SCB Presentation

What makes a professional double down and play one instrument onstage? How do they begin to make choices that lead them to finding “the one”, and is it in turn; beneficial for their career?

“The tone may [not] be exactly what you like, but the stability of them and the confidence you can put in them – to be something that you could play in various conditions.”  (Adam Steffey, interview)

As Adam is a touring musician and has been for some time, he very much values an instrument’s capacity to be consistent in any climate. Adam also values the process of building an instrument and will go to great extent to meet with luthiers when possible.

“If I meet someone that’s building mandolins and I start hearing good things about them, or if I play one and I get a connection with an Instrument or, see what they’re mindset is and how they go about it. That’s interesting to me… …and I like that.. I like, people.. trying to reinvent what they are. I still always” (Adam Steffey, interview)

Why Adam?

 

BLUE articles

Owning a Loar or vintage mandolin directly relates to some of Peterson’s definitions of authenticity. If you’re looking for a Loar to play bluegrass, the Loar would be the Relic, not changed. You are paying homage to Bill Monroe by playing the music he founded with the instrument he famously played. The mandolin itself transcends Bill and becomes the authentic relic (Peterson, Creating country music, page –). This could put many pickers off from wanting a Loar if they understand the legacy of Monroe but want to be progressive and contemporary with their style. On the contrary, purchasing an F5 Gibson and recreating exactly what Monroe has done, becomes an imitation of the past and therefor inauthentic (Peterson, creating country music) and derivative.

The community that grew up going to Bluegrass festivals know how the music has developed, have a preconception of the instrumentation and style. I own an F4 mandolin. It has an Oval hole in the centre rather than your typical F5 with the f-holes either side of the bridge. I have had folk question this choice and make assumptions as to my understanding of the music and its history.

“they want the scroll and the points. That’s bluegrass, that’s what you’re supposed to play. I’ve had people come up and go “what are you playing an A model for?”” (Adam Steffey, interview)

Here, Adam mentions a similar event that occurred to him where a member of the audience asked why he used an A model mandolin. Most mandolins sound the same if you closed your eyes, shedding light on the Bluegrass community’s acceptance of the F5 mandolin as the standard. In a sense, choosing to play a mandolin that is not an F5 could be an extension of not following the “festivarian code” (Gardner and the portable community) and excluding yourself before you have the chance to be included.

loar front full sm

Most people go through the instrumental equivalent of the “property ladder”. They start out by desiring an instrument that their hero plays. This by it’s nature is a copy of that person’s instrument and would be inauthentic. Then through certain decisions in their life and their professional momentum, boosts the prestige of their instrument. It is okay to be on anyplace on that ladder if you are aware and can consciously decide where to go next.

I asked Adam to name a mandolin that he could have if he clicked his fingers. The way he spoke about David Grisman’s mandolin hugely influenced this paper.

More research points:

The classical definition vs the prototype. are you only the bluegrass mandolin player if you play this instrument?

The social world of semi-professional Bluegrass

Stacks, Thile, punch bros and negotiation of genre

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Descriptivism and Prescriptivism and the Language of Music: Ben Mady

I am keen to observe the lessons that can be learnt from exploring descriptivism and prescriptivism within the context of language, and by extension, music. The issue of descriptivism and prescriptivism is a hotbed of discussion that principally takes place within the world of spoken and written language. This said, one can draw comparisons between the domains of language and music and what purpose they present in our lives. After all, is music, amongst other functions, not a form of communication? A series of social conventions in which we express our ideas and emotions to one another? Taking inspiration from the realm of linguistics, we can understand the various forms of music around the world to represent various forms of language; Languages that have their own interrelated sub strata of dialects. The entirety of western music can be viewed to represent an international musical language, and it is the specifics of this language (examples being Jazz, Country and Blues) that represent the various dialects. Through-out this blog I will often talk about descriptivism and prescriptivism within the context of spoken language. However, I ask you to suspend belief and try to consider language as an analogy for music.

