Rural Missouri - March 2013 - (Page 24)

H by Jim McCarty jmccarty@ruralmissouri.coop 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, AfricanAmerican and oldstock Missourians from Southern states. Howard also devoted a chapter to the little-studied Howard Marshall’s book tells the story of fiddling in Missouri through the eyes of many old-time fiddlers he interviewed. 24 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.” Homegrown music 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 in Scotland. 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 disappeared.” 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 howard.marshall1944@gmail.com. WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://press.umsystem.edu http://press.umsystem.edu http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2013

Rural Missouri - March 2013
Table of Contents
Comments
Columns
Musings in mud
The lure of tying flies
Outdoors
Out of the Way Eats
Living history
Queens of the court
Homegrown music
Hearth and Home
All about mulch
Around Missouri
Marketplace
Neighbors
Just4Kids

Rural Missouri - March 2013

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