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With his purple short-sleeved, button-up shirt and straw fedora, Adam Miller looks like he walked out of the same era that spawned his favorite music.

More than 50 kids and parents packed into the Solvang Library on Tuesday to hear Miller and his classic songs. Library volunteers brought in more benches to give seats to the growing crowd before Miller began his program.

The event – funded by the Friends of the Library – is just one of a summer-long lineup of actives at the library. It is also just one stop on Miller’s cross-country tour. Miller estimates that he plays 100 libraries and 200 schools each year, bringing his unique blend of storytelling and music to a new generation of kids.

After the show, Janel Piersma browsed books with her daughters. “We try to come to story time and always enjoy it. It’s nice to have something that is scheduled in the unscheduled summer time.”

It appeared that a large group of parents agreed with her as dozens of children clapped, sang and danced to Miller’s songs. Miller took kids on a musical tour of folk music, explaining its humble origins as the music of the people. Demonstrating the autoharp –a 37-stringed instrument that was explosively popular in the early 1900s – and teaching them about how stories and songs were passed along before recordings and books were widespread. Miller is an aficionado of the oral tradition; he is obsessed with tracing the origin of songs and stories. When Miller was 11 years old, a man – whose job bore a striking resemblance to Miller’s future occupation – came to his school and played folk songs. Miller was hooked.

The man who performed at Miller’s school was Sam Hinton. Hinton played to millions of school children throughout his career. When Hinton was dying, Miller was able to sit down with the old song master and learn from him. Miller said Hinton’s knowledge of folk music was enormous and called him, “the Fort Knox of folk.” Now Miller is carrying on the tradition of bringing folk music and timeless tunes back to the ears of the public. “It’s like milk; you don’t remember it’s there until you run out. Parents wrack their brains in the middle of the night trying to remember songs to sing to their children and they come back to the songs they were sung when they were kids. These tunes are stored in the long-term memory.” To demonstrate this, Miller challenged the adults to recite the alphabet without singing the melody, which it shares with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

“Time is the ingredient that pop music lacks, but is essential in folk music. There will be one or two ‘White Christmases’ that will explode into popularity and remain, but traditions grow slowly and time is important.”

Miller explained that when he performs Christmas pageants he will sing Christmas and Chanukah songs but hasn’t yet voiced Kwanza songs. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 to celebrate African heritage, but Miller said it hasn’t been around long enough to produce the universally known tunes that Christmas and Chanukah have.

“Right now, there is someone trying to write a song everyone will know. A billion will try and only one will succeed. It’s like winemaking. Most of the songs will be vinegar, but a few will age and be so exceptional that everyone will notice.”

Miller talked about the popular tune “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. “Nobody knew in 1940 that ‘This Land Is Your Land’ was good. But now if you know one song in English, it’s ‘This Land Is Your Land.’ Migrant children, children on islands in the Arctic all know the song.”

“The oral tradition is strong, but it is invisible. I’m not worried about it disappearing. Kids haven’t changed much, and they really like the old songs and stories. It’s like how no one has to tell you to like beer, hot tubs and long naps. It’s like how there are some of the same things in everybody’s fridge.

“I’m not worried about the oral tradition; I’m just trying to point it out. I want to make it more accessible and less old-fashioned, but the old songs don’t go away.

After the show, Miller was off again on his tour of libraries, including a stop at the Goleta Library later that day. To find out more about Miller, or to book him for school assemblies visit http://www.folksinging.org

For a list of the Solvang Library’s events and summer reading programs, visit www.sbplibrary.org and click on events. Upcoming activities include: book sales, a puppet theatre, craft days, drum circles, nature talks and much more.

brookshire@syvjournal.com