskills, from Ashokan Center to The Taste of the Catskills festival to the West Kortright Centre, have found it hard to keep their feet still when the band plays.
Fiddler and dance caller, John Jacobson played music for square dances and other venues for thirty years before gathering musicians to join him as part of The Tremperskill Boys. John grew up learning the Catskill Mountain fiddle tradition played in his grandparent’s kitchen by great uncles and their friends. He began serious musicianship during college years playing local dances, concerts and street venues where open fiddle cases collected the money earned. John’s skill calling square dances has improved and been refined greatly by the teaching of Hilt Kelly, a master performer and teacher, during an intensive workshop organized in part by Ginny Scheer and continuing to play with Hilt and other callers.
In the years since, he has played many of the Grange and Community halls that dot the Catskill landscape with Hilt and his band, the Sidekicks. Previously, John attended numerous Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camps and workshops. John is a well-known and respected fiddler, singer, song writer, guitarist and also lifelong environmentalist who works for the Catskill Watershed Corporation. An avid fly fisherman and fly tyer he finds little time to fish.
Ginny Scheer, born in Oklahoma, cofounder of Catskill Folk Connection, a leader of the Manhattan Country School, is a flutist and folklorist, educator and mother. She has been a long time fan of both square and contra dances since her college days in the Northeast, where traditional dancing whetted her appetite for the music she plays today. Her flute adds a Celtic element to the group’s sound. Ginny’s ongoing work with Catskill Folk Connection, in part, inspired the formation of this band. Ginny, the skilled educator, has promoted and sponsored workshops and square dances throughout the Catskills. Workings at the Manhattan Country School, while being a single parent to her son Jose. Ginny shares her strong foundation of environmentalism through one of the world’s biggest cities, with youngsters and parents eager to a create a life mindful of the Earth’s needs for care. Ginny also ensures that the Manhattan Country School’s students learn from the best traditional Catskill musicians. Children learn how to make music and dance, spreading the joy of the music. Ginny helps supply the phrasing of the band’s melody lines and brings her encyclopedic knowledge of writers, performers, dances, and all things “folklore” to every gig they play.
Amy Lieberman is a young well educated, gifted world traveler, and an avid fan of Phish. She is an early Tremperskill Boys member, and the band’s mandolin player. Amy’s performances benefit from her varied life experiences and the energy she creates. No surprise, Amy designed her own college major and the course work required with the intention of conserving natural resources.
Amy’s gutsy approach to life translates to her mandolin. She recently recalled coming to jam for
her first time and two day’s later playing a gig as a bona fide member of The Tremperskill Boys! There’s nothing Amy isn’t willing to learn to grow her musicianship.
She travels to camp out at festivals with mandolin greats and comes back to jams with pictures, stories, and new ideas for tunes. Her steadiness on the mandolin and talent on the flute and vocal make her strong presence in the Tremperskill Boys.
John VanBenschoten plays the guitar, banjo, dobro and sings – all very well. If Ed is the “blinker light,” John might be considered the “gas pedal” of the band and also one of the “original Tremperskill Boys.” As John Jacobson, he too plays square dances with Hilt Kelly. He also plays bluegrass with another local band that struts its southern side. While music is one slice of this young man’s life, he’s also married and the recent past mayor of Margaretville, with another full time job related to his passion for open space and land preservation. With deep family ties to Delaware County, he works to maintain water quality and preserve streams and woodland. Busier than he or his family could have imagined, John and his wife added a beautiful little daughter to their family. She’s treated daily to stories and music from both her talented mom and dad. Ben Murdock truly makes the accordion (French spelling) sing. Largely a self taught musician, Ben’s family has lived in rural Otsego County for many generations. Ben plans to continue the tradition and thrives in rural outdoor-oriented living. Playing his grandfather’s accordion with the Tremperskill Boys affords him the opportunities to bring his strong Irish roots to the band’s sound. His unique sound enhances us greatly. The accordion in his hands has an earthy and ethereal sound, reminding many of their Irish peasant roots, when the interconnectedness of life for man, animals, and Earth were valued.
Ben is currently away in Philadelphia with the “Teach for America” program, working to increase his already substantial abilities as a teacher. While this sophisticated country man participates in “Teach for America”, they are blessed to have this hardworking, musician teaching earth science to at risk urban youth. Ben is another musician with deep concerns for our Earth. We have missed him while he’s been gone, but he plans to return briefly to visit his family and play with the Tremperskill Boys this summer. John Potocknic (in black) and Carol Mandigo (in turquoise) join the musicians of the Tremperskill Boys more frequently. Both
professional musicians and puppeteers of Catskill Puppet People www.catskillpuppettheater.baka.com All of the shows by Catskill Puppet Theater present an example of quality puppetry accompanied by original music and stories designed to entertain as well as instruct. “The Catskill Puppet Theater warmed and amazed families! Sheer delight for all ages multi-talented and a joy to see ‘in action’!” Deborah L. Lee, Arts Co-coordinator North Country Library System.