Along the Eastern Crescent
Rounder CD 0435
Laments and Merry Melodies from Cape Breton Island
Rounder CD 7026
The review pairing of these two albums might seem rather odd given they represent two very different and geographically distant traditions. They are, however, linked by their common devotion to the fiddle, in representing the dedicated field work of the indefatigable Mark Wilson, and by their recent release as part of his ambitious and so far quite outstanding North American Traditions Series - an attempt at thoroughly documenting North American regional musical traditions as they exist on the cusp of the millennium, drawing only on music recorded during the the last thirty years - the more recent the better. This should create a wonderful period snapshot for future scholars to compare both to their own age and to material from earlier periods. Of course, given the sheer volume of music in North America which could potentially be labelled 'traditional' strict limits have to be drawn somewhere and Mark Wilson makes his own agenda and limits perfectly clear - he is the older forms of music rooted in the age of home-made entertainment, not modern derivatives like Bluegrass & Country-Western which are well documented elsewhere, and he has a particular interest in fiddling, 'the traditional music form that has remained most vibrant in the later twentieth century but that ... also stands in considerable jeopardy of vanishing incompletely registered'.
I regularly meet American enthusiasts who view these islands - and particularly Ireland - as a sort of traditional music Mecca. In reality authentic traditional music is very thin on the ground even in west Clare or Sliabh Luachra, and much of the music that visitors come across over here is essentially revivalist in origin. The irony is that north America is a far richer haven of authentic traditional music, a fact so remarkable that I wonder why no one seems to have given much thought to the issue - why does the nation that stands as a paradigm for modernity have the richest body of old-fashioned vernacular music in the western world? Perhaps it's something to do with things like liberty and equality, and culture not being dominated by hereditary ruling castes, maybe it's just because the place is so damn big. Consider the creation of the Ozark CD presented here.
Mark Wilson and Gordon McCann set out with a fairly limited brief - to document 'the older layers' of fiddle music in the Ozark mountains, a sparsely populated upland region of south Missouri/north Arkansas, during a few short months in the summer of 1997. They were not concerned with the thriving modern traditions of Bluegrass, Country, and 'Texas style' contest fiddling, with other instruments, with vocal music, or with revivalist interpretations. To this end they made a series of somewhat haphazard exploratory trips, simply 'fanning outward from Gordon McCann's home'. Because they were looking for older forms of music they were largely dependant on older people. Many of the players they heard of were dead, others they couldn't track down. They were well aware that for every fiddler they met many others missed the net. A few of the fiddlers they recorded had some reputation further afield, but most were just down-home folks hardly known outside their family and locality. Yet they have been able to produce three full-length CDs of brilliant, complex, exciting music which barely skim the surface of the repertoires of a large number of individuals, and which (judging by Volume 1 anyway) can stand on their own as pure entertainment quite apart from any academic interest. You'd be hard put to do this anywhere now in the British Isles, except perhaps Shetland and parts of north-east Scotland. 1
You'll have gathered I like this disc! It covers the 'eastern crescent' sub-region of the Ozarks and includes 40 tracks from the playing of nine individuals, most in their late seventies and eighties. Overall the repertoire and style relates closely to that of the south-eastern states, although the proximity to the mid-west and exposure to more recent waves of European immigration than the south-east gives it a slightly more 'modern' flavour. Many of the tunes are familiar from the south-eastern repertoire, though usually in very distinct versions, while others seem to be purely local (not necessarily so in the past), and they consist largely of 'breakdowns' (a catch-all term for the older common-time dance tunes) some of which can be further classified as reels, hornpipes or polkas but most of which can't. 2 They also include a number of those bluesy 'ragtime' tunes which occur in many regions of the south, but which seem to be particularly prevalent throughout Missouri 3, two complex, stately marches, one of them disguised under the title of the Jazz standard Wang Wang Blues 4, a solitary waltz , which I suspect is an under-representation of the form, and a nice bluesy rendition of a ballroom Schottische, Howe Teague's Everything - which could easily be classified as a dotted hornpipe or even a rag, so close do these forms sometimes come. There are also some fascinating oddities such as Violet Hensley's Jericho, a descriptive piece of the Bonaparte's Retreat type, and Bob Holt's Plantation Medley, a blending of Massa's in de Cold Cold Ground with a distant relative of Whiskey before Breakfast (as Mark Wilson suggests, probably one of those minstrel show pieces designed to 'trick' an apparently unsuspecting stepdancer with a change of rhythm or speed).
