In the South, people played banjos for generations before tutors ever appeared, and continued to play them long after the tutors were forgotten and left to rot in dusty libraries. Joe Ayers told me once that his style was not found directly verbally expressed in the tutors but was "distilled" from them after 30 years of playing through them. His finger approach to a tune nowadays is not the same as it was 20 years ago.
His style ( Joe Ayers ) is his style.....as I said. People evolve and have different needs. What he is, is not independent of what he has studied, however. Choosing not to do something you have knowledge of is certainly different than being uninformed, or underexposed.
I think the value of the tutors is....while any one thing may not provide the complete truth, ...you are able to get a panoramic view of something that has since passed, and are able to make some kind of judgment as to what the common threads were. I think people have a great curiosity about this music, and the past. There has to be something to hang your hat on to define music of the past. Not all people have the time....the research...nor the skill to arrive at any conclusion without at least a few solid clues. Joe is a pro....most are casual hobbyists.
The information I choose to share as instructional are merely foundational constants I see in several sources. There must be some truth in there if they appear so many times, from different people...and the empirical evidence supports it. It feels good...sounds good...and it works. People are free to play music any way they choose. Examining the written record, and mindfully interpreting it, can certainly harm nobody.
Mark Weems said:
In North Carolina, as I have said before, there are literally scores of banjo style traditions, representing a continuous, uninterrupted folk tradition that existed before, and developed independent of, banjo instructional books. Using only the tutors of the mid 19th century, which were deliberate, commercially designed productions for beginners, packaged in a handful of cities in the North, to inform us of what early banjo playing sounded like, is akin to burying a copy of Wayne Erbsen's Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus for a hundred years, having someone find it, and then saying that that represents a panoramic view of the the banjo playing of the day. Meanwhile, in Ole Caroline, we'll still be playing Mississippi Sawyer in a myriad of styles, just like we have for the past 200 years, right in front of their noses!
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, this is an age-old debate that is perhaps not really a debate at all. I don't think anyone is saying that the material from the banjo tutors represents everything (or even almost everything) that was going on banjo-wise or music-wise at the time. I wonder does anyone really think that? Perhaps there's a better term than 'panoramic view', because formal music instructional books and sheet music, by their very nature as commercially published merchandise, have always represented one slice of the musical pie at any given time. How big that slice is in relation to the whole pie is open for speculation once we enter the era before audio or field recordings. The many surviving tutor books certainly represent a panoramic view of published banjo instructional material of the time- no one can argue with that! And possibly they offer a broad selection of many popular tunes of the time. I like your Erbsen example...lol.
Tim- just because something is called a deliberate commercial product doesn't mean to imply it wasn't well crafted with much effort, care, passion, and detail. The two things are not necessarily exclusive of each other. :)
But... what does all this really have to do with Tim's new Buckley tutor recordings, or even with the question about recording tracks of Weidlich's books, for that matter? I fear I am guilty of hijacking Tim's thread and announcement, and for that I apologize!
I wish these views were not so polarized. I feel like it is the federal government sometimes. I do get tired of people ripping on the tutors. Just accept them as a great source of music. Don't like one song?...then choose another one of the hundreds and hundreds we have been lucky enough to have. They ARE a snapshot in time. Everything else is conjecture, no matter how hard you try to say otherwise. The extent of the use of them is of course debatable.
If there were just 10 songs someone found written down someplace, that would be so different from finding the hundreds and hundreds we have. Similar themes, techniques, styles, harmony, rhythm, and form. No coincidence. It must have been real in someone's dimension.
Which is of course NOT TO SAY OR IMPLY that there was nothing else going on.
Hi, I just want to add something. For myself it is the feeling of the songs and the feeling they evoke when I hear them. There is a difference when one skips over the actual notation and and adds their own embellishments either due to the fact they don't play it note by note as written and dance around the melody close enough to where it resembles the tune. Still pleasant and recognizable...but different. The way Tim interprets the music as Written from these tutors brings something to the table that is as honest an interpretation as one may hear. And Personally that is the way I prefer to learn the song and play it, ...because it evokes a certain feeling. Skipping around the melody and doing what you feel is OK too, but doesn't bring to it the same feeling. This is for ME personally. SO the tutors are excellent and I amgrateful they are accessible, after all I want something that was put out there for people to learn from that period, not a modern interpretation.
I Iove the books. I learn many of the pieces, study them, and enjoy playing them. Got videos on this site of me playing them. 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.
Tim Twiss said:
I was under the impression Clawhammer, and the rest was born out of this style, I am ignorant on a lot of this, but that's the way I was explaining it to people when I tell them about my Minstrel Banjo and how this all evolved.
Ever Listened to Dink Roberts? that's some crazy rambelings. What is a good example of round peak Mark?
I find myself a day lat and a dollar short on all this but I'm getting an education. Which some of these debates shed light on.
I think one can enjoy a niche without being a snob.
Perhaps it is up to the more educated and informed musicians to create a convincing linear relationship of this music. Who would not want to be informed of this?
One other thought....perhaps a fresh perspective on this old music has value that is overlooked. If one has been seeking and studying it from a fixed point of view like you are Mark, you may tend to want to see it from only a certain point of view. It may justified and might make sense...but be open, or you create your own form of snobbery.