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Apr 16, 2024 - 12:50:49 PM
1476 posts since 3/1/2020
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A little while ago it struck me that it might be interesting to consider and compare the genres of Old Time Fiddling and Barbershop singing.

Both recall a bygone era and are styles that consist of recreating the sound of the music of “old times.” Both experienced major revival periods during the 1960s that created a huge following of musicians all over the country that have struggled to keep pace in more recent decades. With Old Time it seems that the revival was the result of a rediscovery of the early recordings mixed with the interaction of new players with aging players of a past era or field recordings. Barbershop gained some attention when it was championed by Damon Runyon, but the real spark that ignited the flame was the appearance of the Buffalo Bills in The Music Man. Both Old Time and barbershop have had professional recording artists who have defined eras within their respective genres. Both are closely linked to the time of vaudeville, minstrel shows, and medicine shows and make use of showmanship and humor in addition to playing skill. Both are intended for public gatherings.

From here I think the two styles begin to depart. Barbershop is a vocal style, so it requires the singers to have a certain type of delivery or tonal quality to be successful. Barbershop singers are all part of local chapters of a national organization and they have regularly scheduled (weekly) meetings where the whole group rehearses together. The chorus gives performances for which there is ample rehearsal, and there is a music director who leads the group and helps the singers to blend and sound more cohesive. The ultimate aim of the group, though, is for the members to develop friendships and ultimately form quartets that can perform in chapter concerts and on their own. The chorus provides the training in the style and builds repertoire, but the quartets are the essence of the music.

Old Time is a lot different. There are players all over but there is no organization that governs. There aren’t local chapters and there aren’t directors. There are various associations for fiddlers to join, but they’re unconnected and the jams are usually set up based on volunteering to host. There are some regular jams, but the setup is much more informal and much is advertised through word of mouth or email chains. Jams often have a host and sometimes an informal leader who keeps things moving and knows enough tunes to be able to call some out when there’s a gap. Jams are set up for their own sake, not as rehearsals for shows, and the players, although welcome to form their own associations, are not specifically encouraged to do so. The majority of Old Time fiddlers these days play in jams but not in performance groups (bands, duos, solo performances,etc.). While you would expect to listen closely to a barbershop quartet, Old Time music is often a backdrop and it’s common for people in attendance at a venue to go through an evening without listening closely.


Something that really distinguishes barbershop is the emphasis that’s placed on learning the style through study. Singers are welcome to learn by ear (and many learn by playing part recordings over and over), but the ultimate aim is to learn to read the music and to go to another level of understanding by learning how to make arrangements of music in the barbershop style and following the formulas as taught by the official organization. Every year, the Barbershop Harmony Society holds a “harmony university” where participants learn how to be better singers, readers, and arrangers. There are standard tunes in the “Polecat” book that all new singers are given to start, but the award-winning groups all have their own arrangements made of newer music.

While Old Time tends to focus on preservation of the tunes, barbershop focuses on the style—for that reason one can make a barbershop arrangement of a pop song by a current pop star. Newer groups may have a somewhat different sound than those of the heyday of the genre, but there is an easily recognizable link in the style and the important conventions are still followed to keep barbershop alive. I’ve also found that younger singers also have a great amount of appreciation for the landmark recordings, while older singers are extremely encouraging of younger ones. In old time there isn’t quite the same level of encouragement of new or younger players. If you read through this forum, you’ll find a surprising amount or disparagement toward youth. That’s always struck me as very strange, especially because the players who were most revered historically were generally extremely encouraging of the youngsters in their day.

I think the fact that there is an official organization really helps to both define and preserve barbershop. It doesn’t hurt that there’s an official competition each year that instructs the members and promotes those who excel. The lack of organization among Old Time players and the disappearing identity of the genre concern me for its existence long-term.

I don’t mean to suggest there’s a simple solution for the problems Old Time faces, and although I’m comparing it to barbershop, that doesn’t mean the latter is free from its own challenges. However, I have to say that I was really impressed with the level of organization in the Barbershop Harmony Society when I was a member. It was a lot of fun to sing some of the same repertoire my father sang when he was a member during my childhood and it was interesting to see how consistent the organization was in different parts of the country. It struck me as a great idea for the organization to host a series of workshops to widen the musical knowledge of its membership. The anti-literacy argument that shows up in discussions about fiddling is mind-boggling and only does harm to the genre and its perception to those outside.

