The last link takes you to the Table of Contents from “Applied Rhythm Guitar with Texas Style Walking Bass Lines“. It is a pdf file so you can download it easily (or so I hope). This is the link to the chapter about diminished chords. Applied Rhythm Guitar with Texas Style Walking Bass Lines – […]
I received my Master of Humanities graduate degree in the spring of 1994, a course of study I chose because it allowed me to combine the disciplines of Communication and Music Business. By the early nineties, it seemed clear that Texas Style Fiddling was no longer confined to Texas itself but was spreading to other states by exposing new and younger audiences to the style via fiddle contests. Consequently, for my Master’s Thesis, I examined some of the possible reasons for the styles diffusion to people who would not normally have chosen to fiddle themselves or to have allowed their children to fiddle had they not been exposed to Texas Style. Therein, the following is entitled:
“The Communication of Change within a Music Tradition: The Marketing of Texas Style Fiddling”
Scholars who have examined the American cultural tradition of fiddling have primarily concerned themselves with examining either the music played or the individuals who played music for the local dances. Those examining the music tend to do so for purposes of creating publicly saleable manuals containing transcriptions of their own or others versions of fiddle songs, or they academically examine the music in terms of the music itself. Those scholars examining the people who played the fiddle for the local dances tend to proceed from individual perspectives emphasizing local traditions, note versions of the songs and personal histories including when, where, and from whom certain songs were learned and played.
When the cultural event of the local dance expanded to include the fiddle contest event, cultural norms changed, resulting in the development of a particular fiddling style (the innovation) that originated in Texas and that style’s diffusion to innovators within the national fiddle playing community. “The quality of the style caused it to spread outside of Texas. It’s a fiddling style that’s very different than most other styles. It’s more of a desirable style and of course it became the winning style in fiddle contests. So that has caused it to get out into the other states” (Herman Johnson). Since “innovation takes place as much in the light of social pressure as in that of aesthetic judgment” and “music, while ephemeral, ranks as one kind of social fact, fully amenable to the manipulations applied to other social facts” (Herndon and McLeod i), then my purpose is to investigate this stylistic musical change (the innovation) within the social pressures of the centuries old American fiddling cultural tradition and its diffusion via marketing techniques by teachers of the “new” style to an outside culture. I suspect that the teachers of what has come to be known as “Texas Style Fiddling” are acting as change agents, defined as individuals who present, sell and/or market their product to clients outside of their existing social system for purposes of influencing a client’s innovation decision in a direction deemed desirable by the change agent; and that they are responsible for exposing fiddling to the outsider by attending public fiddle contests and eventually word of mouth advertising thus changing those opinions so that the innovators from the outside culture feel free to join.
Culture involves a sense of membership, it “is the shared way of living and thinking that includes symbols and language (both verbal and nonverbal), knowledge, beliefs and values (what is good and bad), norms (how people are expected to behave), and techniques ranging from common folk ‘recipes’ to sophisticated technologies” (Harper 5). As such, cultural processes are intimately linked with creative individuals, who themselves emerge out of a particular kind of social context over time (Lauer 90). Musical culture is the sum of those cultural processes and patterns having to do with music, musical meaning, and musical behavior (Kamin). When disparate yet similar musical cultures, have operated for years in isolation from the other, then suddenly, either by accident or by design, discover shared meanings between themselves with regards to specific areas of their music and thus their cultures, there exists at that time the opportunity for both cultures to receive information, ideas and techniques from the other. The information offered and received is an innovation. This acculturation process is not passive but an active communication of mutual discovery and significance.
Rogers defines an innovation as “an idea, practice or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption” . Thus an innovation does not have to be a piece of hard technology although it can contain a hardware aspect, it may take the form of a new idea or technique “consisting of the information base for the use of the tool” (11). Within this paper, the innovation, “Texas Style Fiddling” is discussed as the required knowledge necessary to perform a unique fiddling style developed by specific, creative individuals within a given socio-cultural system in response to the competitive requirements of fiddle contests. It need be remembered however, that the changes emerging from within a culture, as it develops, are, “a self-sustaining process that is independent of particular individuals, including those individuals we think of as creative. For the appearance of an innovation does not depend upon any particular individual” (Lauer 121). The culture itself must be ready to develop and accept the change. Those individuals within the Texas Fiddling culture generally credited with originating the style are Benny Thomasson, Major Franklin, Eck Robertson, Orville Burns and several others.
