Why So Much American Southern Rural Fiddle Type Music in Dulcimer Jams?
General mountain dulcimer or music discussions
Starting a new thread as was recommended: (The original discussion centered on 8 jam along videos .)
Robin Clark wrote:
"What intrigues me is why the dulcimer teaching repertoire is so regularly centred around old Appalachian tunes when there is such a wealth of contemporary music that would equally suit a contemporary dulcimer jam?"
"Wouldn't it be better to do tunes like this for Join the Jam on the contemporary mountain dulcimer, asthey arelikely to come up at a campfire jam?"
"Shouldn't'True Colors'be an absolute contemporary dulcimer players 'standard' rather than 'Old Joe Clark'?"
First off, I haven't been able to dedicate myself to one kind of music. What works for me personally is focusing on a style, genre, or musician for 1 to 3 months at a time. I go through cycles. The holidays of November and December get me on Irish. When I'm stressed, I turn to jazz. Throughout the year, I pass through bluegrass, blues, electronic dance music, old-time, rock and roll, Indian, and others.
What I play in a Jam depends on the "campfire" and who's around it. I'm up for anything, but the jams I'm usually in include a bunch of dulcimer players who's shared body of knowledge and experience is, much more often than not, centered around pre-bluegrass Southern rural fiddle tunes or anything that's even a little like them.
When I get together with folks, I'm just not real focused on what style we're going to play. I'mobsessed, actually, with HOW we're playing. If I sit down knee to knee with another dulcimer player, I'm not there to play TUNES . I'm there to PLAY tunes. I'm looking for good vibes, clear communication, and creative risk-taking. It's really about community for me. The tunes are the vehicle for the expression. They're not the end goal.
So, why these tunes? I do think they fit really well on the instrument. In the long run, they're easier to transmit and execute than some other types. They're also great for traditional dancing and what it requires. The notes are just enough to keep folks busy and happy. The feel is just right.
A lot of music from the last 60 years has been more groove oriented as opposed to melodic. Take "Walk this Way" by Aerosmith, for example. It's one of my favorite songs but it's just too much about the rhythm to be the kind of material melodic jammers can embrace AS A WHOLE. There are exceptions.
Strongly melodic pop tunes over the last 100 years are often not rhythmically busy enough to work as dance music. I can play "Begin the Beguine" on the dulcimer but there's a certain density of notes that just doesn't fit the bill.
I'm not saying "Walk This Way" and "Begin the Beguine" aren't appropriate for the dulcimer or for a dulcimer jam. I AM saying they're less likely to show up because of the type of rhythm and melody they depend on. There won't likely be enough people who are prepared to play that kind of music.
Traditional type jamming tunes have certain features in common that lead to success with what we're going for. Consider tunes from the following traditions: Shetland, French hurdy gurdy, Irish pipes, German polkas, African singing and drumming, etc. In most cases, it's enough of the right stuff to keep it interesting and accessible and not too much of something else to ruin the communication and community. We're not talking about specialized show music; we're talking about group play along material that welcomes a wide range of abilities and levels of involvement.
There's also the fact, for me, that I had relatives who played Southern rural music. I also had relatives who came from the mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky. The old-time melodies we play makes me remember folks I knew as well as folks I never got to know. I'm sure I look fondly back on agrarian ways. I have a heart for the pioneering type and it's centered around the rural and rocky parts of what's considered the South. (Yes, I was born in Cincinnati but I love grits and red-eye gravy so back off!)I even blame Hee-Haw which I grew up with and loved.
Why are we playing old-time even though we're not playing old-time with folks at old-time festivals? Part of the reason is we have become our own thing. We play dulcimer music. Through time, we've found the right kind of material to keep us together long enough to laugh and enjoy the eating. These tunes fit the bill. You also have to realize our versions of these old-time tunes have been somewhat simplified to accommodate the limitations of our instrument. Our versions don't always mesh. (Also, quite often, as a whole, we're not as mature musically as the folks we want to sit in with. I know there are exceptions and I find them exciting and inspiring.)
Basically, I just want to get together with some friends and trance out to whatever kind of music will work. I didn't know any of these tunes when I started. I just wanted to join the jam. I was looking for friendship and a common goal. These Southern American tunes we favor fit the bill pretty well.I really don't care what we're playing as long as we can do it well together and feel good about it as and after it happens.
There ARE different kinds of jams. At Dulcimerville in Black Mountain, NC, you'll find all kinds of jams at night. You've got the Don Pedi old-time crowd. There's the standard dulcimer fiddle tune jam. You've got the bunch who likes to sing. There's a doo-wop jam. There's the away-from-the-dorms building where all the electric players are plugging in. There's all KINDS of jams to suit your interests but when we all get together in one big room, you're going to hear the common repertoire.
One last thing. You can't get around the copyright issues. For me to publish a book of modern tunes legally is one thing and it's possible. John Sackenheim and Tull Glazener have pulled it off, just to name a couple. Putting out a package that includes a book, a CD, and DVD video is a whole other level of complexity. I've gone to a couple attorneys about this in Nashville. One department handles print publishing. Another handles video. Since your audio CD has 15 versions of the same tune, you sure don't want to go through Harry Fox or you'll be paying 15 times the statutory rate. It's all got to be magnificently coordinated. Add digital distribution to the mix including custom websites and it's enough to make you want to stick with public domain. I sincerely hope things change in the next few years and I suspect they will. (Please someone tell me things have changed. I'd love to hear all about it in another forum or privately.)
That's enough rambling. Back to jamming. Robin, when you and I get together knee to knee, let's play some Beatles tunes. I'm all for it.
updated by @stephen-seifert: 08/02/23 03:23:11AM