By Jonathan Farrell
Some fiddling around helps feed the needy while shoppers at Andronico’s on Irving Street get to enjoy some “old-time music.” That is what Dinah Stroe and her group of musicians have been doing for the past five years, every odd-Tuesday of the month.
On Sept. 17, Stroe and the Old Time Music Players gathered outside Andronico’s for their jam session.
“I got tired of crossing the bridge back and forth over to the East Bay to meet and play with fellow old-time musicians,” Stroe said.
Stroe noted that the term “old-time,” or as some say, “old-timey,” refers to the type of acoustic music that is played on a string instrument, primarily a violin (a.k.a, a fiddle).
The fiddle can be traced back centuries. But its prominence in American music reflects the people who came to America from Europe, and settled in places like the Appalachian Mountains and areas of the South.
This type of music is the basis of American folk music and lends itself to country-western music. Yet Stroe was quick to say, “It’s not bluegrass, although lots of bluegrass musicians play old-time music.”
Old-time has more of a link to Irish music with a lilting sound that comes from the heart. The banjo also plays a part and it was brought to America from West Africa. Some historians note that the earliest forms of the instrument were made from gourds and animal hide.
Raised in the Richmond District, Stroe attended Lafayette Elementary School on Anza Street, Presidio Middle School on 30th Avenue and Geary Boulevard and then George Washington High School on 32nd Avenue and Geary. She learned about the music from an accomplished fiddler who lived across the street, Mr. Parsons. Stroe now lives in the Sunset District, not far from Golden Gate Park, and she considers music an intricate part of the district’s history.
“Old-time music is passed on from one generation to the next and is learned by ear,” Stroe said.
Another characteristic of the music is that it is something that the group shares together. One might start, but each musician gets a chance to play.
“It has its own rhythm and pace. We take turns,” she added.
While singing may be part of the music, no singer is spotlighted.This is the type of music that is played for square dances and other folk dancing.
Andronico’s is an ideal spot and Stroe is grateful to the management to allow the group to play there.
“When we begin to play,” Stroe said, “the staff turns off their usual elevator-type music to let our music be heard by customers inside the store.”
Lorna Strutt of the Sunset Sketchers artists group agreed.
“Some sketching friends drop in at Andronico’s from time to time to draw the group as they play. It’s a lot fun and good practice for us. The group is wonderful, the music is lively, the rhythms are infectious and time flashes by,” she said. “Shoppers often stop on their way out and listen for a while, tapping their feet and commenting on the tunes.”
When people started leaving money Stroe decided to donate to charity. Her choice was the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. Last year Stroe and the Old Time Music Players donated more than $1,700.
“She has been making regular donations to the Food Bank since 2014,” said Mark Seelig, public relations manager of SF-Marin Food Bank. “We did a tally and her total giving has helped us provide more than 13,000 meals for the community at large.”
“I would say it’s so heart-warming to find people like Dinah who come up with these innovative ways to help the food bank,” Seelig continued. “Not only is she and her band members putting themselves out there creatively by playing at Andronico’s, but those dollars the band has raised over the years were always quickly turned into food to help feed vulnerable people all over San Francisco and Marin.”
As the holiday season approaches Stroe hopes people will be generous to help the food bank. Most of all, Stroe simply wants to share the music and jam.
“We are very welcoming and happy to be there making friends,” she said.
Old-time music is played every odd Tuesday of each month at Andronico’s, from 7-9:30 p.m., 1200 Irving St. between 14th and Funston avenues.