I am fond of Old Time and I believe it is an endangered species that needs some robust conservation to avoid extinction. Just like barbershop, Old Time has some exceptionally talented and devoted musicians. I’d like to see them better represented and less insular.

Apr 16, 2024 - 4:31:57 PM

14925 posts since 9/23/2009

...would be interesting to compare all of that with Sacred Harp singing.

Apr 17, 2024 - 5:41:27 AM

146 posts since 9/4/2007

Endangered??? How so???

Apr 17, 2024 - 6:44:01 AM

1476 posts since 3/1/2020
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quote:
Originally posted by pmiller510

Endangered??? How so???


I would say it's endangered because the genre is struggling to attract younger players and its dedicated contingent is beginning to die off. 
 

Classical music has had a problem with the age of its audience in the past two decades, but recently it has regained a substantial popularity with younger listeners (classical music was the most-streamed musical genre last year), and although a number of high-profile orchestras have folded, the interest in the music has grown and there is an unprecedented amount of competition for orchestra positions. Community orchestras are popping up more and more and they're getting lots of interest.

 

There are some younger players of Old Time, but they're few and far between, and many of them have been losing interest in Old Time in favor of more modern styles.

I would also say that the problem of defining Old Time is one that gradually erodes its identity. There are a lot of people playing music that's casually referred to as Old Time that bears little resemblance to the music of the era that created it. Just to provide an example: consider the discussions ad nauseum about the "Nashville Shuffle" that refer to it as the defining feature of Old Time playing. Yet, listen to the old recordings and you'll find that this bowing pattern isn't what defines the playing style and none of the old players speak about it in interviews.

I can appreciate that to those who love it, the genre feels alive and far from endangered because it's such a part of life, but it's important to look at how it's received by the general audience and the demographics of both audience and players. 

Apr 17, 2024 - 7:15:23 AM
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146 posts since 9/4/2007

Don't want to get into an argument or anything here as your points are valid. I agree about the whole "Nashville Shuffle" point and would argue that a whole lot of folks playing old-time aren't listening to the old dead guys. But there is certainly more old-time being played these days than back in the 70's when I started. Also we have a pretty active scene here in northern Indiana/south Michigan. I have three regularly scheduled jams within driving distance (under an hour) that I participate in. We have had young folks show up but they tend to disappear when kids start showing up. Not, that there's a lot of them, but they are there. Also, I'm not sure the younger folks don't tend to meet with their own age group and that's something I'm not informed of at all. Occasionally I hear rumors of events that don't seem to involve a lot of us older folks and that seems sort of normal as ages do tend to hang out together. Also, there's a lot of festivals that are either focused on old-time music or at least include it as part of their publicity (i.e. Indiana Fiddler's Gathering, Wheatland, Ann Arbor Folk Festival, etc.). I don't really know about other parts of the country, though last night I was listening on internet radio to a station out of Washington D.C. and they were promoting a festival in Baltimore that definitely promoted old-time as part of the program. Then there's also workshops, retreats, etc. etc. and not to mention old-time being taught at major schools. Not sure of my accuracy on this but we had a local high school graduate go study at (I think) East Tennessee State and doesn't the Berkley School of Music in Boston have courses?? I really have a hard time seeing old-time as endangered. It is possibly veering too far from the stuff I learned from and I'm not sure I like that?? Could be, but not sure it's for me to call.

Edited by - pmiller510 on 04/17/2024 07:16:30

Apr 17, 2024 - 9:24:02 AM
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6519 posts since 8/7/2009

quote:
Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful
quote:
Originally posted by pmiller510

Endangered??? How so???


I would say it's endangered because the genre is struggling to attract younger players and its dedicated contingent is beginning to die off. 
 

