Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Roots

We are drawn to The Blue Ridge Music Center. The setting along the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 213)is peaceful; daily free performances by local musicians are an educational and entertaining;
and the permanent exhibition, "The Roots of American Music," pro-grammed by The National Council for the Traditional Arts for the preservation and interpretation of regional music, is a powerful draw. On each of our four visits (so far) to hear different performers, I have taken a tour of this exhibit of the musical history of Appalachia.

Music plays such a predominant role in the lives of the people of this region that it seems that music alone defines the culture.

A late 18th-century-style Pennsylvania German scheitholt, a forerunnerof the Appalachian dulcimer (left) and a Kentucky dulcimer in the traditional coffin style (right).

"The instrumental tradition of the Appalachians started as anglo-celtic dance tunes and eventually was reshaped by local needs, African rhythms, and changes in instrumentation.
The Akonting, a West African relative of the banjo.

"The fiddle was at first the main instrument, often alone, as a piano would have been too expensive to purchase" ( articles/appalach).

18th-century-style gourd banjo.

"Tunes changed a lot from reels and ballads, first with the introduction of the banjo after 1860." Early American banjos were not replicas of any known instrument, although West African designs are the basic design of the banjo.

"The blend of cultural influences on the music of Appalachia began with the migration from the northern states by German (with the dulcimer, violin) and the Scotch-Irish musical cultures (ballads and ditties) and from the African (banjo) influences from the Tidewater area.

It was said that the banjo played a central role in a social music shared by blacks and whites. "The meeting of violin and banjo epitomizes the meeting of European and African influences in American music."

"Then with the popularity of the guitar (starting in 1910), the tunes became more elaborate and melodic. Having a chordal structure also evened out irregularities as the guitar produced the even backup of a measured beat. The guitar also greatly redefined singing traditions in the same way."

Guitar built by Wayne Henderson of Rugby, VA.

As noted on the display: "During the 20th century, the guitar became the emulsifier of American musical culture, the common denominator between hillbilly and blues men, rocker and country, and jazzman and ethnic musician."

And Wayne Henderson is nationally known as one of, if the THE, most skilled luthiers in the country.

Mandolin produced by Gerald Anderson.

One of Wayne Henderson's students is Gerald Anderson from Troutdale, VA. The intricate inlay work is shown in detail in the photo below.

There are also displays and video examples of some of the famous families and individual performers. This photo shows Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family.

The Spencer Family (Whitetop Mountain Band) is also featured in the exhibit.

Family members often made their own instruments, learned to play several instruments, and often had to provide their own entertainment generations ago because of the distance between neighbors and limited resources for other means of entertainment.

The strength of the family and local ties to other musicians in bands is still apparent today.

Finally, of interest was the origin of the term "bluegrass" and "hillbilly." Bill Monroe (often call the "Father of Bluegrass Music") and the Blue Grass Boys and Flatt and Scruggs (adding the dobro) were leaders in this style.

Banjoist John Rector thought that his barbershop buddies in Galax, VA, were better than the band he was playing with. In 1924, his band, the Hill Billies, traveled to New York City. The successful appearance of these businessmen dressed in bibb overalls and performing with bales of straw on stage helped this name catch on for the style similar to bluegrass music.

I have to return at least one more time to watch all the videos. Maybe twice more.

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