This week, I’m beginning with a story: acclaimed West Virginia fiddler Ernie Carpenter talking about his fiddling heritage handed down by his father and grandfather, a maker of dugout canoes on Elk River, West Virginia.
In this fascinating 1987 reel-to-reel audio recording, Ernie tells his tale, and goes on to play one of his grandfather’s tunes – the jauntily crooked Granddad’s Favorite.
Ernie’s father, Shelt Carpenter, photographed around 1932.
The audio recording is followed by the video of the musical part of the same performance at the October 1987 Celebration of Traditional Music, Berea College.
And, last but by no means least, this week’s post is topped off by a wonderfully clear teaching video: Andy Fitzgibbon’s rendition of Granddad’s Favorite, as played by Ernie Carpenter.
You’ll notice that Granddad’s Favorite is a crooked tune, with extra bars when you least expect them. It also comes with two warnings for fiddlers:
In the recordings below, the fiddles are cross-tuned: Ernie Carpenter in GDGD, Andy Fitzgibbon in AEAE. If you’d like to try cross-tuning, you’re less likely to break a string tuning your two lower strings up to AEAE, than tuning your top two down a tone for GDGD, and then having to crank them back up again to standard/GDAE. (I speak from sad experience.)
And if you prefer to keep your fiddle in standard tuning, don’t try to copy the fingering in the video!
And now for our story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then Ernie will begin.
A beautiful light-and-shade waltz composed by English fiddler, bass-player and violist Laurel Swift, also widely known as a dancer, choreographer, composer, and inspirational teacher of all things musical. Laurel is playing here with duo partner, fiddler, melodeon-player and dancer Ben Moss (you may remember the tune from a May 2015 Fiddletails post which focused on the second tune in the set, Whitefrairs’ Hornpipe.)
Ben Moss & Laurel Swift play Walthamstow Folk Club, London, Sunday 25 October. Details and tickets here. (Highly recommended – they played and sang up a storm at their Green Note gig back in January 2015!)
More information on their website, and on Facebook, and Twitter (@FolkieBen, @Laurel_Swift). Oxford Folk Weekend has an interesting biography of the duo linked to a future gig in April 2016.
Current EP available from Ben & Laurel’s website, where you can listen to the great (free!) track No Money.
Maggie Cole (fortepiano), Kati Debretzeni (violin), Sebastian Comberti (cello)
My all-time favourite non-traditional ‘band’.
‘Trio Goya play Classical chamber music on period instruments… a collective fascination with the new colours and narratives that these instruments suggest…’ says the website.
In fact, they are one of those dynamic, fluid bands/groups/ensembles who play out of intense mutual listening, so that you’re drawn right into the heart of the music. One of the things I love about them is that you can often hear the common-or-garden dance roots in their classical pieces – a touch of the street from a time when music was music, and not cordoned off into discrete disciplines.
Fantastic musicianship from three truly great players – and a real treat for Fiddletails fiddle-followers in violinist Kati Debretzeni’s magical playing.
A rare London performance – do go if you possibly can!
Here’s an old-time treat for singers, fiddlers, fiddle-singers, banjo players – or indeed anyone who loves a great tune rendered as a slow air.
The Blackest Crow is known as an Appalachian tune. Lyle Lofgren comments on its origins: Versions of this song containing references to glass breasts and superlatively black crows have been collected in both Appalachia and the Ozarks. Some of these versions are diary entries dating from the time of the American civil war. Written copies of the words and the existence of multiple tunes indicate that the song was spread by broadside or newspaper publication rather than in the oral tradition.
Current versions of the tune mostly derive from the playing/singing of acclaimed North Carolina fiddler and banjo player Tommy Jarrell (1901-1985), whose working life was spent on road construction.
There are any number of versions of the lyrics, though the tune is generally unchanging. My three personal choices are each utterly individual. Enjoy!
Red Tail Ring
Laura Premo (fiddle), Michael Beauchamp (guitar)
Michigan multi-instrumentalists and master harmonizers, with ‘old-timey roots, new-timey sounds’. (Fiddle tuned down to EBF#C# – ie corresponding to standard tuning, but at lower pitch, with the tune fingered as though in standard key of G.)
Melodic virtuoso solo performance at the 2010 Sore Fingers Summer School, Oxfordshire, England. Adam’s rendition is so clear, it might just be the exception to the old rule that a fiddler should never learn a tune from a banjo player!
Red Tail Ring: currently on tour, with an unmissable Old-Time Ensemble Workshop in Downers Grove, IL, USA this Saturday, 3 October. Further details of that and remaining tour dates on their website, along with videos and downloads of their CDs.
Adam Hurt: for more information on gigs, recordings and online banjo teaching, see his website.
Tommy Jarrell: there is a wealth of information and recordings online, including an interesting biography here, and a lovely piece on his first fiddle now in the keeping of the Smithsonian.
Every week or so I feature a tune that's caught my fancy – audio/video clips of brilliant musicians playing great, perhaps uncommon tunes to learn by ear. Mostly English and American Old-time. Sometimes dances or songs from other musical worlds.
Fiddles or frets, free-reeds or fipples – whatever you play, I hope you’ll enjoy catching these wonderful tunes!