As in language, we have an inherent tendency to try and analyse, understand, construct, deconstruct and then reconstruct again, not only the syntax of music, but its meaning. We appreciate that music has, within itself, a huge power to influence both reason and emotion, factors which are arguably two of the foundations of the human psyche. We must consider and ask ourselves “how do we define music in a comprehensible way that gives us access to that power?”. A lens through which we can focus on this issue is that of descriptivism and prescriptivism. If you were to research the issue of descriptivism vs prescriptivism, it is often presented to be a struggle for truth between two opposite positions. We should be careful not to pair these two terms off directly against each other in an arbitrary search for superiority. I believe there are vital lessons to be understood from both camps of thought; Lessons that should render the notion of side taking pointless and entirely unhelpful.

Descriptivism can be understood as a hands-off approach that has a focus of simply trying to understand and document all forms of language, without the shackles of agenda or bias. The purpose is not then to canonise whatever patterns, rules and conventions that may be found, and in the effort sanctifying them into absolute rules of correctness; But rather, to simply allow whatever quirks of language to exist, wholly as they are, free from the shackles of judgement, free to be used however creatively and cunningly as possible in demonstration of the human spirit. An extreme descriptivist would not seek to impose any kind of rules on language on the understanding that change is inevitable. This said, is it appropriate to appreciate the futility of it all in the face of inevitable change and simply resign yourself to inaction? Some may argue, and quite convincingly, that it is a perfectly appropriate response. However, others may argue that such a lax attitude can result in a linguist’s worst nightmare, a lack of clarity. If everybody simply spoke however they pleased, with no affirmative attention towards convention, is it possible that the communicative element that is so vital in language, and music, be made murky to the point of incomprehensibility? Imagine trying to play bluegrass with your peers if nobody in the group made a concerted effort to adhere to the conventions that they have learnt from representatives of bluegrass music such as Bill Monroe or Earl Scruggs. How would it sound? Would the crucial lack of definition make the whole exercise redundant?

Prescriptivism manifests itself as a self-proclaimed battle between the ‘benign virtue’ of ‘correct’ or ‘proper’ language and the ‘malignant’ forces that are perceived to be eroding the quality and eventual existence of that same language. When you hear Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones sing one of their biggest hits, would you rather hear “I can’t get no satisfaction” or “I can’t get any satisfaction”.  If your answer is the latter, then you may get on well with prescriptivism. A pedant of the more extreme side of prescriptivism would argue that anybody, or thing, that diverges from the strictly established standard is guilty of a moral delinquency that is culpable of becoming a cancer on the very cultural fabric on which they lie. The core function of prescriptivism that appeals is the notion of standardization. It follows the understanding that we must prescribe a standardized language to the sake of clarity. Take, for example, the necessity of standardized weights in a recipe. If you tried to make cookies with a mere handful of sugar, a bunch of flour, and a fistful of eggs, it would most probably not resemble or taste like cookies as we know them. This standardized understanding helps with specificity and specifics are important. We can certainly see the necessity of standardization in a musical context. Vernacular music places great importance in standardization and this is evident in the form of standardized tunes. If a random cross section of bluegrass musicians from across the country assembled in a jam setting, how would they decide what to play? Would they all individually, and in turn, play the most unique and convoluted tunes they can muster? Of course not, that would not be very conducive to the social setting of a jam. Instead, the musicians would most likely draw from a host of tunes and songs that have been socially agreed upon over an extended period of time to represent whatever it is about bluegrass that is worth understanding, and subsequently standardizing.  

 

There is of course an issue to keep in mind regarding the pitfalls of prescriptivism. Taking the notion way further than the noble idea of standardization for clarity’s sake, an extreme pedant of prescriptivism would use the tool of prescription to enforce what is ‘superior’ and worth promoting over what isn’t. They look for rigid man-made codes to be the authority on what constitutes taste, and despise anything that goes against the metaphorical grain of their observations. I personally find this to be quite an extreme position to take. I admit that there are certainly benefits to limiting yourself to a narrow-minded agenda on music; it can inspire focus and an attention to detail that is seldom encouraged elsewhere. However, this notion of someone having the totalitarian arrogance to prescribe to everybody else what is right and what is wrong is abhorrent. Being aware of the tentative human characteristics of pride and the human ego, this sounds almost like a dystopian future that takes place in the setting of a Roald Dahl novel: “I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. 

 

 

We have seen here the most extreme features of desciptivism and prescriptivism. But what are the lessons that we can learn from both of these inteuging approaches. Like in most aspects of life, the most rewarding position to take is that of the middle. There are aspects of both descriptivism and prescriptivism that have both positive and negative implications towards music.   