Classical music has had a problem with the age of its audience in the past two decades, but recently it has regained a substantial popularity with younger listeners (classical music was the most-streamed musical genre last year), and although a number of high-profile orchestras have folded, the interest in the music has grown and there is an unprecedented amount of competition for orchestra positions. Community orchestras are popping up more and more and they're getting lots of interest.

 

There are some younger players of Old Time, but they're few and far between, and many of them have been losing interest in Old Time in favor of more modern styles.

I would also say that the problem of defining Old Time is one that gradually erodes its identity. There are a lot of people playing music that's casually referred to as Old Time that bears little resemblance to the music of the era that created it. Just to provide an example: consider the discussions ad nauseum about the "Nashville Shuffle" that refer to it as the defining feature of Old Time playing. Yet, listen to the old recordings and you'll find that this bowing pattern isn't what defines the playing style and none of the old players speak about it in interviews.

I can appreciate that to those who love it, the genre feels alive and far from endangered because it's such a part of life, but it's important to look at how it's received by the general audience and the demographics of both audience and players. 


I agree - 100%.  But I feel like it's pretty much a losing battle.  Really.  And personally - I'm not so sure its really worth the fight.

We have the all the recordings of the old timers. And there will always be a few who will go the the ends of the earth to play a tune exactly like someone else. And now days - that alone will set you apart from the rest. There's bragging rights and notoriety for that kind of accomplishment - but not much else. But usually for folks like that - its more of a passion or obsession, than for "fame and fortune". I admire and applaud them - seriously. I will pay the price of admission.

But lets acknowledge that anyone trying to master those skills will usually have to compete with the fact that - for years - they grew up listening to more than a few different styles of music and artist.  It will be hard to filter out any influence that "their favorite song" or "favorite musician" might have over them. Couple that with the fact that they can't go some where to play along with the old fellers (dead and gone), probably didn't grow up in that region, and if they did - that "old neighborhood just ain't the same" as it was back then. So, how will they truly get that authentic sound from out of the soul of their being?  ...and we're expecting all old time musicians to comply with that?  ...really?

Another thing - do you think the "old fellers" playing fiddle sounded just like each other when they played? How many Tommy Jarrell's were "out there" back then? One. And all the others struggled to be "as good as" Tommy, but no one really wanted to sound just like Tommy. All of the well know - accomplished players worked hard to develop their own distinct playing styles. No one wanted to be known for sounding just like someone else.

I read in a book about how the old fiddlers would make up a new tune, play for other fiddlers and tell them it was written by someone  besides them - otherwise the other fiddlers would never play the tune.

IMO - There is no "old time" standard! Is old time music a style of playing, or is it the tunes themselves?  A little of both (imo). But I don't see any lines in the sand. I think each person should draw their own conclusion - for themselves.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any interest in old time tunes or playing styles in this area I'm living in.  That's a shame, especially in this region that is so rich in music history.  We moved back to TN in 2014 - and I'm still playing with the same small group of excellent old time musicians. And we have all looked for others to join in - no takers. 

All we can do is try our best to inspire and encourage. Doug and I play at a local Farmer's Market - and folks do enjoy listening - will stop and talk - and always tell us how much they enjoy "bluegrass music".  LOL!!! We used to try and explain what we are playing (old time) - and we'd stop when we saw a big grin grow on their face, then their eyes would start to glaze over,  and then the heads would start nodding up and down. Lost 'em.

In my mind - I want to get better as an old time fiddler, not just for my own enjoyment, but I would also like to create some interest and cause some one else to want to pick it up. But the music has to have an appeal. Does that mean that will only happen when I represent the old time tradition by duplicating the music on old time recordings? Can I inspire anyone by doing that? How about I play those same old time tunes in a way that expresses my passion for the fiddle and the music I am playing? 

Bottom line - I don't think there is right or wrong answers to the questions. 

Edited by - tonyelder on 04/17/2024 09:28:01

Apr 17, 2024 - 9:35:16 AM
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6519 posts since 8/7/2009

And ...don't get me started on bowing patterns!

laugh

Apr 17, 2024 - 10:47:31 AM
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3354 posts since 10/22/2007

Every time I want to post something as long as three or four paragraphs, by the time it's neatly crafted, it disappears. The frustration of the moment makes it so I don't want to retype it. I don't know how you guys do it?

