Out of the Frying Pan Into the Music


In COMPAS’ Artful Aging™ programs Teaching Artists are used to sharing their art forms and teaching participants. It is not expected for the participants to teach the artists but that’s exactly what happened when folk musician Charlie Maguire spent a week with older adults at Avinity's LEE Center up north in Hibbing.

Arlene, a 93 year old resident, showed Charlie the wonders of how a frying pan could be played as a folk music instrument by strumming and tapping it with thimble-covered fingers. She brought out the skillet she had kept with her from childhood and played Charlie a few old-time songs. Charlie was delighted! He told COMPAS “the excitement of the folk music style of music is that it is passed from one person to the next. A person-to-person handoff of a folk instrument, technique, plus the songs that go with it is rare. Speaking for myself, in an average folk artist’s lifetime it may not happen more than a couple of occasions if at all. Coming upon the use of a common everyday article like a frying pan or skillet, used in a forthright musical way by a long time practitioner as a central—not a novelty instrument is a real find.”


Back in the 1930s when Arlene was a child, music was a standard way of entertaining oneself and others. Because of the Great Depression, traditional musical instruments were not available so Arlene began playing whatever she could get her hands on, therefore, the skillet. Arlene told Charlie that she entertained for over 30 years all over northern Minnesota, playing and singing the songs her mother taught her. She continues to share this music with family, friends and her fellow residents.

In addition to learning the skillet from Arlene, Charlie also spent the week writing a song with residents. By the end of their time together they had a hit! Check it out below.