A chaotic world free from any kind of convention or standard would be incredibly difficult to navigate; whilst alternatively, there is a certain beauty and grace in having the option to explore, experiment and tinker freely with the beautiful and eclectic world of musical language in all its glory. 

A world, regulated accordingly in the pursuit of clarity and global comprehension, would be simple to navigate and have a clear commitment to the inclusion of all; on the other hand, an authoritarian world where musical conversation became a point of vitriol and intellectual brow beating sounds ghastly. When trying to define your own musical attitudes and ideas, I encourage you to keep in mind the words of Stephen Fry, one of my favourite thinkers. “Context, convention and circumstance are all”.

 

 

 

  1. Do you think it is reasonable to try and equate the idea of language and music?
  2. Is there anything about descriptivism that resonates with you?
  3. Is there anything about prescriptivism that resonates with you?
  4. Do any of you already have similar ideas that you apply to your music?

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7E-aoXLZGY

Tools for a New Generation of Learning…YouTube

According to Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, “YouTube creates spaces for engagement and community-formation. One model of participation that functions in this way is peer-to-peer guitar lessons. Videos such as these give material form and visibility to the identities of fans as members of a community of fellow enthusiasts.”
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I think this just about sums up the basis of learning an instrument on YouTube perfectly. When it comes down to it, YouTube is just a site for like-minded people to share videos and discuss their interests, learning all the while.  In the case for musicians and those wanting to learn and perfect their crafts, it provides the necessary tools to begin to become a better guitar player or better singer, etc.
youtube_2017_logo
However, the downfalls to learning solely on YouTube are plenty. For example, if all you know how to do and play is what you see on some guy named Steve’s YouTube channel, you most likely will not have a successful career as a musician, or any career for that matter. I think the most important thing to note is that YouTube is just a stepping stone, helping to fill up your musical toolbox. It can only teach you but so much before you need to step out on your own and experience music in the real, live world.
In conclusion, I am all for learning how to play instruments on YouTube. I actually learned how to play harmonica thanks to some guy on YouTube when I was 14. Yet, students need not use YouTube and other online learning platforms as a crutch. The most important learning comes from how you use your practice time and skills, as well as stage time.

 

Burgess, Jean, and Joshua Green. 2009. YouTube: Online video and participatory culture. Malden MA: Polity Press.

And in conclusion???

So four years ago, I like many of you, came to the Bluegrass program here at ETSU with eyes wide in excitement at the prospect of learning all there was to know about Bluegrass music. I had been involved in the music for over thirty years when I came to the program and so my perspective may have been a little different than many of you, but the enthusiasm for learning what made up this music was present, as was a desire to better be able to define this music we love so much.
Now I am not writing this to bash the program, so I do not want anyone to misinterpret what I am about to say here. But what have we learned really?
After these four years, I find myself more confused than when I came to the program about what Bluegrass music really is. When I came to the program, I had a vision of what comprised Bluegrass in my world. Having had access to the professional side of the business for the better part of my life had given me some insight, right? Maybe to some aspects of it, but the controversy surrounding what was or was not Bluegrass music never quite emerged for me in the manner it has here in the program.
I think this has brought to light for me a bigger issue that is revolving within the Bluegrass community, and that is one of identity. The community as a whole has yet to concretize what is or is not bluegrass. There is a clear division amongst the ranks of the community, and we see it from the highest levels of the community, to the smallest jam sessions.
So where does that leave us as musicians, academics and professionals within the industry? Are we to fight a never ending tug of war which only serves to hurt the industry. AS an industry, do we need to concretize the definition of what is or is not Bluegrass?

In my recent interviews with Allen Mills and James King I heard them describing how in being themselves, they became considered traditional. They spoke of taking the music from the back porch to the stage, and the choices they made in doing so. Many of these choices were determined by their own personal tastes, and influences not those of the industry. These are two greats, who by any standard could be considered some of the traditional stalwarts of the industry. In my interviews, they seemed to value being true to yourself over being true to the industry, the rest will, as James put it, “all fall in where it’s supposed to… your influences will show through and shape what you create, but you have to create something new.”
This was a point Allen spoke to as well stating, “when we started we were progressive, then ten years later, we were contemporary, ten years after that we were traditional, but all that changed was what people perceived us as and called us. Our music stayed the same.

