Compendium of Fiddle Styles/Hoedown

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Old time fiddle is a genre of American folk music associated with hoe downs, barn raisin' and the country rather than the city. Appallachia is particularly famous for this kind of music, as is the South in general. "Old time fiddle tunes" may be played on fiddle, banjo or other instruments but are nevertheless called "fiddle tunes". The genre traces from the British Isles with the colonization of North America by English and French speaking immigrants in the 1600s and thereafter.[1] It is separate and distinct from traditions which it has influenced or which may in part have evolved from it, such as bluegrass, country blues, variants of western swing and country rock.

Definition and distinction of Old Time Fiddle[edit | edit source]

Newer traditions have grown out of old time fiddle music but it maintains a separate and distinct identity from those styles. These include bluegrass and Western swing and to some degree country rock. However, the positive statement of what, exactly, constitutes the true and authentic delineation of old time fiddle music is not necessarily unambiguous. Different sources draw a sharper distinction than others, and there is a good deal of overlap which purists will acknowledge to a varying degree. The areas of overlap are primarily with bluegrass, Western swing (Texas swing), country and even rock.

Narrow use of the term[edit | edit source]

Art Stamper plays in both Appalachia Old Time and bluegrass styles. In autobiographical material posted on his artist website,[2] the writer asserts Stamper's contiguity with "old time and mountain" music, that he learned "the Appalachian fiddle style" from his father, but that Art "Art also played bluegrass fiddle..." continuing that "Whether playing Appalachian fiddle or bluegrass fiddle, Art was a musical marvel."

Old Time purists[edit | edit source]

In an essay with the short title Why Old TIme is Different from Bluegrass,[3] Allan Feldman argues against the proposal of an "inclusive cover name that would bring oldtime music[,] bluegrass, clawgrass and dawg music under the same umbrella in order to attract new audiences. The unfortunate trend in this country is to homogenize things. I think oldtime music stands against homogenization."Having thus staked ground out for himself as a purist, he continues that "[he] for one celebrate[s] the fact that oldtime music is not bluegrass or dawg music or new grass or even claw grass". He identifies the following categorical distinctions which set Old Time apart:

  • "Oldtime" works from different tonal centers
  • it uses open tunings
  • it uses harmonic resonant overtones
  • it uses incidentals

[clarification needed]

  • it mixes non-tempered scales with harmonization
  • or it is completely modal.

He continues in direct comparison with bluegrass or country western, emphasizing the difference between songs which, as opposed to tunes, have lyrics and are primarily for listening rather than for dancing.

  • largely dance centered and not song centered
  • many of its songs are verses to dance tunes
  • most of its songs were meant for solo and unaccompanied performance in their oldest form.[4]

Blending[edit | edit source]

Although there is considerable published opinion sharply distinguishing Old Time from other genres of fiddle music, there is also area of overlap. Unlike many states which support independent Old Time and bluegrass associations, the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Association intermingles the genres.

Peter Anick is a noted authority on fiddle music genres and is co-author with David Reiner of Old-Time Fiddling Across America [5], and a contributor of feature articles and “Folk Routes” columns for Fiddler magazine. Old Time Fiddling Across America has selections from Northeast, Southeast and Western regions, but also includes in the same volume "ethnic styles" including Cajun, Irish, Scandinavian, Klezmer, and Eastern European fiddling. Also potentially supporting expansive usage is a review of Portland, Oregon's old time Foghorn Stringband in Lonesome Highway, a “music portal for hard core country, folk, bluegrass, roots, and Americana” characterizes that ostensibly pure Old Time band as “ass kickin’ redneck stringband music” with influences from The Carter Family, Kitty Wells and Doc Watson. This blurring of the lines even touches the Vince Gill song named Old Time Fiddle:

I wanna hear an old time fiddle
Play an old time fiddle song
I might even drink just a little
If you play Little Jolie Blon

Students of folk music will recognize this as a reference outside of the parameter of old time, per se, into Cajun music, indicating yet another set of musical styles intermingled with OT. Adding to the perplexities is the infusion of OT references into country rock, notably in Charlie Daniel's decidedly not-Old Time country rock classic Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Repertoire[edit | edit source]

Traditional old time fiddle tunes[edit | edit source]

This is the base repertoire of public domain tunes with no known authorship. Many of these tunes have rich historical signification.[6]

Composed music in the tradition[edit | edit source]

Old time music is tautologically tradition[clarification needed], but some people are able to write music in the style and, in rare cases, win acceptance.[citation needed] Some such tunes as have achieved such acceptance are widely known but most if not all fiddlers, even those who are not Old Time specialists.

  • Wild Rose of the Mountain, J.P.Fraley
  • Orange Blossom Specia

History and sub-genres[edit | edit source]

Fiddlin' John Carson is one of the canonical historic figures in old time.[citation needed] Other famous and important figures include Fiddlin' Arthur Smith, Charlie Higgins and countless figures known only in local oral histories.

