“The Beautiful Music All Around Us”

Stephen Wade holding a copy of his book

Last week I had the good fortune of introducing Stephen Wade at the Cambridge Forum in Harvard Square. Like an archaeologist revisiting a dig site 75 years later, Wade went back to 13 Southern towns where folklorists working for the Library of Congress had recorded locally known singers and musicians.  These field recordings went on to become iconic of Southern old time banjo and fiddle music, blues, children’s lore, cowboy songs, and other forms of American folk music.

William Stepp on horseback

In addition to doing some serious library research, Wade was able to track down living relatives or acquaintances, finding himself in places where everyday people made music:  living rooms, front porches, church pews, prisons, and dance halls. During his November 13 presentation in Cambridge, he told stories from his travels in researching and writing The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience. He also performed on a number of banjos, including one originally belonging to musician Hobart Smith. Take a look and listen —


Fiddle or Violin? Meet a Maker

It is a question we hear all the time — what is the difference between a violin and a fiddle? It depends on what style of music someone plays, but basically, they are the same instrument. Chunk Dingle, a country guitar player from Georgia put it this way: “A violin has strings on it; a fiddle has straangs on it.” Classical musicians tend to call their instruments violins, but they sometimes refer to them as fiddles. Players of bluegrass, old-time, and contra dance tunes are more likely to call their instruments fiddles.

The violin pictured here was made by Bob Childs and it is currently on display at the National Heritage Museum, as part of the exhibition “Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts.” This Saturday, from 1:00-3:00 pm, Bob is going to demonstrate various aspects of violin making. You can ask questions, watch Bob measure, sand, chisel, and carve, and then go take a look at the finished product.