With that in mind, I think this idea of being Bluegrass is something to be reflected on after the fact, rather than something used as a compass for our musical efforts. Don’t let the constraints of others determine who you are, just be yourself and let those who listen decide for themselves.
So we have now spent four years studying a subject which, even by professionals and academics can not be defined in a concise or consistent manner.
What are we as the industries new authorities on the subject going to do about this? How are we going to define something controlled more by perception than hard and fast parameters, and more importantly how will hold together a community that is increasingly divided by these perceptions?

Saving Old Time Music: Appalachia’s Youth Programs Combat Culture Loss

BSGJAMSBanjo

Above: Julie Shepherd-Powell teaches beginning banjo to students at the Southwest Virginia Museum where the Big Stone Gap branch of Junior Appalachian Musicians is hosted.

Old Time music has long been plagued by theme, “Music is dying and must be passed on to younger generations for survival.” This theme holds some truth; culture of any variety experiences a loss when the transmission process is interrupted or disappears. Organizations led by prominent Old Time musicians have been created all across the southern Appalachians to combat what they see as a loss of Old Time music. These youth initiatives are attempting to pass Old Time music to a younger generation through after school programs and summer camps.  I recently spoke with an instructor of two programs located in Wise County, Virginia about the “boom” of youth programs and whether this theme that has inspired many of the new programs seems pertinent to instructors and musicians of the area.

MMSBanjo

 

Above: Approaching its tenth anniversary, Mountain Music School hosts a number of instructors including Julie to teach Old Time music at beginning and advanced levels.

Julie currently instructs for Wise JAMs (Junior Appalachian Musicians) and Mountain Music School, both located in Big Stone Gap. She teaches beginning and intermediate clawhammer banjo. When asked why she felt these programs came into existence in Wise County she replied, “because Wise County does have this…, interesting heritage. Kate Peters Sturgill and, .. Dock Boggs..”.  Our discussion centered on how she teaches students and what it is that motivates her to instruct her students on certain aspects of the music’s history or tunes. We also discussed how the “dying” theme held some truth. Music was passed along family lines, but today that isn’t happening. Julie relayed how her students had “a little bit of a connection in that way, but then there are some who, you know, maybe they did have grandparents or great-grandparents who played, but its seems to have been lost along the way.”

Programs such as Junior Appalachian Musicians and Mountain Music School are striving to preserve and pass along the tradition of Old Time music in the Appalachians. They are helping youth throughout the region recognize the value of their heritage. Although it is disappointing to see the old techniques of cultural transmission disappear, it is important to document these new movements of passing along music. These programs are innovative and now the current way that Old Time music is being transported to the next generation.

 

The Life and Legacy of A Sideman: A Look into The Career of Tim Laughlin

Many folks may not have heard the name Time Laughlin, but I am sure many are associated with bands that he has worked with over his extensive career as a sideman in the professional bluegrass industry. Including stints with Marty Raybon, Dale Ann Bradley, Darren Beachley, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, and many others. Tim has mastered the art of being a hired hand. One that does what he’s expected to do in each opportunity and rises to each occasion breathlessly. The background of my meeting him are not important, but the advice and insight he has provided in the area of being a side musician in professional bluegrass are exactly what many of us need. Sometimes what he advised is harsh and not what I personally wanted to hear, but the truth is worth more than any amount of lies that can be fed into our minds about what the future may hold.

A sideman is a disposable part of any band, that is only there to a job and if the lead man sees fit, that person can easily be interchanged with someone else, creating a never ending cycle of leaving bands and joining new ones that we see as variety, but is really just struggling to survive. Many sidemen have to wear several hats in the industry or outside the industry to be able to make a decent living. Tim, for example, teaches fiddle and mandolin and does session work outside playing with bands. He stressed the fact of always having another form of income so youre always being paid for something. There are several months out of the year when bands do not go on the road, so one must have another steady form of income for those times. 

