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Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s

Lighter 18 Oct 18 - 09:47 AM
leeneia 18 Oct 18 - 11:04 AM
Lighter 18 Oct 18 - 09:01 PM
leeneia 18 Oct 18 - 11:14 PM
Stewart 18 Oct 18 - 11:48 PM
Jack Campin 19 Oct 18 - 04:34 AM
meself 19 Oct 18 - 11:03 AM
meself 19 Oct 18 - 11:12 AM
meself 19 Oct 18 - 11:25 AM
GUEST 19 Oct 18 - 02:46 PM
Rex 21 Oct 18 - 01:18 PM
leeneia 22 Oct 18 - 12:25 PM
Lighter 22 Oct 18 - 04:36 PM
Lighter 22 Oct 18 - 04:46 PM
Lighter 22 Oct 18 - 07:33 PM
meself 22 Oct 18 - 08:47 PM
Lighter 23 Oct 18 - 09:41 AM
Rex 23 Oct 18 - 02:12 PM
Jack Campin 23 Oct 18 - 02:36 PM
Lighter 23 Oct 18 - 04:30 PM
leeneia 24 Oct 18 - 08:34 PM
leeneia 25 Oct 18 - 12:20 PM
Jack Campin 25 Oct 18 - 12:47 PM
leeneia 25 Oct 18 - 04:11 PM
Lighter 25 Oct 18 - 06:38 PM
leeneia 27 Oct 18 - 10:12 PM
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Subject: Folklore: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Lighter
Date: 18 Oct 18 - 09:47 AM

From "Current Literature" (Jan., 1899), p. 53:


“During the log cabin era of the Middle West, a matter of fifty years ago, nearly every neighborhood had its fiddler. …The ‘hoe-down’ fiddler had no conception of harmony, but was full to the very ends of fingers and toes with melody. If two met with their fiddles, they played by turns. If they played the same piece in the same way, which seldom happened, they tuned to the same pitch and both played the melody….The tunes they knew they learned from hearing another play, and they played them over and over, day after day, and year after year, until they became, as it were, a part of their very nature. The names by which they designated their favorite pieces were as singular as the pieces themselves, and were like of pioneer origin. Among them were Gray Eagle, Arkansas Traveler, Bear Dance, Drunken Indian, Possum Trot, Natchez-under-the-hill, and Hell-up-the-Wabash.

        “To give the ‘hoe-down’ fiddler a musical education would be to make a new creature of him. …

            “The position of his body while playing was unique, to say the least of it. He could not play standing. The almost universal pioneer seat, the split bottomed chair, suited him. When his fiddle was in tune, a matter of great care to him, and he was seated ready to begin, he threw his right leg over his left one; rested his left hand, in which was the neck of the fiddle, on his right knee – the body of the instrument extending upward and to the right, the back resting against the right side of the abdomen – turned his face squarely to the left, and was read for all night, or all day, as required. He was the picture of contentment while he played. If he had any cares, they floated away on the melody of his favorite tunes, and did not return until the playing was finished.”


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: leeneia
Date: 18 Oct 18 - 11:04 AM

Thanks for the information, Lighter.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Lighter
Date: 18 Oct 18 - 09:01 PM

You're welcome, leeneia.

Knowledgeable descriptions of pioneer fiddling (esp. before the Civil War) are few and far between. If only the writer had named more tunes!


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: leeneia
Date: 18 Oct 18 - 11:14 PM

One of the tunes mentioned is Possum Trot. Possum Trot is also a slang name for old Kansas City.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Stewart
Date: 18 Oct 18 - 11:48 PM

very interesting - thanks for the post

Many old-time fiddlers were not trained in music, could not read music, just played by ear, and were not aware of bar lines or beats in a measure - whatever sounded good to their ear they played. If they added or left out a beat or a measure in the usual 32-bar dance structure, this resulted in what is called a "crooked tune" - not good for dancers, but often resulted in some interesting tunes.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Jack Campin
Date: 19 Oct 18 - 04:34 AM

Does anybody today use that playing position? It's like a cross between Carnatic violin and Rufus Guinchard.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: meself
Date: 19 Oct 18 - 11:03 AM

Check out: Truman Price

Just a still photo of Eddon Hammons but with a sound recording. He would have begun fiddling in the era the article is talking about, I believe.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: meself
Date: 19 Oct 18 - 11:12 AM

And check out Lee Cremo here, about 20 seconds in. Apparently, he adjusted his hold after having a stroke or a car accident, or maybe both - I forget.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: meself
Date: 19 Oct 18 - 11:25 AM

Thanks, Lighter. That's one of the few such accounts that I've seen in which the writer is not more interested in their own cleverness than in the fiddling; they take some pains to get it right.

