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Arizona fiddling, Viola Ruth, KC Kartchner, Frontier tunes

Posted by DryandDusty on Tuesday, January 7, 2014

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I am in Tucson AZ for a while. There is plenty of fiddle activity here but folks seem to be interested mainly in New England, Southern Appalachian and Irish fiddling. I wanted to learn some tunes with SW links so I have been working on finding tunes played in AZ before 1950. It turns out that there is plenty of source material. THis week we will sponsor a tune swap for tunes from two seminal Arizona fiddlers - Kenner C Kartchner and Viola "mom" Ruth.

Both Kartchner and Ruth grew up in Mormon settlements in east central AZ and began to fiddle around 1900. Dancing was a popular pastime in these towns and both Kenner and Viola were primarily dance fiddlers. Viola in particular was an enthusiastic promoter of square dance and was involved in writing two music books on Square Dance with Lee Owens. 

Kartchner has a biography "Frontier Fiddler" which was reprinted a few years ago and is readily available from online book sources. It is a fun read and includes 17 of his tunes carefully transcribed, and a commentary on his playing style. Viola was many years the AZ state fiddle champion and in 1948 did a tunebook "Western Pioneer Folk Tunes" which contains about 100 tunes arranged as she played them. It also has a commentary about style.  Both Viola and Kenner were from musical families and learned music as children. Kenner later had formal classical instruction. They both recorded around 1950 with piano accompaniment and some of those recordings are available online. 

I found it interesting but not very surprising that in Viola's tunebook there are many tunes that are clearly from the mainstream fiddle tradition of the east. Her 'Opera Reel' is very close to that of Ira Ford, her 'Lamplighter's Hornpipe' only varies by a few notes from the version in Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes or the earlier Elias Howe fiddle collection. And she includes many Stephen Foster melodies among her tunes. 



1 comment on “Arizona fiddling, Viola Ruth, KC Kartchner, Frontier tunes”

bsed Says:
Tuesday, January 7, 2014 @7:10:42 PM

I met Milt & Tincy Hooker of San Simon, AZ. I play their version of Waggoner, which they called Arizona Waggoner. It's on my page.

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