Rural Missouri - March 2013 - (Page 24)
by Jim McCarty
oward Marshall likes to use
the words ﬁddle and violin
interchangeably in any conversation about Missouri’s
state musical instrument. According
to him, aside from a few subtle differences, they are the same thing.
“A ﬁddle went to Moberly Area
Community College,” he explains. “A
violin went to Harvard.”
For 40 years, the Callaway Electric
Cooperative member from Millersburg has been researching old-time
ﬁddling, which he calls “homemade
music.” Recently, he shared the gems
of that research in a new book titled
“Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri.”
If anyone was going to write the
deﬁnitive book on this Missouri tradition, it would have to be Howard
Marshall, or Rusty as his friends know
him. A retired professor from the University of Missouri’s Department of
Art History and Archeology, Howard
once taught a course on folklife that
frequently revolved around his ﬁddle.
He’s a pretty fair ﬁddle player himself,
having studied at the feet of some of
the state’s greatest ﬁddlers.
He’s the author of 10 books, including Rural Missouri’s “Barns of Missouri:
Storehouses of History.” While these
books could serve as university texts,
they are written in a way that makes
them interesting to all.
“I didn’t really do this for the
scholarly world,” Howard says of his
latest effort. “It has enough scholarship in it that it would be useful at a
Bryn Mawr or Berkeley (two universities) or wherever someone was teaching about the theory of traditional
ﬁddling. But it’s really for the people
in the book.”
The new book and its accompanying CD of ﬁddle music is the result of
a life devoted to preserving the history and culture surrounding ﬁddle
playing. The title hints at the ﬁddle’s
status as the “devil’s instrument,” a
concept used by early preachers who
were concerned with the instrument’s
ability to make people want to dance.
The book covers the evolution of
ﬁddle playing from the earliest Missouri settlements by the French to the
1920s when the inﬂuence of jazz and
ragtime was felt.
Much of this information probably has never seen the light of day.
Included are most of the ethnic
groups that made Missouri the colorful state it is. These include the
French, Irish, German,
and oldstock Missourians from
also devoted a
chapter to the
Howard Marshall’s book tells
the story of ﬁddling in Missouri
through the eyes of
many old-time ﬁddlers he interviewed.
Folklorist Howard Marshall spent the better part of 40 years researching the origins of ﬁddle music and the people who play it in
Missouri. He shares this effort in a new book called “Play Me Something Quick and Devilish.”
New book preserves ﬁddle playing for the future
American Indian ﬁddlers.
The book helps explain the three
primary styles of Missouri ﬁddling:
Ozark, Little Dixie and North Missouri. If readers don’t understand the
difference from his text, they can turn
to the CD, which holds 39 recordings
of ﬁddle music played by people mentioned in the book.
But what really makes this an interesting work are the stories about the
music and the people who play it.
The story of Missouri ﬁddling is told
through the voices of recent ﬁddlers
who become a bridge to the past.
“Sometimes the story behind the
tune is a lot more interesting than
the tune itself,” Howard says. “There
are thousands of tunes that are very
much alike, and we can’t hardly tell
them apart. Most of the tunes in the
book — and there are hundreds mentioned — I could probably give
you a run at where every one
of those came from.”
One example he cites is a
tune called “Billy in the Low
Ground.” Howard thought
the tune might be about a
goat caught in a swamp.
Instead, it turned out to be
based on a battle fought
by William the Conqueror
There are hundreds
of ﬁddle players mentioned in the book, so
don’t expect Howard
to name his favorites.
However, several stand
out as masters of the
art, he says.
Two of his peers were Taylor McBawinning ﬁddling contests with a techine and Pete McMahan, two Little
nique so good, Howard believes many
Dixie-style ﬁddlers who taught him
of the old-timers could not top them.
much of what he knows. “Both taught
What concerns him isn’t the playme a lot, but they were completely
ing. “One of the things that became
different teachers,” Howard says.
very clear when I was writing this
“Taylor, whatever you
book was that the venues or the
played, he would say,
opportunities to play the ﬁddle
‘That’s great. But maybe
have changed in a way that
if you try a little more
isn’t necessarily good. Danc•
of this . . .’ When I played
Millersburg ing is the reason for ﬁddling.
something for Pete, he
The dances have almost
would lean over in his chair
and say, ‘Howard, you’ll
Only in a few places,
never get it.’”
such as Ava and HallsAnother of his favorites
ville, have the community
was Cyril Stinnett, a North Missourisquare dances led by a ﬁddle player
style ﬁddler from Savannah. “There’s
— not a caller with an iPod — continstill people, including myself, who are
ued. Many of those old-time ﬁddlers
trying to ﬁgure out how he did what
recorded by Howard are gone. Still,
he did,” Howard says.
he is conﬁdent enough in the future
Cyril was so good that people often
of old-time ﬁddling to be planning a
challenged him by handing him a ﬁdsequel to this book.
dle that was of poor quality, cracked
“All these years, it’s just like pullor badly out of tune. “He would say,
ing chess pieces off my board,” he
‘Well, I don’t know.’ Thirty seconds
says of those who have passed away.
later, he was playing it the best you’ve
“Am I just left with a couple of pawns
ever heard,” Howard says.
and maybe one rook? I sure hope not.
Often, Howard is asked whether
People are going to play the ﬁddle. It
ﬁddle music can survive in this digimight not sound just the way I play
tal age. He points out that ﬁddle and
it, but believe me, they are going to
violin playing by young people is at
be playing ‘Soldier’s Joy’ in Martian
an all-time high due to the rise of new
colonies 100 years from now.”
teaching courses such as the Suzuki
method, which stresses learning at a
“Play Me Something Quick and Devyoung age and playing by ear instead
ilish” is 398 pages and includes a CD
of relying on sheet music.
with 39 ﬁddle tunes. It costs $29.95
Today’s ﬁddlers can log onto Youand can be found at most bookstores or
Tube and not only hear, but see, their
ordered online at http://press.umsystem.
favorite ﬁddlers perform. Fiddling is
edu or by calling 800-621-2736.
gaining acceptance among classical
You can contact Howard Marshall at
musicians. Twelve-year-old girls are
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2013
Rural Missouri - March 2013
Table of Contents
Musings in mud
The lure of tying flies
Out of the Way Eats
Queens of the court
Hearth and Home
All about mulch
Rural Missouri - March 2013
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