One last jam pays tribute to musician, old friend


July 15, 2002|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ABOUT 80 FRIENDS gathered Wednesday night in Little Baker Chapel at McDaniel College to celebrate the life of Pete Alexander, a 1967 graduate of Western Maryland College whose life as a musician, cabdriver, teacher and in other people-oriented careers made him a familiar face in many places.

Alexander died June 30 after suffering a heart attack at age 58. He was living in Vermont, but when news of his death reached Westminster, friends and colleagues sent a flurry of e-mails to organize a late-night jam session in his honor.

The gathering was a blend of college friends, fellow musicians linked to Common Ground on the Hill, local cabbies and others who met Alexander in his other walks of life.

"He liked his coffee and his cigarettes. His favorite cigarette was the `OP' brand - other people's," said Bob Bizzarri, owner of Countywide Taxi in Westminster. "He knew how to read people, how to understand them quickly. That made him a great cabdriver."

During the jam session, people talked about their favorite memories of Alexander and played his favorite fiddle tunes, such as "Angel Band" and "Long Black Veil."

They talked of his gentle way of taking the fiddle and old-time music into the lives of many people - the eager and the hesitant.

Best known in Westminster for his "rough and ragged" fiddling style, Alexander taught fiddle and organized string band workshops for Common Ground on the Hill. He was a regular at Howard Zane's weekly jam in Columbia, and he held informal music sessions at his Westminster home for years.

"He was most conscientious about bringing others in to play," said Al Fatur of Hampstead. "He would encourage people, help get them involved in groups and performances. I wouldn't be playing if it weren't for Pete, and I wouldn't have a wide circle of music friends."

Edna Searles of Clarksburg said, "I couldn't play the fiddle, but Pete showed me how to move my hands to play. I went out and bought three fiddles, and I still can't play `Twinkle Twinkle,' but now my daughter and my granddaughter are playing two of those fiddles."

Searles took 14 relatives to Westminster this year to take classes with Common Ground on the Hill.

"What a lot of people don't know about Pete is that he had a photographic memory," said Walt Michael, founder of Common Ground and Alexander's longtime friend. "There was an English professor who used to write one exam for the class and a different exam for Pete. ... Whether he went to class or not, Pete could read Milton in one night and ace any exam."

Alexander graduated with a degree in English and education, then ventured to theological school at Drew University in New Jersey.

He returned to Westminster in 1995 to volunteer and take classes through Common Ground and stayed in Westminster until a recent move to Vermont.

Alexander is survived by a brother, Dan Alexander of Des Moines, Iowa, and a sister, Kathy Giese of Silver Spring.

"I didn't know your friend, but I can tell you are all of kindred souls," said Jeannie Powell, a Portsmouth, Va., resident, in town for Common Ground, who watched and recorded the jam session.

"As I've listened to all of you, I've realized that Pete fulfilled his life through friends like you," Powell said. "When you play a tune and think of him or when you pass a fiddle tune down and someone plays it again and again, Pete's spirit lives. Congratulations to Pete for a great group of friends."

Taste of summer

From seafood and chowders to steaks grilled on the premises, the menu will be diverse and delectable Aug. 4 at A Taste of Summer in Carroll County at Wilhelm Ltd. Caterers, on Route 140 in Westminster.

More than 20 restaurants will participate, and entertainment includes contemporary instrumental composer Michael Crowther and jazz guitarist Tim Jenkins. Audrey and Joe Cimino will perform songs from Broadway.

The event is the largest fund-raiser for Rape Crisis Intervention of Carroll County. About 450 are expected to attend, said Sandy Ferguson, who is co-chairwoman of the event with Jeanne Dussault.

"It's a great way to enjoy a Sunday," said Ferguson. "There will also be a silent auction with 60 items, including novelty items, antiques, quilts."

Tickets (which include 10 tastes) are $18 (age 10 and older) if bought by Aug. 3. Tickets are $20 at the door. The event is from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Information: 410-857-0900.

`Treasure' honored

Westminster resident Karen Loats honors music teacher Jon Seligman as her Living Treasure this week.

"I like the way he teaches Cameron, my son," Loats said. "Because of his compassion and his ability to appreciate children's idiosyncrasies, he is the ideal drum teacher. He has absolutely made a positive difference in Cameron's life."

Brighten the day of someone who has made a positive difference in your life. Send in a name and specific reasons why someone has been your living treasure to: Lisa Breslin, 35 Ridge Road, Westminster 21157.

Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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