As one has come to expect there are no jigs - although 6/8 tunes were played in the Ozarks within living memory and still occur in north Missouri. As in most of the south it seems jigs have either been dropped or converted to 4/4 . One tune that particularly interested me was Cecil Goforth's version of Jenny Nettles. As the sleeve notes suggest, a scrambling of titles has clearly taken place sometime in the distant past. It bears no relation to the Scots Jenny Nettles, yet it undoubtedly is another old Scots reel - this isn't too obvious with Cecil's somewhat modern and definitely more 'American' version, but listen to the superb 1956 recording by George Helton on The Old Time Fiddler's Repertory (MSOTFA 107-8). If a computer can one day recreate the music of a southern Scots or border English fiddler of about 1790 that is what it will sound like. Jenny Nettles is invariably played in 'dischord' or 'cross-tuning' and I'm pleased that there are several other selections in cross-tuning, a practice once extremely widespread throughout both America and Britain. Indeed, many of the previous generation of Southern fiddlers rarely if ever played in standard tuning. Nowadays cross-tuning is usually saved for a few special pieces, but even Bluegrass and Country-Western fiddlers tend to feature a few in their repertoire so the practice is likely to survive into the foreseeable future - unlike Britain where it is now almost extinct (another Accordeon Crime?)
The performances are excellent and its hard to single out anyone for special mention - I particularly took to the playing of Violet Hensley, but I admit I was prejudiced both by her physical likeness to the late, great Julia Clifford, by my perverse liking for weird and crooked tunes, and by my interest in surnames. 5 Given their average age one is not surprised to find the occasional stumble or lapse in intonation and 91 year old Jesse Wallace seems to have some trouble keeping up the physical pressure on the bow (or maybe he's just out of rosin) but overall these old-folks knock spots off most younger revivalist players, not just in the more intangible area of 'feeling' and musical sensitivity (par for the course with traditional musicians worldwide) but in the very concrete area of technical skill (there are several very demanding tunes here, some in the 'unnatural' and decidedly un-Southeastern keys of Bb, F and C - in this the mid-western influence is clearly showing).
Most impressive of all is the energy of these performances which wouldn't disgrace musicians half their age - Jesse Wallace in particular makes me feel more optimistic about the ageing process, stomping it out like Superman on speed and only 9 years from his century! If I have any quibble at all it is with the guitar based back-up. It is always competent and satisfactory but at times somewhat self-effacing - the accompanists often seem to be deliberately holding back so as not to detract from the fiddling. This is quite understandable, but it does add an element of restraint quite at odds with the passion of the fiddling - I personally prefer the approach of Jim Herd (himself a fine Ozark fiddler) who is an equal participant in the creative process with a nice line in complex and unusual bass runs and an overall sound very reminiscent of Mississippi greats Narmour and Smith.
The presentation, editing, sleevenotes etc. are as excellent as one has come to expect with a Wilson/Rounder product, though there are some statements in Mark Wilson's introduction that I feel need some comment. Firstly, in discussing the origins of the Ozark population, Mark outs with the old Scotch-Irish myth - the idea that white southerners generally, and frontier and mountain dwellers in particular, are primarily of Ulster Scottish origin. I am continually surprised by how often this idea still crops up in discussions of Southern culture. The Ulster Scots were certainly a significant minority in the settlement of the colonial south, particularly in North Carolina and hence Tennessee, from where many immigrants to the Ozarks originated. Nevertheless, a minority is still a minority. Many of the people classed as 'Scotch-Irish' in the old south were in fact Anglo-Irish, native Irish, lowland Scots or northern English - very like the way modern Britons class all immigrants from the Indian subcontinent as Pakistanis - while German speakers from throughout central Europe were at least as prevalent as Ulstermen.