Apr 17, 2024 - 10:52:03 AM
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2598 posts since 8/27/2008

quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

Every time I want to post something as long as three or four paragraphs, by the time it's neatly crafted, it disappears. The frustration of the moment makes it so I don't want to retype it. I don't know how you guys do it?


One way is to type it on your word processor then paste it in to the site.

Apr 17, 2024 - 12:00:11 PM
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6463 posts since 9/26/2008

Old time fiddling is very much an individual thing and historically has been that way. I defy anyone to point me to two of the old dead guys/gals (who are recorded) that sound alike beyond regional similarities. Compared that to modern players who have studied with someone - they often have elements of their playing that identifies their teacher to someone who is paying attention, and if they then spend much of their time playing with their teacher and folks who are all students of that teacher, those elements becomes deeply ingrained making their studies even more obvious.

Barbershop quartets share much in common with choral music in general. There is a focus on blending out individually to conform to the "standard" sound. That particular thing, creating a standard, is why most contest fiddling winners sound alike and why "contest style" is an identifiable style. Add in "festival style" and you get more reasons for the homogenization of old time fiddling in general - individuality gets its corners rounded in order for the player to fit in. Isn't that what happens in classical music? One studies and jumps through all the same hoops as everyone else, seeking to sound like they are taught to sound. My oldtime "standard" is not the same as yours, or yours or even yours. It is what I as an individual am aiming for. I play with others, but not to the detriment of working towards my standard (which is a constantly moving target).

Apr 17, 2024 - 12:44:53 PM
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254 posts since 11/26/2013

I dunno here, we get lots of young folks at some jam sessions here in NYC. Some are damn good too. Barbershop - well I am not fan, and not only because when I was on tour in '89 in the UK with a bluegrass band, some local barbershop group decided to learn a few BG tunes and presented it as bluegrass. Barbershop just seems so one dimensional, like a 1 trick pony. It's nice for a tune or two, but a whole set or night of it? No thanks. Wasn't it the Statler Brothers (?) that were basically a barbershop quartet that sang country songs? I had to sit thru their set when we opened for them at an upstate C&W festival. Every song, 4 part harmony all the way through.

Apr 17, 2024 - 1:20:08 PM
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boxbow

USA

2787 posts since 2/3/2011
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quote:
Originally posted by tonyelder

And ...don't get me started on bowing patterns!

laugh


please don't

Apr 17, 2024 - 3:15:57 PM

6519 posts since 8/7/2009

quote:
Originally posted by boxbow
quote:
Originally posted by tonyelder

And ...don't get me started on bowing patterns!

laugh


please don't


i won't - just for you  wink

Apr 17, 2024 - 3:56:20 PM
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2478 posts since 12/11/2008

Discussions concerning stylistics and the orthodoxy of certain renditions of tunes are always fun, but attempts to accurately recreate a style that predates recording will always be fraught with uncertainty. And to me it doesn't really matter. To these ears, accuracy to a particular style has always played...err...second fiddle to what is truly the aim of all art -- to get past our defenses and to affect us on an aesthetic, emotional level.

Apr 17, 2024 - 7:44:33 PM

14925 posts since 9/23/2009

Where I am it seems there's just about zero interest in anything resembling OT (I include old ballads and any old folks songs, even old country songs, and even hymns and also fiddle and banjo tunes)...and yes, if you don't play acid rock, jazz, or rap around here they will call it Bluegrass...and there's plenty of BG around here. But even with the BG, because I was in a little amateur BG band a few years back...we went to a lot of jams and events where BG bands all took turns playing...I was normally the baby of the crowd there...most of 'em were over 70. Now I'm over 70 too...and once the BG frazzled my nerves enough with all the fire truck chasers and such, now I don't know anybody at all who plays ... but I never did know anybody who played an old fiddletune, banjo tune, ballad, none of that. If people are playing it around here...I haven't seen it.