Methodology and History
The author’s methodology consisted of systematically interviewing eight current teachers of the “Texas Style” who have a direct connection to individuals’ generally credited with originating the style. The questions asked of the teachers were designed to be open ended and are attached as an appendix. Several of these teachers are among the original group who carried the style out of Texas, with the remainder being students of those teachers. Each of these teachers learned to play by means of the folk/oral tradition, not from books or written sheet music.
The questions asked of the teachers were primarily open ended and concerned with the attitudes and activities undertaken to expose and motivate cultural outsiders to join the fiddle playing culture by taking fiddle lessons. These activities undertaken by the teachers, are hypothesized to be a conscious, reflective process emanating from the need to recruit students in order to earn a living. Over the years, each of the teachers’ has developed a bias towards what works when marketing their product and what does not work when marketing their product. This effort, qualitative in nature, was designed to discover any related biases among the teachers in terms of their own communication approaches to marketing their product, as well as what they believe it is about their product that communicates to the purchasers, their students. Additionally, it is assumed that the students choice to take lessons has resulted in diffusion.
- The first meeting of the Texas Old Time Fiddlers Association.
Teachers Who Were Interviewed
Dale Morris – A Texas native whose primary teacher was Benny Thomasson. Dale is a past Texas State Fiddle Champion, National Adult Champion and World Series of Fiddling Champion. Has performed professionally with country artists Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe and The Sons of the Pioneers. Dale has thirty private students in Texas as well as a large number of others scattered throughout the west who he travels to visit.
Chris Daring – Current Colorado resident whose primary teachers were Dale Morris and his younger brother Terry (now deceased) who was also taught by Benny Thomasson. Terry was also a Texas State Champion as well as a World Champion, a Grand Masters Champion and the Featured Star at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry in 1976. Chris is a former Colorado State Champion and Southwest Regional Champion, and the 1996 National Adult Champion. She has taught fiddling at the University of Southern Colorado, The University of Colorado at Denver, and runs the strings program for the Denver Waldorf School which includes both fiddle and violin students.
Matt Hartz – Idaho native whose primary teachers were Terry Morris and a student of Benny Thomasson’s named Joe Sites. Matt is a former National Junior Champion, Grand Masters Champion and two time National Champion. He currently operates a music store and instructional studio in Boise.
Trish Osthoff – Colorado resident and student of Chris Daring. She is a former Southwest Regional Champion. Assists Chris Daring with private students at the Denver Waldorf School.
Denise Swiniarski – Colorado resident and student of Chris Daring. She is a current Colorado State Champion and the director of Denver’s, “Performing Youth Fiddlers”.
Dick Barrett – Texas native and current Montana resident whose primary teacher was Major Franklin. Dick is a four time National Champion, former Grand Masters Champion and three time National Senior Champion. He has played professionally with the Sons of the Pioneers and was Tex Ritter’s band leader. Dick and his wife Lisa operate a fiddle school at their home in Montana, where they take up to six resident students from around the country for a week or more at a time throughout the year.
Lisa Barrett – Primary teacher was Dick Barrett. She is a former National Women’s Champion.
Herman Johnson – Oklahoma native who learned with many of the original group of Texans and made his own contribution to the style. Herman is a five time National Champion who also receives resident students from around the country at his home in Oklahoma.
In addition to these eight teachers, this written effort references conversations with two other individuals. Although not taken from formal interviews, their comments were selected because they appear to provide some insight into the change process. These individuals are:
Jessie Bingham – Texas native and fiddler who is eighty-six years old. She was present in Texas while the style developed and has an extensive library of old audio tapes of those fiddlers in private jam session settings.
Hughie Smith – A resident of California who is a National Senior Champion.