Also, the business is ever changing. What was acceptable and normal in the early days of Tim’s career have long since been left behind for “greener pastures” of commercialism. For a sideman to be successful, they must always be willing to learn and work diligently to meet the demands of all the twists and turns the music business makes. The days of imitating are long over, today leans more on individuality and polish. The raw idea of bluegrass is no longer a part of the professional business, money has led to cleaner more modern sounds, this causes folks that have long been wanted sidemen, to lose opportunities if they are not willing and capable of changing with it. Tim mentioned the most important part of being capable of professional work, is to already have your own sound and taste developed that sets you apart from anyone else, because thats what bands are looking for, as well as being able to replicate this sound consistently night after night. Sidemen must be versatile in many different styles of music, in order to easily fit into any situation that may come along.

 http://youtu.be/vVyOvEVa5gI

But, how does one get “in the door” professionally for all this to even take effect. Laughlin said it is the same today as it has been for his whole career, even through the rise and falls of the industry. Its not about how good you are, or studied you are. Its all about who in the business you know, and who knows you. For example, Laughlin, right before I headed to IBMA, told me not just get in a corner somewhere and play, but put myself right out in front of the top guys in the business and let my musical abilities speak for themselves. He said in the business, it is important to shake and hands and socialize, but you must speak with music first and then that second. Marketing is the key to success in the industry, not only to get ones first job, but also to be able to have consistent work with many different people and styles. This simple strategy is what got Laughlin his first job, and earned the respect and merit of other top musicians and bands, to have steady work for over twenty years.

 http://youtu.be/7iiAqPJinOk

I think many young musicians looking to find their way through the maze of the commercial music business, can learn much from folks such as Tim who have been incredibly successful over their lifetimes. These friendships can last a lifetime and also may even be the first step towards reaching your goals as a musician. Maybe then you too can one day have a legacy as a sideman, like Tim Laughlin.

Barry Dudley’s Five-String Fiddles by Brittany Jones

Barry Dudley is a violin maker in Georgia who specializes in building five-string fiddles.

Traditionally, the violin or fiddle has four strings that are tuned to G, D, A, and E, but a five-string fiddle also includes a lower C string.  This combination gives the fiddle a tonal range of both a violin and viola.  Although the five-string fiddle is allowing musicians to have a new approach to their playing, historically, bowed instruments with five strings are not a new invention.   Jerald Franklin Archer compares five-string violins to similar instruments used in the past in his article 5 String Violins: The Black Sheep of the Family?  “The instrument a violinist is familiar with evolved from the viols and some other instruments like the Pardessus de viola, or Quinton, a five-string hybrid instrument, in use during the 18th century, that combines characteristics of the viol and the violin.  Its body resembles a violin’s, save for the sloping shoulders; but its neck is fretted like a viol’s.  It was tuned g-d’-a’-d”-g”.  A fifth string was also included on cellos.  “J.S. Bach wrote his last solo ‘cello Partita for an instrument known as the piccolo cello, which was smaller than the normal size of a ‘cello and possessed an added high E string.”  The pardessus de viole is the smallest size of viola da gamba, which is the ancestor of the modern double-bass, and it was created around 1690.  It started out as an instrument with six strings and then was modified to have five and four strings.  The quinton is a variation that has a body similar to a violin.

pardessusdeviole2              pardessusdeviole

Barry Dudley began building five-string fiddles sometime between 2004 and 2005.  He became inspired to build instruments as a guitar player in the early 1970s when he visited Diapason Guitar Shop in Decatur, Georgia, and saw Wade Lowe, a guitar maker and the owner of the shop, carving the headstock of a classical guitar.  Wade Lowe became Dudley’s mentor and muse.  He did not start building instruments until about twenty years later when he bought a book and taught himself how to build guitars.  He took his first guitar over to Wade Lowe, who had been making violins at this point.  Lowe told Dudley, “You need to make violins!”  Dudley responded, “I can’t play a violin.  I don’t know anything about them.  I don’t wanna do that.”  Wade Lowe was persistent and convinced Barry Dudley to try building violins.  After he finished his first violin, he admitted that he was hooked.  By 2004-2005, David Blackmon, a fiddle player from Athens, Georgia, visited Dudley’s shop and convinced him to make a five-string violin.  He decided to try it and was very satisfied with the results, so he built a few more.  He took one of his five-string violins to a venue in Athens, Georgia, where The Duhks were playing.  Their violinist, Tania Elizabeth, played his fiddle and ended up buying it from him.  Tania Elizabeth was recently seen on the David Letterman Show playing the same violin she bought from Dudley.