As to picking up the style...I have to argue for "Nashville Shuffle," and I'll tell you why. I've said this before but I'm a-gonna say it again...lol...don't worry...I'll put it in a tidy nutshell as best as I can. For one thing...I got on here in my early days of fiddling, grappling about for how I could skip over my 5 decades when I wasn't playing and jump on ahead...and back then there were many interesting bow "discussions..." euphemistically speaking. You know, you remember the heated discussions on bowing patterns vs anywhichway, etc. Well I had more time back then than I have now...time enough to work a couple of hours during the night waiting for hubby to get home at 2 from his job back then...I worked pretty hard on those patterns. Learned a lot of them. Practiced getting them into my tunes...but...never used them. Why not? Because they all sounded very contrived and messed up my music. They weren't me...they were extracted from some Old Timer's playing and analyzed and taught to us wanna-be fiddlers. So I had to think about it. Now on guitar I did practice fingerpicking patterns as shown to me by many neighbors and friends as I was growing up. So I always figured on fiddle it should be the same...practice those patterns and you got it. But I discovered one day, when my daughter was in high school and she brought some friends over for me to show fingerpicking to. So I went through really slowly, the patterns i remembered learning. Then they said...ok...now play a song with that. So I did...well those kids were sharp as tacks and pointed out to me that I was NOT using the fingerpicking patterns that I'd shown to them. I realized I didn't know what the heck I was doing...those patterns had evolved with the passing years and were no longer anything like what I'd learned as a youngster...and I wasn't analytical enough to dissect and parse out what I was doing...lol.

So...then on the fiddle...back to my nutshell fiddle bowing tale...I gave up trying to make bowing patterns sound like music. But I did discover...kinda like banjo...the bum diddy stuff goes so well when you drop in a melody...the "nashville shuffle" (which by the way, an old guy told me once to stick with...didn't call it that, but I didn't have a fiddle and didn't play for years and sorta just forgot aobut his advice) fits into the same rhythmic space as those bowing patterns. And, like guitar picking patterns...apparently you get bored doing that and you will just naturally start jumping in and out of n. shuffle, until the day arrives that you swear you are doing it, but it doesn't sound like it. Now...I think two things here...one, sometimes if I'm fiddling along with n. shuffle...I'm messin' with it so much it doesn't really sound like it...some of the rhythms / beats of the shuffle are sort of so non-emphasized that they almost disappear...like with African drumming ... some of the beats are almost not there, which creates a cool syncopation that you woldn't have if you just avoided the beat altogether...you get it only when you sorta slip it in on the sly...but not audible in and of itself...just enough to give a different rhythmic feel to the whole set of beats. So...the same with N. Shuffle...sometimes I think at least with me...amateur that I am...that I'm sticking with n. shuffle but it's not really sounding like n. shuffle. Then, two...the other thing I think about this, is that as with guitar picking patterns...if you mess with it enough, you naturally morph and wander into that land of not knowing what the heck you are doing and totally unable to parse it out or explain it, or even play it when somebody wants to hear what you just did. It's a morphed n. shuffle offspring...and I'm really wondering at this point if all bowing patterns are just that...somebody's morphed n. shuffle. Lol...ok go ahead and argue against that one...it could be wrong...but I'll tell you I believe it enough that if I was studying this for a degree i would gladly stand up in a crowd of disbelievers and defend my case. Maybe lose, but unafraid to be in on the discussion. So...as I've said many times...for me, and possibly others as told to me way back in the past when I didn't have a fiddle to try it on...I believe n. shuffle is the mother of all bowing patterns. You can believe or not...lol...it's what I think everytime I pick up a fiddle now...even if I don't do any discernable or actual n. shuffling. It gives me what I need to play at all...to just have the credence to move the bow without having to dissect it or think it out.

Apr 18, 2024 - 6:25:16 AM
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1476 posts since 3/1/2020
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In the DMV area, there is a bit of an Old-Time scene. There are some players in Northern Virginia, but there aren’t any regular Old Time jams. I just found out about a new jam at a ciderworks near me that’s supposed to have good players, but it’s an open-genre jam, so not necessarily one for Old Time players. There are Celtic sessions all over here, and the community is quite active (lots of crossover between sessions and the players know each other). I ran a monthly jam at a shop where I worked in the past, but there hasn’t been anything going on in that area since I left the shop. There is a group that hosts regular jams in Arlington that for years just played bluegrass, but they recently reinstated an Old Time jam to help with sagging attendance issues.