Btw, none of those links I gave show exactly the same thing; I believe they all show the left leg over the right, and the fiddle not as far to the right as in the above description.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Oct 18 - 02:46 PM

This is a subject I have been studying for years. The contortions described must have come along later, as everything I've found about early fiddler/violin players shows them with the instrument flat on their chest (18th century). There wasan 'under the chin' school in France but it seems it didn't become common until well into the 19th century. Here is a link to some wonderful paintings of American artist
John Lewis Kimmel. He depicts celebrations c.1810-1820, and there are three with fiddle players. None are twisted like ein pretzel.
https://b-womeninamericanhistory19.blogspot.com/2016/12/celebrating-in-pennsylvania-1810-1820.html

Robert Mouland


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Rex
Date: 21 Oct 18 - 01:18 PM

Many thanks to Lighter for this. Would you kindly tell us more about this source? I have looked up "Current Literature" (Jan., 1899) online and find other text but not this one.

Rex


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: leeneia
Date: 22 Oct 18 - 12:25 PM

Contortions? In the video of Truman Price linked above, he seems perfectly comfortable, not contorted, and his fiddling sounds good.

I wonder if holding the instrument further away from the ear prevents or lessens the hearing damage which violins can cause.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Lighter
Date: 22 Oct 18 - 04:36 PM

Rex, the source is Current Literature (New York), Vol. 25, No.1 (Jan., 1899), p. 53, an article titled "The Hoe-Down Fiddler," by M. L. De Motte. It is apparently reprinted from a periodical called "The International," presumably from late 1898.

I don't know the identity of "M. L. De Motte," but Mark Lindsey De Motte of Indiana (1832 - 1908) is a good candidate: he was 66 in 1898:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_L._De_Motte


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Lighter
Date: 22 Oct 18 - 04:46 PM

A sudden brainstorm led me to "The International: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Travel and Literature" (Chicago), Vol. 5, No. 4 (October, 1898).

Pp. 283-85 contain "The Hoe-Down Fiddler, by Mark L. De Motte."


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Lighter
Date: 22 Oct 18 - 07:33 PM

Here's a somewhat broader perspective, from some years earlier. The list of titles is especially interesting, as is the fact that classical musicians sometimes popularized hoedown tunes in their performances:

The Indiana State Sentinel (Indianapolis) (May 26, 1886), p, 4:

"Professor Tosso, of Newport, Ky., who is said to be dying, is one of the pioneer fiddlers of the West. ...In his palmy days, Tosso gave concerts all through the West and South, and was rated as an extraordinary violinist. He is eighty-five years of age. ...

"Tosso, forty or more years ago, kept a music store in Cincinnati, and frequently made excursions to the larger towns around giving concerts, sometimes alone and sometimes with a vocalist or a harpist or pianist to help. He has been in this city several times, appearing here first fully forty-five years ago, and was the first 'fiddler' we ever had here who could play something better than 'Zip Coon,' 'Broad Riffle' or 'Leather Breeches.' Our own pioneer performers were ball artists exclusively. They played jigs and hoe-downs for 'puncheon splitting' dances, and there were no better artists of their grade than Bill Bagwell, Joe Rouse, or old 'Dos-a-dos' - 'do-sa-do' as he was always called from one of his dance phrases....Tosso could play good music and play it well, but he couldn't make it popular, and it never became so till increasing German settlement ... naturalized it, and that began about the time Tosso was finishing his concert excursions, at least in this direction.

"Among his selections of classical music, he usually introduced one or more of the popular airs of the time, and of these the 'Arkansaw Traveler' was the most popular. It was certainly one of the liveliest and prettiest. He always told the story of the 'Traveler' stopping before an Arkansaw cabin to make inquiries abut the road, and listening to the owner attempting to play it on his fiddle. ... [Tosso] never pretended to be the composer of the air, nor did anybody calim it for him in those days. The 'Arkansaw Traveler,' like 'Grey Eagle' and 'Wagoner' - named for the famous Kentucky horse race a half-century or so ago - and 'Zip Coon,' 'H-ll on the Wabash,' 'Rackback Davy,' 'Natches [sic] Under the Hill,' 'Sugar in a Gourd,' and fifty other dancing tunes known to old-time fiddlers and dancers - had no composer, in the sense that the better class of music has. It 'growed' like Topsy, from two or three pleasing musical phrases that some fellow had accidentally struck in his practice, and repeated till others learned them and added to them, and finally made a complete air of them.