Barry Dudley acquires his materials for building fiddles from a few suppliers that he has developed over the years.  He buys woods from a supplier in Oregon.  His tops come from a company in Missouri that supplies tops for Collings mandolins and guitars.  He buys maple in lots of thirty or forty sets at one time directly from Bosnia.  Then, he brings it into the shop, measure the moisture content, and puts it up on a shelf to acclimate and age.  On average, it takes about 130 to 150 man hours to build one fiddle, and he spends about eight to ten hours a day building.  Barry Dudley prefers the sound of Guarneri violins over Stradivari violins, so he has always used Guarneri patterns for building.  The first pattern he ever used was Guarneri’s King Joseph.  After making a few violins from that pattern, he changed to a pattern from the violin that Niccoló Paganini made famous, The Canon.  He bought a set of prints and expanded them about 110%, and that became the pattern he uses for five-string fiddles.

Dudley uses a variety of woods for building violins.  He explains that traditionally, violins have always been made out of maple.  The backs, sides, and neck are usually maple, and the top is always some type of spruce.  Since he began building instruments as a guitar maker, he became curious about using popular guitar woods for building violins.  He tried building some with traditional guitar woods such as rosewood, mahogany, black walnut, bubinga, which is an African wood, and ebony.  He has also built fiddles from cocobolo, ziricote, imbuia, and shedua.  Dudley noticed that many professional or proficient fiddle players became interested in the different types of woods for fiddles.  Since these players usually already have good instruments built from maple, many are open to trying a unique fiddle made out of a different type of wood.  The main difference between the types of wood he uses is the density, because certain woods are denser and heavier, but he said, “the harmonics and the overtones that are produced from those denser woods are a little more refined, and you get a little more separation between the fundamental, and the secondary, and tertiary harmonics.”  Dudley said that he gets the most requests for fiddles made out of bubinga, but it is also the most difficult to work with because the wood is really hard.  His favorite wood to work with is ebony because it is more fine and easy to carve.  Dudley mentions that he has an idea of how a fiddle is going to sound based on details in the wood while he is building it.  During different stages of building he holds up the wood and taps on it to listen to the tone that it produces.  He listens for resonance, sustain, and a lively sound.  Even early in the building process, these factors determine if the fiddle is going to be outstanding or just good.

Here are pictures of a violin made from East Indian Rosewood:

   Rosewood5 Rosewood6

Rose4  Rosewood2  Rosewood1

Here are pictures of a violin made from Cocobolo:

cocobolo   cocobolo2    cocobolo7

These are pictures of violins made from Bubinga:

Bubinga2Bubinga3 bubinga6 bubinga9

This is a Rosewood fiddle that Barry Dudley made for Bobby Hicks:

BobbyHicksRosewood1 BobbyHicksRosewood2

These violins are made from Ebony:

blondebony2 blondebony3  blackebony3  blackebony1

These violins are made from Black Walnut:

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This violin is made from Ziricote:

ziricote

This is the Barry Dudley’s signature design for the f-holes:

 cuttingfholes1 cuttingfholes2 cuttingfholes3 fholes

These are some of his patterns for building:

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Here are pictures in the shop and one from IBMA with Bobby Hicks playing one of his fiddles:

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Most of Dudley’s sales come from Europe and Canada, but he has also done business in Australia, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Holland, and in the United States.  He decides how much to charge for his fiddles by basing the price around what is affordable for working musicians.  Dudley explains some of his values, “Believe it or not, I really do — part of the joy of making the instruments is not just the money.  I need the money to pay my bills just like everybody else, but it’s the music that people make with the instruments.  And so, being able to put the instruments in people’s hands that are — that are actually gonna play them, make music, and make people happy — that’s important to me.  You know, that’s a valuable thing to me.”

Barry Dudley states that there is a growing demand for five-string fiddles, and about ninety-five percent of the instruments he builds are five-strings.  He states that five-string fiddles have more playing options and the lower C string offers fiddle players a different tonal range that is great for improvising and backing up singers.  “I’ve had a lot of fiddle players tell me that they can play licks kind of like a saxophone player, you know — that it allows them to do a lot more things that — that they just never really thought they could do before.”  Dudley thinks the five-string fiddle is unlimited in what it can do in contemporary music.  He has even had customers that are strongly rooted in classical music use their five-strings to play chamber music.