In DC there’s one jam at a brewery that’s pretty good and happens weekly. Turnout varies and it’s a bit less cohesive. There are occasional jams that are organized at restaurants but they’re less regular.

Maryland has the biggest concentration of Old Time players, most of them closer to Baltimore, where there’s a weekly dance and there are several players who are more proactive in organizing events.

Younger players appear occasionally but often don’t stick around, as they tend to get bored and move on to other genres.

Apr 18, 2024 - 6:28:06 AM
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1476 posts since 3/1/2020
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quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan

Old time fiddling is very much an individual thing and historically has been that way. I defy anyone to point me to two of the old dead guys/gals (who are recorded) that sound alike beyond regional similarities. Compared that to modern players who have studied with someone - they often have elements of their playing that identifies their teacher to someone who is paying attention, and if they then spend much of their time playing with their teacher and folks who are all students of that teacher, those elements becomes deeply ingrained making their studies even more obvious.

Barbershop quartets share much in common with choral music in general. There is a focus on blending out individually to conform to the "standard" sound. That particular thing, creating a standard, is why most contest fiddling winners sound alike and why "contest style" is an identifiable style. Add in "festival style" and you get more reasons for the homogenization of old time fiddling in general - individuality gets its corners rounded in order for the player to fit in. Isn't that what happens in classical music? One studies and jumps through all the same hoops as everyone else, seeking to sound like they are taught to sound. My oldtime "standard" is not the same as yours, or yours or even yours. It is what I as an individual am aiming for. I play with others, but not to the detriment of working towards my standard (which is a constantly moving target).


I understand your point, but keep in mind that to people who aren't dedicated Old Time listeners, all those old recordings sound exactly the same. One of the biggest criticisms of Old Time music from outside is that it has little variety.

Apr 18, 2024 - 8:03:37 AM
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RichJ

USA

968 posts since 8/6/2013

Guess I’m not sure what point Rich is trying to make in this post. Was it to explain why more people don’t like or play Old Time music? Or, did it have something to do with playing/singing a particular genre of music according to ridged standards? Much as I enjoy listening to an occasional Barbershop Quartet tune, it always sounds like a stiff, starchy kind of music. Starting with the store manikin, identical way each of those four guys dress (I heard they even wear the same kind of underwear-lol) down to the precise, machine-like harmony they generate. In both cases I can’t imagine anything farther removed from what I consider Old Time music. Or, was Rich lamenting on the lack of younger generation recruitment and the onus of Old Time music eventually becoming extinct? At 84, I pretty much live like a hermit here in northeastern CT. There’s no one around me who plays Old Time music. There are a couple of fiddle clubs around here. They play a mixed variety of music in a fiddle orchestra style, everyone with a music stand in front of them. I spend a lot of time on the computer looking for a new tune to learn. So a good bit of the time I'm cruising around on YouTube. From what I can see from stuff I see there, lots of young folks are playing Old Time music these days. But, I’ll also say most of them don’t sound anything like Tommy Jarrell, Benny Tomasson or JP Fraley. And, why should they? The surest way to drive young folks from just about anything these days is to make em’ do it in a ridged, prescribed way. When they ask why, just tell em’ - Because that’s the way you HAVE to do it.

Apr 18, 2024 - 8:48:49 AM
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1170 posts since 7/30/2021

I dunno...OT seems to be thriving around here in NC? Several of the Sunday players leave early to go to an OT jam. In fact the OT jam outgrew its space in the music store, and now they meet somewhere else...? There aren't 20-30 years old going, but there are 40-50 year olds. (I think the younger people are just busy with family, work, kids? Like I was...my violin gathered dust for years while I was launching career/raising my daughters...felt like there was never enough time, much less to get out of the house weekly or play music daily.)

I'm glad classical is still doing well! I was feeling depressed about the reports of dwindling audiences and dwindling financial support, but maybe that's not true, yay.

I haven't heard much Barbershop Quartet music live, but it seems very fun (and hard) to sing acapella. I would say that in general, acapella type singing seems to be thriving. There are groups in every high school and college, very cool stuff.