Old time fiddling has recognized regional variants which are distinguished from regional variants of bluegrass, Celtic and other styles. For instance, Texas Old Time fiddle, is distinct from Texas swing fiddle, Texas blues and Texas rock. It is Old Time, like its relatives in other regional genres (or sub genres) but it is a distinct form in its own right, according to its proponents. For instance, the Texas Old Time Fiddler's Association asserts the uniqueness, and superiority, of "Texas-style of old time fiddling". In an essay entitled The Origins of the Texas-Style of Traditional Old Time Fiddling, the organizations asserts that "the Texas fiddler avoids the repetition and monotony of the two-part Appalachian fiddle tune in favor of those tunes that are more complex and exceed the two-part limit".[7]

Preservation and propagation[edit | edit source]

Much of contemporary old time fiddling is taught at regional and national fiddler's meetups.[8] The traditional authentic method of learning to play is based upon an oral tradition as with all folk music forms. Traditions are maintained by Old Time Fiddler's Associations throughout the US.[9] America's Old Time Fiddler's Hall of Fame is maintained by the National Traditional Country Music Association located in Pioneer Music Museum in Anita, Iowas.[10] Film is also a major means of preserving and propagating old time music.[11]

Festivals, contests and fiddle camps[edit | edit source]

Breakin' Up Winter

The Fiddler’s Grove Ole Time Fiddler’s & Bluegrass Festival bills itself as the home of the oldest continuous old time fiddling contest in North America. [12]

According to Winifred Ward, fiddle contests "evolved from being endurance fiddling events to playing a set number of tunes".[13] Contests are highly evolved in Texas, where twin fiddling is also popular.

The national contest is held in June of each year in Weiser, Idaho.[14] Template:Expand further

Learnin'[edit | edit source]

Although traditional music purists prefer learning by ear rather than learning "by note", in modern times a plethora of educational material is available, often by well known composers and performers.

Mark O'Connor[edit | edit source]

Notable sources of instruction in the Old Time fiddle tradition include Mark O'Connor, who, despite a varied repertoire including jazz, bluegrass and swing, is recognized as an exemplary player of Texas style Old Time Fiddling. In 2009, O'Connor released Books 1 and 2 of his 10-book O'Connor Method - A New American School of String Playing[15]

Notable contemporary performers[edit | edit source]

Currently active old time fiddlers listed on David Lynch's The Old-Time Fiddler's Hall of Fame website include Kerry Blech and Bruce Greene.[16]

Carolina Chocolate Drops[edit | edit source]

The Drops are an old-time string band from North Carolina but their music defies easy categorization. Their view of tradition is well expressed by a quote prominently featured on their website:

Tradition is a guide, not a jailer. We play in an older tradition but we are modern musicians.”

"Genuine Negro Jig" (2010) won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. Members Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, and Justin Robinson exchange instruments including fiddle, banjo, kazoo. Much of their repertoire, which is based on the traditional music of the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina, from the eminent African American old-time fiddler Joe Thompson, although they also perform old-time versions of some modern songs such as Blu Cantrell's R&B hit "Hit 'em Up Style (Oops!)."

Brad Leftwich[edit | edit source]

Brad Leftwich plays old time fiddle and banjo.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Reiner|Old-Time Fiddling Across America by David Reiner & Peter Anick|Product Number: 94205BCD|ISBN: 0786653817|Publisher: Mel Bay Pub., Inc.
  3. Ref name=Feldman|Reflections on how bluegrass music is different from old time Appalachian music and why there can be no name that will cover both no matter what Nashville or the media is presently saying|Allan Feldman|Posted on website of Dwight Diller|
  4. Feldman
  5. Old-Time Fiddling Across America by David Reiner & Peter Anick|Product Number: 94205BCD|ISBN: 0786653817|Publisher: Mel Bay Pub., Inc.
  6. "North Carolina Banjo Traditions J. Roy Stalcup | Special Collections : Hutchins Library - Berea College". Retrieved 2011-06-30.
  7. The Origins of the Texas-Style of Traditional Old Time Fiddling|No individual authorship given|
  8. "Fiddler's Grove Festival". Retrieved 2011-06-30.
  9. "Official Website – California State Old Time Fiddlers Association – District 6". Retrieved 2011-06-30.
  10. Website of the National Traditional Country Music Association|
  11. Horse Archer Productions|Why Old Time?|2008
  12. Fiddler’s Grove Ole Time Fiddler’s & Bluegrass Festival||Sponsored by Fiddler's Grove Festival |Annual event|Union Grove, N.C., USA|
  13. Article: OT Rules Will Prevail|Jun 21, 2011|Union Leader|
  14. National Oldtime Fiddler's Contest & Festival|PO Box 447|2235 Paddock Ave.||Weiser, ID 83672|208-414-0255
  15. "O'Connor Violin Method". Mark O'Connor Musik International.
  16. The Old-Time Fiddler's Hall of Fame| website|David Lynch|

External links[edit | edit source]