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Home  >  Family and Community  >  Family Collections  >  Kerr
The Kerr Family: Musical Story-Telling

"My full name is Amanda Lynn Kerr," writes Amanda Kerr. "(My dad) always jokes about how he would have named me Ben Joe Kerr if I were a boy." While Amanda was named after one of her father's favorite instruments, the mandolin, she has found her own instrument of choice: the fiddle. Amanda is a top-rate fiddler. Among her successes include winning three medals at the fall 2001 Vancouver Feis, an Irish dance competition, and placing fifth in the National Old-time Fiddler's Contest's Jr. division in 2002 and 2003. Here in Alaska she was named champion of the Alaska State Fair fiddle contest in 2000, 2001, and 2002.

Despite her talent, she insists the real incentive to fiddle is because it's fun -- it takes her places, introduces her to interesting people, and motivates her more than anything else. Her band, the Emeralds, plays at various Anchorage venues, including the Saturday Market.

Amanda Kerr
For Jim Kerr and Denise Martin and their daughter, Amanda Kerr, music is an integral part of their family. Denise credits Jim with helping her find music. "I have one person to thank for leading me on this new path … my husband, Jim," she writes. As for Amanda, she was raised around music; Denise writes, "You can lay your kid down to sleep in a guitar case, but you can't close the lid when she starts crying." Although a lifestyle with late-night gigs (the "party phase") had to be toned down with a child in the family, Jim and Denise managed to keep playing music. By the time Amanda was 8, Jim and Denise had recorded One Moment Forever, an album featuring hammered dulcimer with back-up guitar; A Welcome Sound, an album recorded with their band Jubilee, and Christmas in the Air, another hammered dulcimer album. Their latest recording, Saturday Sensation, was released in 2003 and reflects much of the music they play at the Saturday Market in Anchorage. Meanwhile, Amanda was already winning fiddle contests.

For the Kerr family, music is also a way they tell stories. When the family performs together at venues like the Saturday Market and CIRI's annual Potlatch, they are engaging in a discussion -- a musical discussion. As Jim explains, "When we don't play with written music we are free to have an impromptu musical conversation. And when we have different musical options we are forced into a debate." When the family plays together, they take turns leading the story-telling. "The melody serves as the basic plot line," writes Jim. "The twists in the plot are changes in tempo, volume, ornamental additions and outright departures from the melody." Sometimes Amanda is the lead storyteller with her fiddle; other times Denise leads. Jim provides the background to the stories.

Denise Martin and Jim Kerr
Jim Kerr is on a lifelong quest to express truth and beauty using juggling, music, and computers. He has been working at the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Alaska Anchorage since 1978. After serving as a research assistant, a research associate and a computer programmer, Jim became ISER's systems analyst in 1989. His goal is to keep computers from getting in the way of real work. Although he is a great asset at ISER, Jim feels he is most talented at playing music and juggling -- both of which generate a great deal of satisfaction, though small amounts of income. He hopes to eventually make a full-time career out of juggling, music and writing.

Denise Martin worked as a graphic artist at the Anchorage Daily News from 1979 to 2002. She started there the year after she traveled across America from her birthplace in Manchester, Connecticut, to settle in Anchorage.

Jim and Denise met in 1981 and married in 1983. They play music as an avocation, both as a duo and with the bands Jubilee and Anchorstream. Jim and Denise have also done studio work on several other local recording artists' projects. And, they, of course, love to play music with their daughter, Amanda.

In the following series of articles (written for LitSite Alaska in the spring of 2002), Jim Kerr, Denise Martin and Amanda Kerr discuss how music has brought their family closer together. They explore how music came into their lives, what it means to them individually, and how it serves as a language for their family.

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