> Some time ago I found this in Grove's Dictionary of Music: "The
> instrumental music and balladry popular among Anglo-American and
> Scots-Irish pioneers and settlers of the 18th and 19th centuries sprang
> directly from Irish folk music." (And related genres.) The folk music
> of rural Anglo-Americans, or "old-time" music . . .still exhibits in
> large part the structure and repertory of the . . . original."
> living and fairly flexible. Some Irish tunes have survived into old-timey
> and bluegrass intact (in name at least. Fisher's hornpipe.) I know of
> one, called O'Keefe's jig, which is still unchanged musically, and sounds
> more Irish than bluegrass. Apparently the mountains and the rural isolation
> preserved the format, although many tunes themselves "blurred" in
> transmission from player to player, generation to generation like photocopies
> of photocopies. I've heard that you can still hear strains and bits of
> Carolan in some of the old timey tunes. Is this true? R.C. Hamilton
Well, this could be the subject of endless discussion.....I spend a great
deal of my time trying to fathom the evolution of American traditional
fiddling, and hope some day to collect my scattered notes and thoughts
etc. into a book on the subject. I certainly don't claim at this point
to have answers, but the evolutionary path has been a crooked one.
Celtic elements are here, certainly, but there's also been enormous
influence from African-American traditions, popular genres such as
blackface minstrelsy, etc. etc. The forms of the tunes (AABB) are
shared, but there are relatively few specific tunes in American tradition
that can be traced to old-world "originals." Lots of new tunes written
on this side of the pond, too.
I think that the isolation of southern mountain communities has been
overstated as well. For excellent comments on this I'll just refer
interested folks to a new book by Bill Malone (still the best historian
of Country music), "Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers: Southern
CUlture and the Roots of Country Music," pub. in 1993 by Univ. of Georgia
Press. It's small, but expensive, so check your library. His first
chapter on "Southern Rural Music in the 19th Century" is a re-thinking of
much conventional wisdom on roots and such.
Re: "Fisher's Hornpipe" in particular, this first surfaces in a London
publication of c.1780, ascribed to one J. Fishar [sic]. So it's
English rather than Irish, unless Fishar borrowed it from tradition,
which is certainly possible.
As to traces of Carolan music in American old-time music--I've heard
others say this but never with any evidence to support it. I've never
heard anything in the music that would lead to such a conclusion, though
I'm far from conversant with all of Carolan's tunes. There are some nice
settings of "The Blackbird" that turn up under various names in the South.
And there is, I'm sure, a lot that we'll never know about older
repertoire that existed in oral tradition both here and in Ireland that
never got written down. Samuel Bayard did intense collecting mostly in
Pennsylvania, and he can trace a goodly portion of that repertoire to
Enough. I've already gone on longer than I intended to. If I have a
main point it's that we should watch out for sweeping generalizations and
oversimplification of the complex workings of tradition.
Thanks for listening,
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