Wednesday, January 25, 2006

American Folklife Center Online Presentations

Pete, Paris, and Neal Hammons

Another bulletin from my "Internet Resources on Traditional American Music and Craft" (or whatever it turns out to be): The American Folklife Center, part of the Library of Congress. In contrast to some federal agencies and research institutions, the Library of Congress has been steadily improving and adding to its Internet resources for many years. Here's a quote from their "mission statement" (Does that phrase give you the creeps? It does me.):

"The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. The goal of the Library's National Digital Library Program is to offer broad public access to a wide range of historical and cultural documents as a contribution to education and lifelong learning."

The American Folklife Center has made many interesting collections accessible for free on their American Folklife Center Online Presentations. One of particular interest for me is Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection.

"Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection is a multi-format ethnographic field collection of traditional fiddle tunes performed by Henry Reed of Glen Lyn, Virginia. Recorded by folklorist Alan Jabbour in 1966-67, when Reed was over eighty years old, the tunes represent the music and evoke the history and spirit of Virginia's Appalachian frontier. Many of the tunes have passed back into circulation during the fiddling revival of the later twentieth century. This online collection incorporates 184 original sound recordings, 19 pages of fieldnotes, and 69 musical transcriptions with descriptive notes on tune histories and musical features; an illustrated essay about Reed's life, art, and influence; a list of related publications; and a glossary of musical terms."

Henry Reed was a West Virginia fiddler from Monroe County. (Go out my driveway, turn left, keep going, and you'll be there in under an hour.) Alan Jabbour and The Fuzzy Mountain String Band made his acquaintance when he lived just over the West Virginia border in Virginia. This band made some of Reed's tunes standards among the "hippies" in the 1970's. (The "hippies" usually call themselves "revivalists," or something more dignified. They are people who play traditional Appalachian music, but were not raised in that tradition. Local musicians call them "hippies" to be kind, and "horseflies and chicken chokers" to be unkind.) Some of Reed's unique tunes, like "Over the Waterfall," have been played so much by outsiders that West Virginia musicians won't play them on a bet.

The upshot of this overexposure is that Henry Reed is not as well-known locally as he deserves to be. The .mp3 files in Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection are gems, given away for free, and represent a chance to hear Reed's "licks" and interpretations of standard tunes, and some unusual melodies that are not widely played any more.

I'm making my way through other American Folklife Center Online Presentations a little at a time. I'm very impressed with the quality and variety. I should also point out that the Archive of Folk culture sells some recordings taken from their collections. You can sample the "Online Presentations," and browse for things you need at Folk Recordings Selected from the Archive of Folk Culture. The photo above is on the cover of "The Hammons Family: Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Friends," a favorite recording/publication of mine, and one I quoted extensively in Haunted Pocahontas County, "Signs and Wonders from the Hammons Family."

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