Barry Dudley believes that there is a growing demand for five-string fiddles, and about ninety-five percent of the instruments he builds are five-strings.  Five-string fiddles have more playing options and the lower C string offers fiddle players a different tonal range that works great for improvising and backing up singers.  He has even had customers that are strongly rooted in classical music use their five-strings to play chamber music.  Dudley thinks the five-string fiddle is unlimited in what it can do in contemporary music.

When asked what style of music most of his customers play, he explains “Most of them play — I hate to say bluegrass — because the term bluegrass is – has changed so much.  Contemporary bluegrass and country has melded together.  It has a lot of jazz in it, and it has — I think because there’s so many young players now that have come out of classical training — you know, they’ve had school where they’ve been trained as classical players.  They bring a lot of that — a lot of that technique and discipline and, the ear for classical music — they bring that to the world of bluegrass or country or Americana, Celtic, all of these genres.  Those are the ones that everybody seems to love.”

Dudley compares his fiddles to other popular five-string builders today by stating “I believe that I make quality fiddles and that’s — I think that’s brought out by the fact that I have a good clientele of professional players that could play other people’s instruments, but that’s not to say that my violins are the only good ones out there.  Instruments are like our significant others in our lives, you know, you — you find one that you love, and — and you — others that you really like, but they’re not quite that one that you really love, you know, and so — there are other makers that make outstanding instruments that other people may like better than mine.  I just hope that I can find more people that like mine the best.”

Barry Dudley currently shows his instruments at two events per year.  He travels to IBMA and to Barcelona, Spain.  He has been invited to come to Merlefest and is considering traveling there next year.

This video shows two jazz violinists playing on Barry Dudley’s five-string fiddles.  Oriol Saña is a jazz professor in Barcelona.

Here is a video of Darol Anger playing a five-string made by Barry Dudley:

 

Genre Borrowing

 

Genre borrowing is one of they key things in help shaping another musical genre and bluegrass is no exception.  We can hear various elements in the music that may sound a little similar if you listen to a variety of genres

There is one particular instrument that I hear a lot of bluesy type stuff on and that is the dobro.  There are many licks that I hear that are slide blues guitar variations.  Some of the licks that I heard Josh Graves do sound very similar to some Elmore James licks.  These are standard slide guitar licks that have been traced back to Elmore James, not just in the blues world but in bluegrass today.

There is also a very large play in bluegrass music from folk music a well.  Folk artists such as Bob Dylan have had a large influence in the bluegrass world.  The Bob Dylan songs “Walking Down the Line” and “Girl from the North Country have both been covered by the Country Gentlemen and were quite successful.  One song that I previously mentioned before was “Nashville Skyline Rag”.  That was also a Dylan tune that has now become a standard in the bluegrass world.

During my interview with Brad Beavers I found out about more bands who do a great deal of mixing genres.

TM:    ” Are there any specific bands that are not bluegrass that you see being borrowed from more so than others?”

BB:     “Well lets see, you got Hayseed Dixie that does a lot of AC/DC stuff. You got a the Cleverly’s, they to everything from the Black Eyed Peas to Bill Monroe.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMfh4WQuGc8

“Trevor McKenzie: Learning, Teaching, Sharing and Creating Old Time Music” by Joy Blair

Trevor McKenzie is an Old Time musician in Boone, North Carolina. He makes lots of music in and around that area, and is a prominent figure in Boone’s lively traditional music community. That community was actually the first place that I heard Old Time Music being played, back in 2008, which is why I was so eager to visit when this project opportunity arose.
Here is Trevor playing banjo and singing on “Mountain Dew,” with Matthew Weaver and friends, a group of Boone musicians:

Originally from Rural Retreat, Virginia, Trevor trained on Banjo and Guitar with Jim Lloyd at his Barber Shop in Rural Retreat from approximately 1998 to 2007, when he moved to Boone to attend Appalachian State University. He has since continued to play with Jim as a member of Jim Lloyd and the Skyliners, and The Elkville String Band. In fact, the latter outfit recently recorded an album entitled “My Brushy Mountain Home.” Trevor has also participated in a number of other recording projects lately, including contributing banjo and vocals to The Crooked Road Ramblers’ upcoming album “Mule to Ride,” and guitar and vocals on the upcoming various artist album “New Young Fogies, Volume 2.” He is also currently working with Mark Freed on the soundtrack to the audiobook “Voices from the Headwaters,” by Pat Beaver, a book of oral histories from along the New River in Ashe County, North Carolina.