A Brief History of Texas Style
Each teacher was asked to provide a brief history of the fiddling style as they know it. The following is excerpted from Lisa Barrett’s interview and is included in this effort to acquaint the reader with a folk/oral history, as well as to provide background and some insight into the people, the culture and the music itself.
Eck Robertson, who was probably the first recorded Texas fiddler – by recorded I mean on a commercially released disc – he was born in Greyson County, Virginia and then his family moved to Greyson County, Texas. Makes you wonder if they weren’t drawn there due to the similarity of the names.
Eck is thought of as one of the earliest innovators of the style and I always wondered where did he get those ideas. I was able through the Smithsonian archives to trace it to Virginia. And I still, there were questions in my mind, were these the only two people in Virginia who played like that.
I accidentally happened upon a book one time, you know these flimsy little tear out records. There was a recording on one of those that said the tune was “Martha Campbell” on it. And I thought that’s really interesting, cause I’ve never heard anyone play that except the Texas fiddlers. It’s not part of the repertoire of other styles.
So, I put this record on and I wish I could remember the man’s last name, his first name was Warren, that was the fiddle player on that album. And he played “Martha Campbell” and just about knocked my socks off. It was very good, and it most definitely was the “Martha Campbell” that the Texas fiddlers play. He was also from Virginia and that recording was, I think, from the 60’s, and it’s the only recording of that man I’ve seen. That’s a little more supporting evidence that that style was active in Virginia before it ever came to Texas.
I think the population that was involved in that type of music and played that type of music were largely from agrarian backgrounds and didn’t move around very much. It [the music] just stayed in one locale. It didn’t travel around as much as some of the other styles. So when it first came to the attention of the general public, it was brought to the publics attention by the Texas fiddlers, so that it was just handed that label “Texas Fiddling”. There has always been a question as to whether that’s really an accurate label.
In any case, the Texans are the ones who are actively perpetuating the style. And I can’t really tell you if there’s anyone left in Virginia who’s playing that style. I have spoken with many fiddle players from that part of the country about that and they’re like ‘no I don’t ever here it back there now’. Who knows if it died out there, which is very possible.
Let me see if I can recall some of the things Major Franklin brought into our conversations.
Eck Robertson was – I think – probably the earliest recognized player. Now whether he alone was the impetus I don’t know. I do know there were other fiddle players. One’s name was Mack Brown or Matt Brown, I’m not sure, and Luther Lively. There was Erwin Solomon. Benny Thomasson’s father, Luke, was an early player. And Uncle John Wills was in there too. He was Bob Wills’ father. He was largely a breakdown fiddle player, maybe not thought of in the same way that breakdown fiddlers are thought of today. But I do know he was an active participant in some of the early contests down there, so he probably had some role in the development.
Probably the next generation of people, Major Franklin, Benny Thomasson, Orville Burns. It’s hard to make those separations by generation, they overlap. There were the Solomon boys, Norman and Vernon, Lewis Franklin, Garland Gainer, Jack Mears. I’m trying to think of the ones that are less known, Armin Hall.
Probably the next wave of them, Dale Morris, Terry Morris. Oh, and I have to say too, Omega Burden probably played a pretty big part in the development of the sound as we know it today. And I would put him in that generation with Major and Benny and Orville. Now he was a guitar player. I think he had much more to do with the sound as we know it today then anyone has recognized.
When you listen to the old recordings of Emmett Lundy. He plays “Forked Deer” almost note for note the way we know it today. Well I won’t say note for note because there’s no such thing as note for note, but structurally, it’s very much like we play it today. But what stands out as sounding so different at that time about it was how primitive the rhythm section was at that time. They played two chords, banged away on an out of tune banjo. That wouldn’t be greeted with smiles today.
I think what Omega Burden introduced, he elaborated on the accompanist’s role. He helped the accompanist’s role grow. Probably the earliest recordings I can think of – there are some I think have been reissued on the County Label – a group called the East Texas Serenaders and there is an album that has Erwin Solomon on it and one that has Eck Robertson. Even those albums, while the accompanists role is much more advanced at that point then it was on the Lundy recordings, it wasn’t nearly what Omega Burden brought it up too. And it’s possible there were some other people who were very influential in that but I think we don’t know very much about them today.