Apr 18, 2024 - 9:10:50 AM
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DougD

USA

11892 posts since 12/2/2007

Hi Richj - Good to hear from you. I was just thinking about you yesterday and wondering how you were doing (especially with you banjo, but you don't have to report here!).
I agree with everything you say - I don't know that I can thnk of two styles of music with less in common than "barbershop quartet" singing and "old time" music. The "fiddle clubs"you encountered seem most like the world of barbershop singing that Rich Maxham described.
People now seem to regard only what they hear at jams as "old time" music and think of it as a style. It is really neither. "Old Time" was just a marketing term invented by the record companies in the the 1920's to describe a kind of music they were trying to sell, along with others like "Old Familiar Tunes" and "Songs of Hill and Home," It was already in use to describe something from a former time in a fondly nostalgic way, like "Old Time Religion," "Old Time Camp Meeting," and yes, even the "Old Time Darkey." The variety of the music actually recorded was broad - from solo fiddle and banjo to big raucous bands, parlor trios, quartets, and more. There were traditional ballads performed in old and new ways, "event" songs about train wrecks, the Titanic, people stuck in caves, Tin Pan Alley numbers from a generation before, and lots more. Listen to what Ralph Peer chose to record here in 1927, or Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music" to understand what I mean.
In the 60 or so years I've been interested in this music I've seen new additions, especially fiddle tunes collected from sometimes obscure players who were never recorded commercially for various reasons. And a lot has fallen by the wayside, especially singing. People have even compained on this board that singing in a jam just gets in the way of playing more tunes. So "old time" music has become thought of as these tune sessions, sometimes regularly scheduled and open to all, which are a "modern" invention, probably from the 1970's or later. No wonder it all "sounds the same" and is boring to the average listener,
But I wouldn't judge the popularity of "old time" music by the popularity of these sessions. The music was usually played more informally, by a solo fiddler or small group of like minded friends getting together in Snake Chapman's garage or similar. I don't know how much of that is still going on, but it wouldn't be obvious to a casual observer.
As far as participation by younger folks, at least around here its thriving. There are several summer music schools, and there are JAM (Junior Appalachian Musician) programs in many school systems in the area, and for those who want to pursue it further there are college level programs at East TN State University, Berea, Morehead Stare and others. Old Time music seems alive and well in the quirky, individual way its always had. I'm attaching a few photos.


Apr 18, 2024 - 9:33:42 AM

RichJ

USA

968 posts since 8/6/2013

Hey Doug - Still wackin' away on the banjo with a few thoughts on how it has influenced my fiddle playing. A topic for another thread. Stay tuned.

Apr 18, 2024 - 11:53:36 AM
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2478 posts since 12/11/2008

My various attempts to play OT music alongside other musicians on this island have been pretty much utter failures. Yeah, I still relentlessly play solo David Bragger-style OT fiddle on my back porch, but when I do find myself playing alongside fellow acoustic musicians I just "do what the Romans do."

It doesn't help that the guy who heads up the weekly ukulele jam I attend (which happens BTW in the basement of the local Shinto temple) just can't cotton it when somebody sneaks their violin onto the premises. And yes, there are a couple of folks besides me who've done this....

Apr 18, 2024 - 12:16:57 PM
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DougD

USA

11892 posts since 12/2/2007

Sounds like a great opportunity to explore the ukulele, my first and still, in some ways, favorite instrument. Or slack key guitar.

Apr 19, 2024 - 2:08:35 AM

1476 posts since 3/1/2020
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by RichJ

