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January 15, 1978 - Image 14

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Michigan Daily, 1978-01-15
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Page 4=Sunday, January 15, 1978-The Michigan Daily

Page4-Snda, Jnuar 15 198-Te Mihign DilyThe Michigan Daily-Sunday, A~

Picking 'nfrailing
in Berea, Kentucky
A celebration of traditional music

HE APPALACHIANS. In the mind of
the outsider, the name conjures up few
romantic images; we do not see the
sharp, savage immensity of the Rockies
or the pastoral vistas of the Adiron-
dacks. Instead, we vaguely recall National Geo-
graphic picture essays-scarred, strip-mined hill-
sides and dingy wooden cabins.
But, of course, the people who live in these hills

phasize the melodies and pay little attention to the
My old hen's a good ol' hen
she lays eggs for the railroad man
sometimes one, sometimes two
Always enough for the whole darn crew.
* * *
Throughout the festival weekend the middle-

By Eric Zorn
do not view their lives and their land in such aged were absent from the crowds of sprightly
cliches. For them, the Appalachians are alive and older men and women and student-type im-
vibrant, a place of myth and memory and migrants drawn from midwestern campuses. Dr.
folktales. And, as happens all over the world, Loyal Jones, coordinator of the festival and direc-
these myths and memories are best expressed in tor of the Center of Appalachian Studies at the
music. college, expressed a common concern of older
Appalachian traditional music-old backwoods listeners that the styles and the songs which com-
songs characterized by thunking banjo rhythms, prise old-time music will be changed permanently
droning fiddle breaks and sprightly lyrics-still by the younger generation.
has a small but dedicated group of adherents scat- "You see, the older musicians whom we see per-
tered throughout the valleys. forming here are the last group of entertainers to
Every autumn, the faithful gather in Berea, grow up without the notion of music and money
Kentucky to perform and celebrate their art form. being intertwined," said Jones. "We've skipped a
Berea College, the heart of this southern academic generation, and hardly anyone's learning
community for more than a century, has long been anything firsthand, from the original sources. Too
a center for the study and preservation of Ap- many people are simple picking songs off of
palachian culture. Museums and small craft shops recordings, then interpreting them without ever
dot the campus, and on the last weekend of every really coming in direct contact with the music and
October the college hosts a celebration of mountain-region people themselves. To share the
traditional music. older traditions in a close and personal way is one
Half an hour before the festival was to begin of our big objectives."
early on a Thursday afternoon last fall, the quiet This would explain why there are so few "big
town betrayed none of the activity which usually names" in attendance at Berea. Hardly any of the
announces the start of a music festival. By all ap- acts on the schedule of performances would be
pearances, the semester was progressing as usual familiar to an average Michigan country or
across-the campus. The calm that reigned in bluegrass music fan. Indeed, it is a policy of the
Berea that afternoon was evidence that old-time program officials not to invite any act back to
followers are not the sort to rush into a small town Berea more than two or three years in a row in or-
and raise an uncompromising ruckus. Some 20 der to discourage any emphasis on fame and
years ago there wouldn't have been anyone in the crowd popularity.
area for the festival at all; no one listened much to But also as a result of this particular emphasis,
the old-time music, and devoted musicians could some of the performers-notably the older
'I can't say if we'll see another revolution, if the next genera-
tion will break away from traditional music. But I tell you, I have_
a little five-year-old daughter, and she's learning the fiddle and bal-
lads too. I'm going to push it down her throat.'
- Sheila Rice, Berea festival performer

Photos by Eric Zorn
It seemed like the whole town of Berea was
out hoofing and stomping, clapping and whis-
tling along with the performers at-the old-
time music festival. Among the celebrants
(from left to right, clockwise) J.P. Fraley
teaches assembled amateurs his version of
"Arkansas Traveler"; a young Berea woman
clog dances enthusiastically on stage during
Friday night's concert; an old man from
"down the road a way" demonstrates his
technique on a borrowed fiddle (that's his
hand on the magazine cover); old-timer
George Hbwkins scratches the strings back-
stage before a performance; and Sheila Rice
belts out one of her haunting mountain

be found only among an older generation of moun-
tain folk who rarely ventured farther than the
front porch of their cabin for concert appearances.
But there has been a revival in this country in
recent years as many young people have taken up
the banjos, fiddles and guitars of their ancestors to
recreate the old-time spirit. Unlike country music
with its whiny electric guitars, unlike bluegrass
with its sharp, hard-driving melodies; and unlike
much. folk music shaped around lyrics which
carry strong social and moral messages, old-time
music is the quintessence of quaint simplicity and
frankness. The ballads are woven from simple
stories, often drawn from English and Irish
traditions. Fiddle tunes and faster songs em-
Eric Zorn, a Residential College sopho-
more, plays the banjo, guitar, mandoline
and aparticularly melancholy fiddle.