On November 7, 2013, I interviewed Trevor McKenzie at The Jones House Community Center in Boone, North Carolina. During our interview, Trevor discussed his thoughts and experiences regarding several topics that I consider apropos to contemporary Old Time music making. These topics include learning and teaching Old Time music (i.e. Modes of Transmission), experiences in the Old Time Music community, and creativity as an Old Time musician.

In the interview, Trevor highlights several aspects of his learning experiences including his time spent learning from Jim Lloyd, as well as his time spent in independent study –he has never taken formal lessons on fiddle. **Excerpt**

“but the lessons were
ya know
Jim would just set there
and ya know
somebody had a haircut to come in, he would just say
like
work on this, and then he would go and give a haircut
and he would sit there, and he would, ya know, every once and a while look up from cuttin’ somebody’s hair  and be like, ‘well, no, that’s not it.’
He would direct me on stuff. It was very informal
like,
at the time I was doing it there was no tablature
I had a tape recorder with tapes
and um
I would record what he played and I’d go home
and then by the end of it I wasn’t recording anything,  I would just pick it up and remember it and go home and play it
or remember the lyrics and
um
but it, it’s kinda
it’s not like exactly formal lessons, I mean I think we paid, like, 5 or 10 dollars for 30 minutes when I first started.
and um
and the thing was, by, ya know
once he gets to know you and stuff, you’ll
like,
I would get smacked with a fiddle bow if I did something wrong, like ‘no, that’s wrong.’
 or he would kick you in the shins and, ya know, it got to be a joke that you’d have to wear knee pads to go in there if you didn’t practice and
‘why didn’t you practice?’ ya know, SMACK

Trevor carries the musical aspects of his learning experiences into his teaching at The Jones House Community Center in Boone, where he prefers to utilize only a minimal amount of tablature, encouraging students to learn rather by ear or from other musicians. He says, “It’s ear training. And if you’re always giving somebody a sheet, they’re never, that’s not the point of it… That’s not how this stuff became what it was in the first place… and the fact that you get to spend time with a person face to face, I think that always makes it a bit more valuable.”

Trevor’s interaction with the Old Time community, not only in Boone, but in Virginia and other regions of North Carolina, is evident throughout this interview. As he tells his story of learning to play fiddle, he speaks of multiple regional communities, including Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Charlottesville, Virginia, and Davey County, North Carolina, and draws connections to names and places that would peak the interest of most contemporary Old Time music enthusiasts. Moreover, Trevor describes one impression of the broader Old Time Music community beautifully. **Excerpt**
“It seems that the people that get into old time music
no matter where they’re from
they seem to want to know more about who they are
and who they come from
or the history of places
which I think is even more important
because the place is always
you can never be
no matter how much technology is out there
you can never physically be anywhere else other than where you are, so
and I think that having that–
I’ve heard people knock that sense of place thing and say it’s outmoded or outdated these days
and I think the music kinda helps you,
helps remind you that
you know
we’re all kind of
I don’t know
I bet I could get piffy with that, but you know,
we’re all kind of temporary, but the place stays
and there’s always going to be a remnant of the people before you and of you if you play the right way.
And the music’s one of those things.”

The line “if you play the right way,” is a perfect segue into the final theme of the interview that I will discuss, and that is creativity. In a couple of instances throughout the interview, Trevor offers his ideas on song writing and genre crossing as an Old Time musician. Perhaps my favorite example lies within his description of Old Time musical sensibilities as “kidneys.” **Excerpt** He says:

“I think it’s looking at old time music, not just as a style with a certain set of tunes, but as a filter that you can
it’s just like any other music
You take that style and you know what it is
and then it’s kinda like the kidneys of your music you just
you know
you filter everything that you consume through that.”

In relaying his experiences, Trevor McKenzie, an active, contemporary Old Time musician in Boone, North Carolina, addresses several topics that are relevant to Old Time musicking today. Those topics include learning and teaching Old Time music, the Old Time music community, and creativity in Old Time music. Thus, the content of this interview would be of interest to both present and future researchers investigating current Old Time music making.