Guess I’m not sure what point Rich is trying to make in this post. Was it to explain why more people don’t like or play Old Time music? Or, did it have something to do with playing/singing a particular genre of music according to ridged standards? Much as I enjoy listening to an occasional Barbershop Quartet tune, it always sounds like a stiff, starchy kind of music. Starting with the store manikin, identical way each of those four guys dress (I heard they even wear the same kind of underwear-lol) down to the precise, machine-like harmony they generate. In both cases I can’t imagine anything farther removed from what I consider Old Time music. Or, was Rich lamenting on the lack of younger generation recruitment and the onus of Old Time music eventually becoming extinct? At 84, I pretty much live like a hermit here in northeastern CT. There’s no one around me who plays Old Time music. There are a couple of fiddle clubs around here. They play a mixed variety of music in a fiddle orchestra style, everyone with a music stand in front of them. I spend a lot of time on the computer looking for a new tune to learn. So a good bit of the time I'm cruising around on YouTube. From what I can see from stuff I see there, lots of young folks are playing Old Time music these days. But, I’ll also say most of them don’t sound anything like Tommy Jarrell, Benny Tomasson or JP Fraley. And, why should they? The surest way to drive young folks from just about anything these days is to make em’ do it in a ridged, prescribed way. When they ask why, just tell em’ - Because that’s the way you HAVE to do it.


The point of my post was to compare two "old-fashioned" styles of music that have both had issues with youth recruitment. I think that Old Time is a genre that is losing meaning and players rapidly and I think action needs to be taken if anyone cares about preserving it. I constantly hear people, even those who play the music, unable to come up with a definition of the music, and there is little agreement about what constitutes the style. There are suggestions to "do whatever feels right," which completely destroy any sense of continuity from player to player and remove the focus from the music and put it onto the individual. I like the comparison to barbershop because, unlike Old Time, people can actually tell you what it is and what to do in order to make the music properly.

The bands that made the original Old Time recordings put on a show not unlike a vaudeville act, with lots of acting, costumes, and banter. That's quite similar to barbershop. The comparison is interesting because the  genres are similar enough that the successes of the one could be studied to reverse the failings of the other.

I do lament the lack of recruitment of younger players. As I said earlier, it really bothers me that many of today's older players, who were welcomed into the style enthusiastically by the old timers of their youth, are either not interested in passing whatever they may have learned along or are just not very welcoming to younger players. 
 

Richj, you say that telling young players to follow rigid and prescribed rules will turn them off, but I think what really turns them off is giving them information (not directing this at you specifically)  like "just try doing it however feels right to you" and then complaining that they don't sound like Tommy Jarrell afterward. Of course they don't sound like other players if they're told specifically to focus on sounding different and to ignore formal rules. The young players I see are not looking to avoid rigid guidelines. They are eager to absorb good information and many are interested in "getting it right." There are plenty of younger players who are more interested in doing something unique, but those are the players who tend not to stick it out with Old Time, preferring to develop their own genres. 

As an example of someone who wasn't afraid of rigid rules, I was struck by the enthusiasm of a young player I met at Galax last summer. He was absolutely obsessed with Clark Kessinger and had an insatiable appetite for learning about him and using that knowledge to inform his own playing. When he found out that one of the older players personally knew Kessinger and owned his equipment, he wanted nothing more than to ask detailed questions about Kessinger. 
 

Old Time suffers from a lack of definition because many of its players have taken the well-intentioned but counterproductive approach of "teaching" the style by asking students to come up with their own rather than providing an example. So players leave Old Time lessons playing music that is no longer Old Time. I would suggest that either this method of teaching ought to change or we should just accept the death of the style and give a different name to what's being played now. 

Edited by - The Violin Beautiful on 04/19/2024 02:22:39

Apr 19, 2024 - 4:42:31 AM

14925 posts since 9/23/2009

Well it makes me feel good to hear that OT is actually thriving among the young 'uns in some areas. I'd hate to think of good music that anybody could play or at least hear neighbors play would totally disappear. I think music as an industry wiped out music as individual and community pastime. This is the real shame I just hate to see, having experienced the old ways earlier, and the sterile feeling of the new ways now...instead of people playing by the cash registers at the stores, or in front of the court house or by the woodstove among neighbors, we have people walking around with headphones on listening to highly processed "music," living on their own isolated planet.

Edited by - groundhogpeggy on 04/19/2024 04:44:08

Apr 19, 2024 - 7:53:44 AM

485 posts since 4/15/2019

Peggy, your mention of playing around the old wood stove brought back memories of me and my brother playing with friends and neighbors around the stove in my Dad's work shop on the farm when we were kids.

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