Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Has anyone got this impressive looking tome yet?

The "Milliner Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes" here's a link to the book at Elderley. http://elderly.com/books/items/158-72.htm

Looks like a lot of good playing could be had out of it. I was a big fan of Walt Koken's when he was in the Highwoods Stringband (one of the great hippie stringbands of the 1970s). I'm dying to see what sort of crossovers there might be with the 19th century banjo stuff amongst the 1400 plus tunes, but haven't sucked in my breath enough to pay the 90 bucks ...yet. (heck, the way things are these days it's actually only about $86.50 Canadian!)

Views: 34

Comment by Tim Twiss on August 18, 2011 at 8:44am

Looks interesting. I was thinking about getting some of the Kerr's Collections...might add up to close to this anyway...what do you think Ian...I think you have several Kerr's?

Perhaps I'll go by Saturday and thumb through it. 

Comment by Strumelia on August 18, 2011 at 9:56am

The Milliner/Koken book is monumental- obviously many many pages and it's quite heavy (i've browsed through it).   Might need its own stand like those big old dictionaries had.  lol!  Not sure how easy it would be to lay down in a copy machine when you want to work on just one tune at a time. 

My husband (OT fiddler) and are at a point in time when we are more into focusing our repertoire than expanding it by leaps and bounds.  Also, my husband learns fiddle tunes by ear and doesn't read standard notation very fluently.  So it didn't make much sense for us to buy the book right now.


I think Clare transcribed most of the tunes in the book from fiddle recordings both old and recent, and naturally none of those audio recordings were from the 1800's.  

Many of the tunes in the book were known to have been played in the 1800's, but we can't know exactly how they sounded back then.  There was no standard notation for them and no recordings, the tunes were passed to the next generation by ear.  

I do know that when one listens to a fiddle recording of say Hiram Stamper (born 1893), and then listens to the same tune played by any well known old-time fiddler today (and duely accredited to Hiram), one can hear that the tune has undergone a very substantial change in tone and character, sometimes even a change in melody or modern sounding chord progressions layered on top.  Even Hiram's own son often altered his father's tunes drastically, typically squaring them off, adding guitar, and changing them from minor to major, for the sake of playing in 'hard driving' old-time festival sessions and for playing at square dances.  Comparing for example Hiram's version of Goin' To Boston  to his son Art's version is a real eye opener.

The versions of fiddle tunes in the Milliner book reflect tune versions reaching from today back to the earliest surviving fiddle recordings.  But even the earlier recordings from the 20's-40's have likely undergone significant evolution from their mid 1800's versions.  In that respect the standard notation surviving from the 1800's banjo tutor books give a more accurate historic window to their own particular genre of music.

The Milliner/Koken book gives a great representation of American old-time fiddling from say the earliest 1920's recordings right through to versions played by respected old-time fiddlers today.  But good to acknowledge the influence of tune evolution if mining the book for 1800's material.

Comment by Ian Bell on August 18, 2011 at 6:02pm

Thanks for that great comments Stumelia. I think I'm going to have to get it at some point. (after I get the accordion tuned and help pay Number 2 son's university tuition!)


Tim, the impression I have (and I may be wrong about this) is that the Koken/Milliner book just contains tunes that are indigenous to the US or at least have been "made American" through decades of landed immigrant status in your country. This would make it a very different creature than Kerr's which is kind of a snapshot of what was in the air in 1880s Glasgow. (and a lot of other places as well once the book came out)


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