In truth there is scarcely a national/regional group in Britain, Ireland or northern Europe who didn't contribute some settlers to the colonial south, and by far the biggest national group of all were the English, who actually owned the colonies and had a 100 year start on everyone else. In particular, indentured servants and convicts were drawn heavily from the southern English lower orders and it is these people who formed the white labouring class, the bandits and drifters, the frontier squatters and hunter-gatherers, the 'redhillers' and 'crackers', the seed bed of today's white Southern working class and small farmers. In any case the Ozarks were not simply settled by Americans - most of its settlers may have been of old Southern stock, but the great waves of 19th century European immigration affected even this relatively inhospitable region.
Both Orville Cassidy (a highly influential mid-20th century fiddler referred to at some length in the notes to this disc) and the late Bob Walsh (a well respected fiddler who worked hard to encourage interest in the tradition post-war) were of Famine-era Irish Catholic descent, whilst Audrey Handle (who appears on this disc) is the son of a 20th century German immigrant. The importance of these European settlers probably lies in the introduction of elements of relative modernity - there is little obvious trace of their own ethnic heritage in Ozark music. For example, neither Orville Cassidy or Bob Walsh played anything bearing much resemblance to 19th century Irish music, but Cassidy, his roots in urban St Louis, was famous for introducing ragtime, jazz and pop numbers into the repertoire.
These issues are worth raising because enthusiasts generally link Southern fiddle music with Scottish and Irish fiddle music, the more astute then seeming perplexed by the apparent dissimilarity. Thus Mark Wilson here makes the obligatory reference to 'the major shaping influences of of Scots/Irish violin music upon American tradition, including in the Ozarks' while actually expressing some scepticism on this very issue. In fact the roots of Southern fiddle music have to lie in a blend of regional traditions from all over the British Isles, northern Europe, native America and West Africa, and the dominant tendency in this gumbo would logically be the music of the southern English lower class of the 17th and 18th centuries. And this without even considering the fact that traditional music is not the static creature of unfathomable ancient roots people often imagine. Neither Scottish, Irish, English or American fiddle music are the same in the 20th century as they were 300 years ago. Thus anyone seeking to quantify the 'British ancestry' of Southern music by looking at modern Irish and Scots music is really looking in the wrong place and time.
Mark's comments on 'British ancestry' are well worth quoting:
'... a fair number of the British tune 'ancestors' claimed in the folklore literature are, in my opinion, probably spurious and create an illusion that the entire corpus of American fiddle music is more closely linked to British tradition than it really is ... I also feel that many writings on fiddle music seriously underestimate the originality of the American contribution, often citing as proof of historical origin musical similarities that are almost certainly the results of naturally convergent evolution.'I applaud the spirit of this. It's about time people started emphasising the originality and creativeness of the Anglo-American tradition. But on one important point I think he's got things backwards. I don't think the similarities between many American and British tunes is primarily a case of accidental convergence so much as a case of divergence - new tunes gradually evolving out of old. Individuals - especially in musically literate traditions - sometimes sit down and consciously write new tunes, within the conventions and rules of the idiom but as deliberately unlike existing melodies as they can. However, I doubt if most fiddle tunes have come about this way, particularly in largely non-literate traditions like the American south.
A fiddler hears a tune, he has no written text or sound recording to refer to, maybe he never hears the original version again, so he inevitably comes up with a slightly different version ... and so on till we have a new tune with little apparent connection to the original. This is not abstract theory, this disc alone is full of countless examples and indeed Mark himself comments on 'the startlingly rapid and extreme ways in which a fiddle tune can vary in the course of transmission'. For example, Howe Teague's Cluckin' Hen is clearly a simplified version of the Texas favourite Little Betty Ann, but well on the way to becoming another tune - not surprising because he learnt it from one hearing of a fragment in a cowboy movie!
Sometimes it is only the retention of the original title that allows the connection to be made - on this album Boatin' Down the River and Sally Goodin are both versions of well known 'standards' but I might not have realized if the titles hadn't alerted me.