"The origin of many popular songs was much the same. Nobody knows who was the author of the 'Hunters of Kentucky,' or 'Perry's Victory,' or 'St. Clair's Defeat,' or 'Poor Old Maid,' or 'All on Hobbles.' or the 'Great Sea Snake,' or 'Polly Hopkins.' or any of the old songs that the grandfathers and mothers of the present generation entertained themselves in their young days. Now the songs are as completely lost as are their origin. ...[N]egro minstrelsy in its crudest form appeared in such songs as 'Jenny Git your Hoe-Cake Done, 'Walk Jaw Bone,' 'Wheel About and Turn About,' 'Old Zup Coon,' and 'Clar De Kitchen.' 'Nigger songs' really formed a sort of transition stage from the ballad of love or war of an earlier social condition to the better musical taste that has developed now. ..."


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: meself
Date: 22 Oct 18 - 08:47 PM

Thanks, Lighter; that's great stuff.

Funny how confident the last writer is in his explanation of how a fiddle tune came to be: "It 'growed' like Topsy, from two or three pleasing musical phrases that some fellow had accidentally struck in his practice, and repeated till others learned them and added to them, and finally made a complete air of them."


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Lighter
Date: 23 Oct 18 - 09:41 AM

Supreme confidence seems to have been a common failing of nineteenth-century essayists.

It's also interesting to read what songs the Indiana pioneers liked. Few of those mentioned have appealed to folkies.

And, of course, it's "Zip" not "Zup." Sorry about that.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Rex
Date: 23 Oct 18 - 02:12 PM

Lighter, thank'ee for going the extra mile here. I am grateful to know of the original article. Some of what is written is a bit sketchy but these early views of fiddle are scarce and you take what you can get.

Rex


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Jack Campin
Date: 23 Oct 18 - 02:36 PM

Google found a lot more about Tosso in a book "Music in Ohio" by William Osborne, which as usual I can't copy and paste. Something like a Midwestern Nathaniel Gow.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Lighter
Date: 23 Oct 18 - 04:30 PM

Hi, Jack. According to Osborne's mini-biography, Joseph Tosso was born in Mexico City in 1802. He was a child prodigy and came to the U.S. in 1817 after advanced musical study in Paris.

Osborne believes that Tosso made the "Arkansaw Traveler" his trademark as early as 1841 - early for the tune. He quotes a previous writer:

"He could take his violin from beneath his chin, place it against his breast, begin to sway rhythmically, and play a good backwoods tune with as much grace as he had the moment before played a classic. ...He played to please his audience, for he thought it better to create and encourage a genuine love of music, even the simplest kind, than to discourage it by playing classics to unappreciative ears."

A 2009 article on Tosso:

http://kentoncountyhistoricalsociety.org/data/documents/July-August-2009.pdf


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: leeneia
Date: 24 Oct 18 - 08:34 PM

Thanks for your contributions, Lighter. I enjoyed reading them.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: leeneia
Date: 25 Oct 18 - 12:20 PM

If a tune name intrigures you, it is worth it to go to abcnotation.com and see if it's there. I know the tunes for Wagner and Gray Eagle (the race horses) are there.

Since I grew up around the Wabash, I had to find Hell up the Wabash. Instead, I found two tunes for Hell ON the Wabash, but who cares about a mere preposition. One tune is very fast and kinda scratchy; the other sounds a lot more like 1850. So I downloaded it, added a missing note, and will try it with friends.

Thanks are due to Nigel Gatherer for preserving that tune in the first place.

I looked at Natchez under the Hill, but I didn't like it. Too derivative. However, the Reel Bernatchez appeared on the same screen, and I am going to try it on accordion.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Jack Campin
Date: 25 Oct 18 - 12:47 PM

Hell on the Wabash is SUPPOSED to have a missing note - that rest on beat 1 is unprecedented in British-Isles-originated folk, and quite likely means it's of African-American origin.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: leeneia
Date: 25 Oct 18 - 04:11 PM

The missing note was approximately in the middle of the B part.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: Lighter
Date: 25 Oct 18 - 06:38 PM

Actually, "Turkey in the Straw" is more likely derivative of "Natchez Under the Hill," bit the two are so similar that they're essentially variations of the same tune - "Old Zip Coon" (1833). It has been claimed that the progenitor was the English "Rose Tree in Full Bearing," but I hear no real resemblance.

"OZC" is usually attributed to G. W. Dixon (1834), but a newspaper clipping of 1833 associates with Bob Farrell, another blackface performer. "Natchez Under the Hill" appeared in 1839.

The title "Turkey in the Straw" looks like a latecomer. I haven't found it in print before 1893, though the reference is to around 1870.


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Subject: RE: Midwestern fiddling in the 1850s
From: leeneia
Date: 27 Oct 18 - 10:12 PM

Thanks for the info. I'm glad to hear that somebody else thinks Natchez under the Hill and Old Zip Coon are a lot alike.


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