Burden’s making the accompaniment more sophisticated contributed to what the fiddler was able to do on their instrument. What you ended up with was, when the accompaniment supplied a moving bass line, the fiddler was then able to expand his ideas and create almost a counterpoint type of melody. You know, he’s countering that bass line, when you don’t have that provided, the melody tends to be less imaginative. The largest contribution that he made is that he allowed the fiddle players imagination to expand. I think the role of the guitar player is very important.
I kind of got off the track. I started to say that next wave of people, it includes a couple guitar players, Bobby Chrisman and Rex Guillintine. Then the fiddlers would probably include Terry Morris and Dale Morris and Shorty Chancellor and Dick Barrett and Steve Williams and Randy Elmore and Valerie Morris. And probably about that time frame there you can probably make another break and then you can start with the players today. A lot of those people are still playing naturally, but the players who are then younger today were taught by those people.
The adoption of the new idea or technique requires the individual to decide to make a change. This decision requires the individual to choose to use the new product. It requires questioning past choices plus facing an unknown future. Adoption differs from invention in that “Invention is the process by which a new idea is discovered or created, while adoption is a decision to make full use of an innovation as the best course of action available” (Rogers 176). Although this paper will attempt to fully describe the innovation at least partially via the invention process, its focus will be on how the innovation is perceived as being communicated to potential adopters by teachers of the style.
“Diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels overtime among members of a social system” (Rogers 5). The social system examined herein is the community of fiddle players who support themselves by teaching Texas Style Fiddle and participate in fiddle contests which were an outgrowth of the community of fiddle players who played for local dances. These teachers are seen as individuals who sell or market their product to people outside of their existing socio-cultural system in a manner not unlike salespeople or change agents within a decentralized system. A decentralized system differs from a centralized system in that a decentralized system does not generally contain an organizing body or agency, and decisions “about such matters as when to begin diffusing an innovation, who should evaluate it, and through what channels it will be diffused … are more widely shared by the clients and potential adopters; here, horizontal networks among the clients are the main mechanism through which innovations spread” (Rogers 7).
These teachers are in the process of diffusing the innovation, Texas Style Fiddling, for their own commercial advantage and at their own pace to the members of an extraneous social system. This then, is an examination of the perceptions and attributions of the carriers of the information, not the receivers of the information. “In diffusion researches following the marketing concept, the customer has often been studied, but usually to the advantage of the seller of the new product or service” (Rogers 180). As such, it has been easier to ask the purchasers “what about the product enticed you to buy it?”. This effort asks the sellers “what do you think it is about your product that appeals to buyers and what do you do in order to sell it?”. As Lisa Barrett describes what it is about fiddle playing that she believes appeals to her students:
This is my opinion, that did not occur spontaneously but has evolved over observing for several years. It’s a process. I believe the reason so many young people are attracted to fiddling today is, I think we live in a society that is increasingly hammering a message of not only conformity but uniformity. Where young people feel they have to dress a certain way, they have to talk a certain way in order to be socially acceptable. I think that what happens when they do all those things they think they need to do to be socially acceptable, I think that there is a part of them that wants to think there is something unique about themselves. And I think that choosing to play the fiddle helps them to think that there is something unique about them. It is a move toward individuality.
In other words, this effort asks the change agents what they believe attracts, and what information they perceive prospective fiddle players to need, in order to entice an initiate to buy into the fiddle playing socio-cultural system.
Primary diffusers of the Texas Style Fiddling innovation were and are Benny Thomasson, Dick Barrett, Dale Morris, Lisa Barrett, Herman Johnson, Chris Daring, Matt Hartz, Joe McKenzie, Joe Sites and several others.