In fact this album is crammed with tunes incorporating large chunks and key phrases from better known tunes, well beyond the bounds of coincidence and quite apart from the issue of vague general similarity. For example, Mark notes that Rocky Road to Denver sounds very like the Scots Temperance Reel but the shared key change (a somewhat rare and very distinctive feature in traditional fiddle tunes, often denoting 'composed' ballroom roots) surely confirms this isn't coincidence. Incidentally, Temperance is a close relative of Keltan's Reel/Pigtown Fling but I doubt if I would have made a connection between Keltan's and Rocky Road without the intervention of Temperance. Again, the first part of Stan Jackson's Oklahoma Run is more or less the same as the first part of the well known Southeastern tune Green Willis. Now Green Willis is simply the old English jig New Rigged Ship (Thomas Hardy's favourite tune) converted to 4/4 . But I doubt if anyone would make the connection between Oklahoma Run and New Rigged Ship without the missing link of Green Willis, because of the different second part and the subtle changes to the first part. Which is to say they are now two different tunes.
This situation of constant change and recreation seems particularly intense in the Southern fiddle tradition and explains the nagging feeling of familiarity and deja vu I get whenever I listen to new recordings of Southern old time fiddling - almost everything I hear reminds me of something else, but usually I can't quite put my finger on it. Given all this I doubt if the connection between Southern fiddle tunes and British originals is as 'spurious' as Mark suggests. Most older Southern fiddle tunes probably have British ancestry, but like the people who play them they are now some way from their ancestors. Exactly how far away is an issue which we have really hardly addressed, and concentration on headcounting specific tunes and variants strikes me as no more than a beginning - we need to get to grips with more complex issues like similarities and parallels in the stylistic features of tune construction and the actual playing styles of the musicians. This of course is difficult without a Tardis, because the music has changed everywhere, particularly in England where there's been a major change in instrumentation (e.g. melodeon replacing fiddle) and in tune types (e.g. polkas and ballroom dances replacing hornpipes and country dances) with all the inevitable changes of playing styles that entails.
But just as southern American speech is closer to southern English speech of the colonial era than the speech of modern England, aspects of this music are likely to be a lot closer to what was played in many areas of 17th &18th century Britain (especially southern England) than anything to be heard in Britain today. For example, the use of gapped scales, cross-tunings, drones and shuffle bowing are crucial elements in southern American fiddling and were also demonstrably features of English fiddling in the 17th/18th centuries, but only the drone has really survived into 20th century England. This much is certain - if scholars really want to get to grips with the issue of 'British ancestry' in Southern music they need to lose their obsessions with modern Scottish and Irish music and with headcounting printed versions of tunes and start looking more closely at Colonial era English - particularly southern English - music. 6
Issues of transmission, origin and change cannot be avoided in considering the rich musical tradition of Cape Breton either. This island to the north of Nova Scotia is reputedly the most Gaelic region of maritime Canada (although its dance music is essentially Lowland Scots in origin - testimony to the massive cultural changes in the Highlands after the '45) and its people, largely descended from early 19th century migrants from Argyll and the Hebrides, appear to 'preserve' a recognizably Scots tradition of singing, piping and fiddling . In fact, it is not so much a case of survival as of constant regeneration through continuing links with Scotland.
Continued immigration into the region throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries plus the inhabitants' conscious desire to maintain links with the homeland has led to a regional replication of Scottish traditional music as it has been developing in Scotland. This music has its own very distinct regional flavour but it is still recognizably modern Scottish music. Here I might be treading on a few Volkische toes. Many people in Scotland today present Cape Breton music as 'the real, pure, old, original' Scots music unchanged since the clearances etc, etc. This has led to some highly dubious results such as the spread of 'authentic' Highland step dancing based on the Cape Breton model - a model which bears very little resemblance to any documented tradition of Highland dance in Scotland but is very reminiscent of the Irish and English derived stepping found in other regions of maritime Canada - or the claim that Cape Breton has preserved the 'original' style of Pibroch - though Pibroch was scarcely played there until this century, indeed the sleeve notes to this disc credit Theresa Morrison's late husband Peter with popularizing it amongst Cape Breton pipers. Despite all this there is, inevitably, much to be learnt about the roots and history of Scots fiddling from the musicians of Cape Breton and maritime Canada simply because their devotion to the tradition has been so continuous and intense.
