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Archive for February, 2008

Here’s a wonderful image of an old-time kitchen fiddler delivering a dance tune:

[W]e see the old man cross his legs with the old time abandon, and with a bewildering flourish of wrist and elbow the frolicsome old tune comes cantering over the strings like a gamesome colt down a road. . . .

From an online collection of fiddler literature and lore assembled in 2002 by Franco-American fiddler Donna Hébert from Massachusetts, titled The Muse of Joy and Sorrow: Why We Play the Fiddle (quotes, stories, poems, images). This quote is from a piece published in 1882 in the Keene (NH) Sentinel, and discovered and reprinted by Ralph Page, the legendary New England contradance leader from Keene, in his contradance magazine, Northern Junket.

The piece begins:

The old fiddler! What has become of him? The dear old-fashioned fiddler of our boyhood, who occupied the one chair in our kitchen, and beat such heavy time to his music on the bare oak floor.

Ah! What a whole-soled thing his foot was! No dainty and inaudible pulsation of the toe, but a genuine, flat-footed “stomp,” whose boisterous palpitations, heard high above the rhythmic patter of the dancers feet, jarred and jingled the little eight-by-ten window panes at his back and thrilled every chine on the “cubbard” shelves.

Even back in 1882, it seems, the fiddler was seen as a nostalgic and fading character, so unlikely to survive into the “modern” era.

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I was reading through some bios of well-known Appalachian fiddlers in an “Old-Time Fiddlers Hall of Fame,” a great collection of info maintained online by David Lynch, a fiddler and graphic designer now living in North Carolina.

One of the fiddlers is Ed Haley. In a citation (gleaned from liner notes for a Rounder Records CD), he notes that James Edward “Ed” Haley (1883–1951), born in Logan County, West Virginia, was a blind fiddler who made the rounds of fiddle contests and small towns in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Haley was often accompanied by his wife Martha, who was also blind and played mandolin. Clark Kessinger and J.P Fraley both spoke highly of Ed Haley as an outstanding fiddler.

The notes also state that:

One old-timer, after hearing Haley play “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” declared that “if two armies could come together and hear him play that music, they’d kill themselves in piles.”

(. . . I think people may well have said something similar about me after listening to my fiddling, but for slightly different reasons.)

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