Communication, Cultural Communities, and Change
“Communication is a process of convergence (or divergence) as two or more individuals exchange information in order to move toward each other (or apart) in the meanings they ascribe to certain events” (Rogers 5). This definition is particularly appropriate since the fiddling culture contained those players existing within the culture, who (the innovators) quickly converged with the Texas Style players once the information was available to them and those who (the traditionalists exemplified by the stereotype) vehemently diverged due to the meanings attached to the music and to the contest event. Outside the fiddling culture itself, exists another world of non-fiddling musicians and listeners who participate in their own styles of music and music cultures. Normally, each culture exists side by side but chooses to remain separate. Neither the participants nor their music, communicates with the members of the other community. They co-exist in relative isolation from the other. Each is well aware of the others presence while intentionally choosing to hold themselves remote and distinct. Fiddlers tend to proclaim that they do not care to partake in the world of classical violin playing, because the music is written, the music must be played as written, the participants tend to be snobbish about their craft and the performances social setting is to formal, rigid and expensive. Violinists tend to not respect fiddling because it is simple, repetitive, mostly unwritten music, performed by musical illiterates in a setting resembling a barn. Neither group seems to relate to the other. “Each social world, then, is a culture area, the boundaries of which are set neither by territory nor by formal group memberships but by the limits of effective communication” (Shibutani 566). In order for either world to begin communicating with the other they must discover the commonalities in their respective musical and cultural languages.
The communication channels used by members of the entire musical social system are diverse but all have a role in conveying meaning. The music itself is a form of symbolic interactive communication serving to convey the differences or similarities between the cultures. “Music is communication. The performer plans and creates music that is audited and experienced by other performers and event participants” (Stone 216). Thus music conveys meaning within the context of the music itself and within the context of the music event. “The performers synchronize their actions, fitting their performances with those of other participants. The auditors interpret the performance according to each of their relevances and respond to the performers. This interaction, in its simplest form is music communication” (216). The fiddle contest event has performers playing their style of music in the formal on stage setting which creates a type of first exposure to the music in a way that makes the audience believe they are not being sold. Outside the formal contest arena, the fiddlers are free to play for and talk to event participants in casual settings which results in shared meanings and offers to teach and/or requests for instruction via interpersonal information exchange.
Fiddling as it relates to Cultural Change
Culturally, fiddling began in response to the social requirements of American agrarian society. Many public events, such as barn raisings, bees and Grange Hall meetings included dancing as a part of the days activities. The musician for the dance was usually a fiddler, who, accompanied by a square dance caller, was primarily required to play loudly and clearly enough for the dancers to hear him, to keep the rhythm and not to break time. Other elements of traditional European music, such as tone and intonation were not of great importance since those did not effect the ability of the dancers to dance.
Fiddle music began as dance music. This music, consisting primarily of hornpipes, breakdowns, reels, jigs, schottishes and waltzes was relatively simple, yet very rhythmic by design in order to accommodate the needs of the dancers and presumably, when compared to classical violinists, the low level of the fiddler’s musicianship. Over the years, these country square dances have largely been succeeded by country and western night clubs and the fiddlers have been replaced by records, tapes, compact discs or live bands (which may or may not contain a fiddle player). In the process, fiddle playing as it used to be known and heard by the public was largely lost except within “Old Time Fiddlers Associations”.
These associations exist to preserve, promote and perpetuate “Old Time Fiddling”. Unfortunately, each association (there are many) seems unable to define what constitutes their particular style of “Old Time Fiddling” except by saying things like, “I can’t describe it, but I’ll know it when I hear it” and “as Grandpa used to play it” and “it must be danceable”. An approach which has been called the argument from intimidation, or, for those who understand no explanation is necessary and for those who do not understand, no explanation is possible (Rand 141). This lack of definition results in heated discussion among the members as to whether or not an initiate to the culture is playing in a legitimate old time style.
Having grown out of the original fiddling ne dance event culture, the fiddle contest exacerbates the situation since the contest is usually sponsored by one of the associations and are open to anyone interested in participating. This includes players of diverse styles as well as those who were raised to conceive of fiddling within the cultural requirements of the dance event and those younger participants who have only been exposed to fiddling within the cultural requirements of the contest event.