There are of course many regional and other divisions in the Scots fiddle tradition, and one major strand is an 'art' tradition stretching from the great 18th and early 19th century Strathspey composers like the Gows and William Marshall, through Victorian/early 20th century players like Honeyman and Scott-Skinner to modern players like MacAndrew and Hardie and well represented today by the Strathspey and Reel Societies.
This 'Scottish Violin' tradition is exactly what it's name suggests - a school of National Music which emphasises the distinctively national elements in traditional music and is characterized by a high degree of musical literacy, deep regard for formal composition, and emulation of elements of classical violin technique. Whilst its backbone lies in traditionally styled dance music its repertoire is drawn heavily from known composers, is largely transmitted through print, and is as likely to be performed in a concert or listening environment as a dancing one. Though most adherents of this school have been of lowly social origin, it has always involved significant numbers of middle and even upper class people, for whom the attraction is not its 'folkness' but its Scottishness - its roots lie in a growing awareness of 'folklore' and a tendency to equate it with national identity during the 18th century. 7 It was this patriotic aspect that encouraged Scottish gentlemen to patronize and encourage the music, and even participate (the Earl of Kelly was a noted fiddle composer), and it undoubtedly encouraged the adoption of elements of the classical aesthetic - if fiddling was to stand as a symbol of national pride and identity then it had to conform to the norms of bourgeois good taste, and the elevation of a Marshal or a Gow was matched by a tendency to shove the vastly larger group of rough country fiddlers under the carpet.
However, to a great extent this interest in elements of classical aesthetic and technique would have occurred anyway, apart from any patriotic imperative. For example, it was also to be found in England among the artisan-fiddlers whose tune books provide a rare glimpse into the world of 18th/early 19th century English fiddling, and from whose milieu evolved the classically influenced 'Competition Hornpipe' - a form currently best preserved in the American mid-west. All of this was an indigenous and natural development within the world of the traditional fiddler. This is something some Scots and English enthusiasts find hard to grasp - there's a tendency to dismiss the music of Scott-Skinner or the Strathspey and Reel Societies as somehow 'not the real thing', but as traditional music it is a damn sight more real than the music of the Battlefield Band or Runrig.
Theresa Morrison, a retired civil servant and housewife in her late seventies/early eighties from McKay's Point in Cape Breton, sits squarely within this 'Scots Violin' tradition. The daughter of a fiddle playing father and a Gaelic speaking (and singing) mother, Theresa and six of her seven brothers played fiddle from an early age and it seems that Theresa and her brother Joe were quickly recognized as the most gifted, regularly performing together at dances and concerts until her marriage in 1948 to one of Cape Breton's leading pipers, Peter Morrison. 8
Anyone interested in Scots music would instantly recognise the specific tradition to which she belongs, just by reading the sleevenotes. Thus in her brief autobiography the instrument is always the Violin, never the fiddle, and although she played for 'parties and dances' in her youth much of her music has been in a concert setting, latterly with 'Lila's Scottish Violins', a 12 member group that practiced for two hours weekly from written music. Similarly in his notes Mark Wilson continually falls back on such indicative words as 'delightful', 'dignified', 'refined' and 'classical'. With the care and meticulousness that is such a feature of this tradition, Theresa has prepared a list of all the featured tunes stating their composers or printed sources. Predictably, there are only a few traditional tunes, significantly entered as 'composer unknown'. The earliest material comes from the prolific pens of Nathaniel Gow and William Marshall, there are several numbers by Scott-Skinner and still more recent composers, and a large body of excellent tunes written by Theresa herself, for the art of formal composition is highly regarded and central to this tradition and any fiddler worthy of respect must compose as well as play. The bulk of the material is of late 19th/20th century origin which surely scotches (sorry!) the myth of 'ancient pre-clearance music'.
