The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Scientific symphonies

College employees bond over love of old-time tunes
The trio of faculty and staff plays music together on Wednesdays. (Photos by Adam Atkinson for Lafayette Communications)

David Husic, Mary Roth and Jeff Norman may teach in different departments, but they have one thing in common: their love of playing live music.

The trio meets every Wednesday for an hour to play old-time Appalachian music together, sometimes in the courtyard outside of Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center and sometimes in a third-floor study space in Hugel Science Center. Husic, a chemistry professor, plays the fiddle, while Norman, a biology teaching and research specialist, plays the banjo and Roth, a civil and environmental engineering professor, plays the English concertina, an accordion-like instrument.

Husic and Norman have been playing tunes together each week since 2018 with Roth joining them to play two years ago. After Norman moved to Pennsylvania, Husic and Norman connected through members of a Michigan-based band, The Pretty Shaky String Band, that they were both in at different times.

“We started playing music pretty shortly after he came because I knew he was coming [to Pennsylvania],” Husic said of Norman. “I knew he played the banjo and he knew I played the fiddle. We have a love for the same traditional Appalachian music and we started getting together regularly.”

Both Norman and Husic have a long history with old-time music, each with careers spanning back to their own college years. Norman has played the banjo with many bands over the years and has some recordings posted on both YouTube and Spotify. Old-time music is “kind of like where bluegrass came from,” according to Norman.

“It’s the kind of music you hear at a square dance is what I often tell people, and there’s kind of a network of people across the country that play this music,” he added.

Husic has also traveled around Pennsylvania playing in bluegrass groups and has formed a deep interest in Appalachian culture from his love of Appalachian old-time music. He has even taught a First-Year Seminar course centered around Appalachia.

“As part of that class, I’ve often talked about music,” Husic said. “I usually have some Appalachian traditional music on during class when they come into class. Most years, I’ve had some live music, including myself and some of my friends — sometimes Lafayette colleagues like Dr. Jeff Norman, sometimes people from off campus that I play music with sometimes.”

Roth joined the pair after she saw them practicing one day and asked if she could play with them on her English concertina.

“I don’t often play old-time music, so it’s fun to play those tunes and hear the two of them and how they are playing and interpreting the tune and then playing along with them,” Roth said. “I enjoy that.” 

In the 1990s, Roth and Husic played in a band together on campus with two other professors who have since left the college. 

“We used to get together and play music,” Roth said. “Occasionally we’d play for small events, but mostly we just like to play music together. Then I had kids and things got busy, so I stopped playing with the folks on campus for a while.”

While Roth isn’t as familiar with old-time music as Husic and Norman are, she reads music so she can catch up quickly and play tunes that Husic and Norman are more familiar with. Since Roth joined the music sessions, they have begun experimenting with Irish and contraband tunes as well. 

“It’s just great to find two people that are this good at this thing,” Norman said. “They’re broadening my horizons. I mean, with Professor Husic, I’ve never suggested a tune to play that he has never heard before. He’s just a really deep well of knowledge about old-time music in general. Then Professor Roth is introducing me to all kinds of things that I’ve never played before.”

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Emma Sylvester, Photo Editor

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    Fred JohnsonMar 24, 2024 at 6:08 pm

    As a “Shaky” residing here in East Lansing, Jeff Norman is surely missed. Get his CD if you’re able!