My Acquaintance with Edgar Stanistreet

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I met Ed in the 1980s

Ed Stanistreet was in his late eighties when I met him. It must have been 1985 or -86. I was looking to learn an instrument more portable than my piano and had decided to try the guitar.

I inquired about music teachers at the Henry E. Glass music shop in downtown Philadelphia. This shop, owned by Sydney and Bernice Rosenblatt, was at 116 South 11th Street from 1985 to 1993, according to a 1993 Philly Inquirer article by Susan Q. Stranahan. A man there (Syd?) recommended Ed Stanistreet, who taught lessons at his apartment in the Sylvania House, on Locust Street, near the Academy of Music.

After I learned that Ed also taught mandolin, I decided to try that as well. My grandfather (Bernard B. Butler) played guitar, mandolin and ukelele (and banjo?), and the mandolin had particularly impressed me when I was young. On the other hand, the guitar appealed to me because it is so universal. You find guitars everywhere. But after I injured my right shoulder in 1987, I found the mandolin more comfortable, and all but gave up the guitar.


I took lessons from Ed off and on up for several years at his downtown apartment into the early 1990s. He had a helper named Jack who greeted me and sat with me as I waited for Ed to finish with the student ahead of me. I don't think I ever learned Jack's full name. He died a few years after I met him, in his sixties I think.

Jack gave me news clippings about Ed and told me something of his life as a musician, though I don't remember hearing much if anything about his family life. Jack and/or Ed told me that Ed taught *all* stringed instruments, including dulcimers and home-made instruments.


Many of Ed's students were beginners, mostly on banjo or guitar, including many Mummers and would-be Mummers. I never connected with any of the students I saw there, and remember none of their names, except for a guitar student named Roberta who was on my schedule for a few months.

I paid only $10 for a 30-minute lesson with Ed, and it could extend for an hour or more if no one was waiting. A lesson with Ed was a lesson in life and a trip down memory lane, in addition to more musical learning than I ever got from anyone else. Ed often spoke about how music related to physics and mathematics. Much later I think I read that he had earned two doctorates, one in Physics and one in Music.


Ed told me that he was a vegetarian, perhaps life-long, and that he had never needed or wanted to be treated by a physician. That was before he broke his hip. It was much later when I learned that he had been married, but I don't remember hearing from Ed about any children or other relations.


On one occasion, I surprised Ed as he performed outdoors at Penn's Landing. Probably it was a benefit for one or more hospitals. There were a number of other entertainers, including at least one clown, on hand. I did not bring my instrument that day, as I was on roller skates (the old-fashioned quad style, before I got my blades). I think I must have had my juggling balls with me, and I definitely had my clown face on. I skated around Ed a couple of times as he performed, but did not interrupt his performance to greet him. When I mentioned this to Ed during my next lesson, I learned that he had enjoyed my contribution to his act, but had not seen through my disguise.

On a later occasion I joined him on his weekly visit to Philly's St. Christopher's Hospital for Children. For decades, he had set aside one day per week to volunteer at three hospitals in the city. Ed and I spent a couple of hours that day playing our mandolins for patients in several parts of the hospital. Ed was playing one of his favorite instruments, an ancient and well-worn mandolin of Italian origin I believe. Or was it a Martin? I think I played two or three of his mandolins briefly at his studio. It definitely was not the mandolin-banjo that I once tried. Ed said the banjo was too loud and too scary to play on his hospital rounds. Our first stop was in a children's play area where a dozen or so kids were playing with each other. We paid individual visits to a few bed-ridden children. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, though concerned at first that I might not be able to handle it. We played for premature babies tinier than I had ever seen. The younger they were, Ed told me, the faster they would drop off to sleep. Many a squalling babe relaxed after a half dozen notes of the classic lullabies we played, and we spent only a minute or so calming them before we moved on.


Some time in the mid- to late-1990s I found that he had broken his hip, given up teaching and moved from Sylvania House to live with a relative (I think) named Rose on Cottman Avenue in northeast Phila. I visited him there twice around that time but did not stay in touch after that.

Before and after I met Ed

I have been an amateur musician for almost as long as I can remember. Read more about my ...



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