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The importance of grandparents to a living tradition

Posted by fiddlepogo on Wednesday, August 12, 2009

As I was reading some of the early posts in the "What it used to mean to play by ear", it occurred to me that grandparents, or old people in general, must have been crucial to a tradition being passed on.

Parents are busy trying to teach their kids the necessities and harsh realities of life, maybe too much to pass on cultural niceties very well.  Also, since kids are usually made to mind or obey their parents with some kind of discipline, it's easier for rebellion to get in, and if you're rebelling against someone, you're probably not going to want to play their music, either.  I know there are exceptions to this, but as a general tendency it seems to be true.

But grandparents are safer, more accepting.  If they played music as a young person, they may be likely to go back to it as a pastime now that they have too much time and too many aches and pains... and if the grandparents live close enough to the grandkids so that the grandkids can hang out with them some,  it seems that special grandparent/grandchild relationship would be ideal for transmitting music.  My grandparents lived so far away from us that we only got to visit 2 or 3 weeks out of the year, but I still learned a few songs from my grandmother (my grandpa couldn't carry a tune in a bucket) as she sang along with her piano.

I can imagine that if she played fiddle instead, and if we'd lived close, I could have learned a whole bunch!!!

Another thing is that older musicians tend to slow down...  and it's always easier to learn something slower.

In other words, the original for slow-downer software was....


( I can feel it working on me already!)

Also, something I've seen working is that if a fiddler is polished and proficient, it can be too intimidating for some people to learn from.  Paradoxically if a fiddler has lost their best tone, they might be easier for a lot of people to learn from... and older fiddlers often lose their best tone.

So, whaddya think???

Is there anything to this???



4 comments on “The importance of grandparents to a living tradition”

robinja Says:
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 @12:42:32 PM

Sounds like a good theory to me. My grandmother was an avid gardener - she had a beautiful yard with all kinds of trees, shrubs, and flowers. She lived close by, so I was at her house a lot (probably not as much as I should have been). She taught me a lot about plants that I didn't realize she taught me. When I got my own house and started noticing such things, I realized that I could identify a lot of plants, sometimes by scientific name(!), and I had no idea that I knew any of it! Those names would just roll off my tongue unbidden.

I lived a little further away from my maternal grandparents - we visited often, but I rarely stayed there. Both of those grandparents played the piano. My grandmother had lessons growing up and played from sheet music, and was quite good, but my grandfather...oh, man, could he tickle the ivories, and I think he played completely by ear! I think he could have made some money in a juke joint back in the day (and maybe he did!). I loved it when he played, but I wish that I had spent more time with him and paid more attention. Something special was going on...but when you're a kid, it's just grandpa playing the piano.

kubasa Says:
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 @1:51:48 PM

I think you're right on. On my dad's side of the family, many of our Ukrainian folktales were passed down orally from one generation to the next - from grandparents to children. It wasn't until the 20th century that some of these stories have been written down.

Which reminds me......there's a good one about a young man who goes exploring with his violin. (we all do this, right?) Anyway, he enters a cave and when he turns to leave, a bear comes to the entrance and gives him a scolding for entering his house without his permission. (In our folktales, animals often talk....) So the bear tells him that as a punishment he is going to eat him. (yes, rather morbid). The young man figures there is nothing else to do but sit down and play the violin in hopes that someone outside will hear him.

After a bit the bear starts to enjoy the music so the bear asks the young man if he could teach him to play the violin. The young man says, "first you must learn how to hold your arms up for long periods of time". So the bear held his arms straight out in front until he could no longer stand it and let them drop to his side. The bear asked if he now he could play the violin to which the young man replied, "you need to learn how to sit in a chair". The bear asked, "how do we make a chair?". The bears arms were weak from holding them out so the young man helped the bear make a makeshift chair of rocks and the bear sat in the awkward position until he could no longer stand it.

The bear asked again, "can I play the violin?" The young man told him that his paws were not straight enough and that he would have to straighten his paws if he were to play violin. The bear asked how to accomplish this to which the young man cleverly replied, "since we don't have wood to straighten your fingers with, we will again have to use rocks". The young man asked the bear to help him move some heavy rocks. He told the bear to lie down and with all his strength, he rolled the rocks onto the bears paws.

The young man sat for a while until he could see that the pain was too unbearable for the bear. The bear asked him if he was ready to play the violin yet to which the clever young man replied, "one should not pretend to be what one is not, you are a bear and will never play the violin like a human". With that, the young man bid the bear farewell and walked out of the cave unharmed.

Ozarkian DL Says:
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 @4:44:46 PM

I thinks u'z rite on Pogo. I lived less'n a quarter mi. from gramps & spent much time on his front porch listin'n ta his tales. Just wish't Id'a spent more time there now.

bj Says:
Thursday, August 13, 2009 @3:22:12 AM

Nobody in my family was musical. Nobody. Not a single soul. They only thing any of 'em could play was the radio.

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