ones--have ordinary to -poor singing voices and
are not especially skilled instrumentally. Would-
be harmonies sometimes soured and fiddles ten-
ded to squawk in protest at sloppy bowing.
However the audience did not seem to mind if an
historically important performer, perhaps well in-
to his dotage, occasionally forgot a few words and
strummed a 'C' chord when he wanted a 'D'.
* * *
Among the younger performers was Sheila
Rice, a clawhammer-style banjo player and
singer from Madison County, North Carolina. Her
strong, clear voice and distinctive southern twang
were perfect for both nonsense songs and a capella
ballads, a repertoire which she learned entirely
from her great-aunt: "She's seventy-eight years
old now, and I'm afraid I'm not going to learn all
the songs from her before she dies."
For her living, Rice teaches fourth grade in the
mountains of western North Carolina. Athough

she considers her music a full-time hobby, she
makes only four or five concert appearances
throughout the year at regional music festivals.
"I don't consider myself a professional, and I
won't cut records. Of course I've been asked to
several times, but I'm still not sure enough of what
I'm doing. Remember that I'm directly
backtracking fifty years for my music, and that's
not easy."
Modern influences on the music are inevitable,
Rice believes, due to the input of the younger
generation. Still she insists, "I've accepted the
new influence, but I'm not going to change
anything in the music myself." In her opinion, the
economic opportunities which accompanied World
War II tempted her parents' generation away
from mountain society and thus from the old-time
music which was an integral part of their lives. "I
can't say if we'll see another revolution-if the
next generation will break away from traditional
N CONTRAST to Rice's straightforward,
I amateur-bound approach to her music,
David Holt, coordinator of the Appalachian
Music Program at Warren Wilson College
in North Carolina, presents an image of a

new breed of "professional" performer. A self-
styled entertainer, Holt warmed up his act with
some small talk, taught everybody the chorus to'
"I Wish I Was a Mole In The Ground" and played
the old fiddle feature "Turkey in the Straw" ham-
bone style-slapping various parts of his body to
sound the notes-while the walls of the old chapel
shook to the roof with laughter and applause.
"Many of these older people have never been en-
tertainers," Holt said later, "and festivals would
get pretty dull without a few lively acts."
Holt considers the decline in the old-time
tradition and the subsequent surge in popularity of
country-and-western swing during the forties a
reaction to the Depression: "Old-time music
reminded people of the thirties, and for those in
Appalachia, these were extremely unpleasant
times." He looks with optimism, however, toward
the future. "The recent growth in popularity of
traditional music is a trend and not a fad. We're
not going to lose the beauty of the old-time
tradition because traditions come about with some
sort of development through history. In that sense,
the tradition is very healthy and in no danger of
* ** * -

The effects of mass media on the music tradition
are worrisome to some performers-even though
record sales aren't big in old-time, they're in-
creasing yearly. And with the exception of
festivals, students learning the music no longer
have personal contact with the people who have
grown up in the musical tradition.
Still, people like Karen Colins, a thirtyish banjo
player from Lexington, Kentucky, don't scorn the,
new musical aids spawned by modern technology.
"I've found the process is a bit like quilting," she
said. "I was in a quilting group just recently with
some younger women, and, where I had learned
everything I know from my grandma and my
mamma, these girls had picked up all their
techniques from published instruction books. They
could do tremendous things, things I'd never seen.
rI guess they still don't have the feel for what
-quilting is really all about. Growing up with a
specific tradition means that you will know it bet-
ter, but in most cases your experiences will be
J. P. Fraley, a mine official from Rush, Ken-
tucky, and a consummate artist on the fiddle, also
doesn't play by sheet music. "I-play by letter," he
told a workshop gathering. "Let 'er go!" Later

Fraley went outside the Alumni Hall to saw away
with members of the audience who had brought
along their instruments. As one of the venerated
older performers, J.P. quickly drew a circle of
fiddlers, and in the parking lot under a mild
autumn sun he set to teaching them all his-
variations pn the standard square dance melodies..
That evening, J.P. had found another
stage-campus chapel, where he appeared ac-
companied by his wife, Anadeen. Secure now in
their popularity, the couple told a story about an
incident from their leaner years: J.P. had decided
that Anadeen really needed a new guitar just prior
to a fiddling contest scheduled for a local county
fair where the first prize was one hundred dollars.
It was; by coincidence, the exact price of the
guitar Anadeen wanted. The husband and wife
team were so certain they were going to win that
they scraped together a down payment, got the
guitar, and used it in the act to win the contest.
" ELL, YOU ASK me about tradi-
tion," said the craggy-faced 82-
year-old fiddler Columbus Wil-
liams one .day after lunch.
"J.P. Fraley is over there school-.

ing those young fiddlers,
the best in the country
about tradition when th
on." Williams himself pl
secrets, he claims in a m
one is learning from me.
with me."
* ,
The celebration closet
formal singing of gospel
Some of the performers
one or two sacred nun
helping out on the chorus
Bird" was the last song
the crowd suggested it wt
everyone to leave until
gospel tunes, "Amazing (
The room was overflc
ticipants, and they all ci
hearty voice. After the
chord, everyone filed
autumn air, satisified wi
and a common respect

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