Despite some interesting differences of emphasis it could easily be the repertoire of a modern Strathspey and Reel Society musician, though the average Scottish country fiddler of 200 years ago might find some of it a bit strange (Niel Gow and William Marshall however would immediately recognize the lineal descent of their own music and embrace it wholeheartedly). Typical of this school of playing, her repertoire is heaviest in Strathspeys - originally a regional style of playing reels in the north-east, but seized on as the most distinctively Scottish (or rather non-English and non-Irish) of the native dance forms - closely followed by Reels. On the other hand there is only one of the Victorian/20th century 2/4 pipe marches that feature so strongly in the equivalent repertoire in Scotland - an interesting archaic trait or simple personal preference? 9
Similarly, from a 20th century Scottish perspective there are a relatively large number of jigs - I well remember my old Pipe-Major trying to wean me off my predilection for jigs with the comment 'leave them for Irishmen' (he was a Rangers supporter), which was typical of his generation. As in Scotland, the tunes are invariably played in sets with the classic strathspey and reel set predominating - no bad thing, for while her her rendering of jigs, marches, airs etc is always excellent there is something truly special about her strathspey and reel playing. 10
This may be relatively modern music but that is not to deny its deep and ancient roots, and there are aspects of Theresa's violin style that seem quite archaic. Among her counterparts in Scotland there is a tendency to ape the vibrato and sickly-sweet tone of modern classical violin but her tone has the hardness and purity of the older traditional fiddler or the classical style of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Her bowing is typical of the region - superbly controlled, dynamic in attack, but less rigid, more flowing, less Calvinist than in modern Scotland - which I suspect is more like Gow or Marshall would have played.
The overall sound is simply drop-dead gorgeous - imagine a very pure and clean classical tone but not cluttered or disguised with vibrato - a bowing style so relaxed and flowing that her tight, stabbing birls and snaps almost shock - which is exactly the contrast there should be. All this wedded to the solid rhythm and exciting pulse that is crucial in the aesthetic of the dance fiddler in any tradition, irrespective of whether the music is actually played for dancing - and not a hint of the physical weakness or wobbly intonation that sometimes besets elderly fiddlers. But words cannot do this lovely music justice, buy the disc!
Listening to these two discs near the turn of the millennium it is astonishing to to think that music as anciently rooted as this should still be played by much the same kind of people and in the much the same way as 100 years ago, wonderful that technology allows its ready diffusion on a worldwide basis, impressive that there is a market for this kind of music way beyond its home. It is clear that in one form or another much western traditional music is going to survive into the next century because for many younger people it has become an important badge of regional identity and difference in an increasingly standardized global culture.
Nevertheless, for younger people, even from deep within a local tradition, it will rank as only one of the many musics available and one of the many demands on their spare time. It will inevitably be influenced by everything else to which they are exposed and it will inevitably play a less central role in the fabric of their daily lives. In the early 20th century it was the belief of folklorists and musicologists that this sort of music would be dead by 1999. On one level they were clearly wrong, but there is is a quality of musical sensitivity and a depth of involvement in the playing of these older musicians which will die with them and will not be replicated by their successors, and in that respect the prophets of folk music doom were surely correct.
Paul Roberts - 10.11.99
(2) Mark Wilson introduces the concept of 'quasi reels and quasi hornpipes' which I find very useful because:
(3) Mark Wilson says these tunes are particularly common in the western Ozarks, the area covered by Vol 2. He clearly sees them as a 'missing link' in the development of Ragtime rather than a folk adaptation of the form, an idea which has often occurred to me. I would also add that 'Classic' Ragtime bears strong structural similarities to such Victorian forms as the Competition Hornpipe and the Polka, and in Britain this seems to have been instinctively recognized by traditional musicians - there are several recorded examples where they mix the two forms, e.g. Jimmy Andrews' superb 1930s recording of The Liverpool & High Level Hornpipes in which he breaks seamlessly into Down Home Rag.
(4) both very reminiscent of the 'militia marches' so popular among 19th century English fiddlers, down to the typically crooked structure with extra and missing bars that is such a feature of these tunes in England too - you wonder just what sort of marching was being done to them.
