Tim Twiss said:
What you got against these books Mark? Don't you like the music in them? NOBODY says it is the only thing. But it is a good thing. It must have existed.....yes, I think it did. I like that music. I did not grow up in the south. I'm grateful to have something like that. I think they were snapshots of something that existed at the time. Of course, not the only game in town, but good stuff.
"deliberate, commercially designed productions for beginners, packaged in a handful of cities in the North"
I think that is a narrow and snobby view of the music. Too much effort into detail to be a brush off commercial product. I detect detail and care in the arrangements. Not everybody's cup of tea, but why knock it?
Mark Weems said....
To my mind, however, to study them independently of the greater living folk tradition of old time banjo (Clawhammer, Round Peak, etc.) is where the real snobbery lies.
Mark...why you picking such an attitude with this stuff? We're all on the same team. I respect highly what you do. All I feel from you is an attitude with little support for my research and playing. I'm just sharing what I do....and it is different from you. It IS studied at the exclusion of looking at other styles. I really don't care for most of the other stuff. Never listened to it....not interested. My background is vastly different and steeped in modern popular traditions and Classical music. But, that is who I am. If you don't care for it, that's fine. I am taking a pure look at something....understanding it the best I can.
Mark - I feel its a bit of an overstatement to claim there was much of a BANJO folk tradition existing before the first tutors were available. What was there was not exactly a white tradition in any event.
I didn't realize we were only considering 'white banjo traditions' for the discussion. (!)
Before Joe Sweeney and very few others there's indications that the black slaves had a banjo tradition, but not scores of traditions, and certainly not yet the white traditions that developed in the hills. Those many other traditions of which you speak apparently developed after the Civil War as the country amalgated and the banjo itself was disseminated into the boonies.
"Apparently" ? According to who? Is it merely 'apparent' they did not exist because such folk styles had no instructional booklets commercially published and distributed? Or, perhaps various traditions of banjo playing styles which Mark refers to were developing well before the Civil War, in populated and agricultural regions of the South and the Caribbean... regions that were not necessarily remote or inaccessible but rather were well traveled by both whites and blacks variously involved in trade, settlement building, slavery, shipping, agriculture...and maybe such banjo traditions also made their way later on (along with banjos) 'into the boonies' as you say, after the CW.
Well, Tim, I think the effort to recreate the authentic minstrel banjo style is a triumphant success, your effort especially, and I do find that your playing has a lot of the bounce/swing/swagger the music must have had. It is wonderful that this music was saved, by this considerable effort by modern players such as yourself, as well as what were considerable efforts by the authors of the banjo tutors to capture what they must have been doing. It's fun music to play and listen to, and I think what you are doing must be darn close to what they were doing. You've made it real. Hear, hear! And your pedagogical effort to help others learn this music is extremely generous.
Not surprisingly, I disagree fundamentally with Dan'l's assertion that there was not much of a banjo tradition going on before minstrelsy and the tutors, however. There's plenty of evidence for it, if you know how to read history. And I know I always toot the Gottschalk horn, but there it is--a dead ringer for what survives as clawhammer banjo style, even with various chordal textures, and a West African-style phrase structure and repetitive architecture that sure didn't come from minstrel players or Europe (it is only hinted at in tunes like "Juba" and a few others). The fact that we find that as early as the earliest tutors and in the early 20th century all over the place is certainly evidence that West African performance practice was going strong as a parallel development and that there must have been direct interactions with black and white banjo players outside the professional performance context. If modern players are drawn to a synthesis of the rediscovered tradition and surviving banjo performance practice, it is not out of the question that such a blend is historically accurate, though probably not a feature of the minstrel stage. Personally, I am drawn to exploring what is possible as much as what is certain.
There are lots of choices a modern player can make with all of this wonderful music, and I find that I am extremely opinionated and "snobby" with what I choose to do with my own music--such a focus is any player's prerogative and arguably essential to any artistic pursuit--but I am loath to tell anyone else what to do, especially when it their efforts are so delightful. I find myself enthusiastic about everyone's music on this site.
Tim, don't be so sensitive. Although we seem to have some different ideas about this stuff, I agree that we are on the same research team. You don't need to feel that I don't support your research - I think your work represents a monumental contribution to the study of Minstrel Banjo Style, and one that we have all benefited from.
Well stated Paul. :)
Ahhh....happy sigh. Let's bring this one in for a landing now.
Anyway, back to the first point.....I hope those of you that get my recording of the entire Buckley 1868 enjoy it.
I'M sure enjoying it, Tim. Still. This stuff gets under your skin. I could never play most of it. I don't venture beyond the ninth fret. I've been having visions of minstrels and the old days all day.
Thanks Terry. I'm sure it's nice to hear your baby singin' real purty.
I think the tutor instructional books are a great guide in terms of indicating how the tunes went- the notes, the fingering techniques - what a treasure to have! And certainly the tunes from the tutors can be played exactly as notated and thoroughly enjoyed on their own just as is (that's the stage of the journey where I am right now). But the 'complete' picture of how music must really have sounded then would more likely be approximated after we have absorbed the bare bones structure of the tunes and songs and then closed our books and brought the music to life- playing it in our kitchen with family, alone on a neighborhood stoop, by the hearth or campfire, with our friends at potlucks or dances, accompanied by whistles or tambos or bones, or guitars, drums and fiddles...joyful and alive, both intimate and exhuberant.
The tutors are not so much the end destination as they are a wonderful signpost, gently pointing us in a direction so we ourselves can add the living stuff of laughter, tears, shows, dances, worship, toil, romance, thrills... the music of rough young America both including and beyond the scope of the printed banjo tutor publications surely must have been a bright rich ragtag whirl of textures, various traditions and cultures, languages, rhythms... That's how the music likely 'really' sounded then...and now. :)
Tim, did you do all of these stroke style, or are you finger-picking some also?