(5) wait whilst I put on my anorak ... Hensley is a fairly rare midlands English name which has ramified considerably in the American south and continually crops up in the context of Southern music - several Hensleys were champion fiddlers - one achieved extra notoriety for shooting his wife sometime in the '40s - the Hensleys of Carmen, North Carolina and Clay County, Kentucky were amongst Cecil Sharp's most prolific informants - Patsy Cline's maiden name was Hensley, etc, etc ... Stop yawning in the corner!
(6) I feel almost reluctant to suggest this because from past experience someone somewhere will now start claiming Southern music is 'pure' or 'real' English music, which is to completely misunderstand what I am getting at. To be closer to something than is something else doesn't necessarily mean you're very close at all, and even if Southern music was identical to colonial era English music, antiquity does not bestow purity - all traditional music is in a constant process of change and is no more or less 'pure' at one stage than another (though it might of course be aesthetically preferable at one stage than at another).
Estimating exactly how close the older Southern dance music actually is to the music of the English lower orders in the 17th and 18th centuries is an extremely difficult project because we actually know surprisingly little about the latter, being largely dependant on written sources that really document things like the crossover area between traditional and popular/art music, upper-class adaptations of traditional music, or, in the case of the many English fiddlers' Manuscript Books that have come to light recently, the repertoires of a musically literate self-improving working-class elite at the very tail end of our period, mostly from the early 19th century. But this doesn't mean the project shouldn't be attempted.
Of one thing I am certain , no matter how far 'old-time' American fiddling as a whole actually is from 'old English' fiddling it is almost certainly a lot closer than is recorded 20th century English fiddling - and should therefore be of great interest to those wishing to recreate the wealth of superb but neglected music in the 17th, 18th and early 19th century English tune books.
(7) The educated interest in folk music - indeed, the invention of the category - coincided with the rise of modern nationalism. From the start, the subject has been studied, classified, understood in terms of the nation-state - so much so that it is now extremely difficult to even discuss the subject outside this framework and be understood. But in reality this is a completely false framework and has led to major distortions in our understanding of the music.
Traditional music is essentially both regional and supra-national. It is best understood within the context of small regions, and when one tries to classify it by salient features into larger units, these usually expand beyond the contours of the Nation. For example, within the context of European traditional music the British Isles as a whole forms a distinct unit with a degree of homogeneity and when you start to look for the isoglosses or defining features that delineate distinct sub-regions within these islands they inevitably ignore national borders. The most obvious example is the Anglo-Scots border country, long recognized as a distinct historical-cultural region in traditional music as in other matters. But there are many similar examples. There are strong folk-cultural links between south-east Ireland and south-west England for example - or between south-west Scotland, north-west England and Ulster.
Folk revivalism in its various forms and throughout its long history has generally ignored this kind of thing because its participants are mentally wedded to Nationalist categories, and as a result revivalists actually tend to create National music, ironing out regional distinctiveness while exaggerating any characteristics that are rare or absent across the political border, creating a homogenized National music like modern 'Irish' or 'English' music - instantly recognizable as Irish or English, but in general quite unlike the varied regional traditional musics on which they are based. This has been an extremely marked feature of the post-war folk-revival, but it is not a new phenomenon and to some extent goes back to the beginnings of 'folklore'. Although the Scottish Violin school was not created by revivalists as we understand the term today it was created and sustained by people sharing a similar world view and agenda.
(8) Joe and Peter had particularly distinguished musical careers and were among the first Cape Breton musicians to record. It's fairly clear that Theresa was their musical equal and that marriage prevented her from having a similar career. How many gifted women have shared a similar fate through history, and how much wonderful music was never recorded in our own time as a result?
(9) We might also more accurately classify the Scott-Skinner 'strathspey' Carnegie's Welcome as a 2/4 march.
(10) I am of the opinion that the habit of playing dance tunes in sets - now deeply ingrained in Scotland, Ireland and amongst British revivalists but still largely unknown amongst southern English and American musicians - originated with the Scots Violinists, but it's time I stopped waffling off at tangents and bid you all goodbye.
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