Beginning in the early 1900’s, the advent of numerous fiddle contests across the country and the replacement of the rural dance event with night clubs, changed the cultural context of fiddle playing from the social requirements of the dance to the competitive requirements of the contest. Ethnomusicologist John Kaemmer argues that this type of contextual change can result in musical change. In other words, the norms or the agreed upon acceptable behaviors attached to fiddling within the context of the dance event were open to change once fiddling was placed within the context of the contest event. Kaemmer suggests examining music and social processes within the context of a “music complex” or what has heretofore been called the context of dance and contest event. Music complex “can be defined as a set of musical events having the same goal, conceptualized in the same way, and supported by the same social group” (63). The complex includes both the music and its surrounding social event.
Kaemmer then argues for analyzing the relationships between social life and musical styles “by the dynamics of music as seen in situations of change” (68). He elaborates by defining two types of music complex change. Change of complex occurs “When Westernization has meant the substitution of Western music complexes for traditional ones” (68). Change within a complex occurs “when Westernization involves the appearance of various Western idioms or Western repertoire within the framework of a continuing traditional music complex, as the addition of harmony to formerly unison singing” (68).
Originally, fiddling belonged within the music complex of the dance event. Change of complex occurred with the introduction of the contest although the participants in the new event were all the old participants from the dance event. Due to the competitive nature of the event, change within the new music complex occurred at first in Texas and later elsewhere in the country. The changes involved the appearance of various idioms and/or western repertoire within the framework of a continuing musical tradition, as the addition of intonation requirements to formerly acceptable neutral tones. Kaemmer concludes by saying “Change of music complex is one way in which social forces appear to affect the style and forms of music structure” (69).
Jonathan Kamin, who examined the growth of rock and roll in America as an acculturation process, noticed white musicians from the majority culture entering the minority black culture in order to learn to play jazz and some of its extensions such as rhythm and blues. These white musicians then carried there new information back to their existing culture where it commercially flourished over time. He reports rock and roll music “as the result of the acculturation to white musical standards of the black musical genre rhythm and blues” (iv). His discussion effectively traces the evolution of black rhythm and blues into white rock and roll and the diffusion of both musical genres outward to the majority culture. Similar to what is currently taking place between the minority fiddling culture and the majority non-fiddling (violin playing) culture, he relates the acculturation process involved when outsiders enter, join, and learn from another culture.
Kamin, and as he noted, Ralph Linton before him in 1936, argued that acculturation included three processes: presentation of the new culture elements, acceptance of those elements, and their integration into the existing culture (Kamin 274). Kamin builds his case by showing recognizable similarities between the musical styles then analyzes the diffusion of the new style throughout the wider majority audience of white America. Texas Style Fiddling has not yet reached the stage of mass diffusion and may never. Currently, it is still in the presentation stage where Texas Style fiddlers are acquainting non-fiddlers with the cultural elements of the style in order to gain acceptance of those elements. This acculturation process, as Kamin says, “is seen as facilitated by the perceptual learning of characteristics” (iv) of the fiddling style by non-fiddlers. Once some of the Texas fiddlers, who earn their living as teachers and performers, present the style to non-fiddlers, they occasionally obtain new students from the outside culture. These students then learn the characteristics of the style and the culture and carry that information back with them to the outside culture which at least provides the opportunity for eventually integrating the style into their existing culture.
Other ethnomusicologists, including Margaret Kartomi, argue along similar lines. In an article entitled “The Process and Results of Musical Culture Contact”, she discusses the concepts and terminology of musical change. Primarily, the work is an attempt to sort through the various terms which have been used to describe musical change and to arrive at one which would be the most universal and useful. In her discussion, she examines definitions and usages for “acculturated, transplanted, hybrid, exotic, synthesis and transculturation” among others. By working extensively with definitions, she also devotes enormous time to discussing change, its legitimacy and the conflict between the traditional and the new. Kartomi concludes that transculturation is the appropriate word to be used when discussing musical change. Her reasoning addresses both the music itself and “the extramusical meanings attached to music” (244) or the music event. Like the others, Kartomi inadvertently addresses the cross cultural conflict between the fiddlers of various styles as well as those whose traditions were rooted in the dance event and those whose traditions were now rooted in the contest event.
Originally fiddling, which began as dance music and consisted primarily of simple repetitive two part tunes (Daring and Hartz), was intimately linked to the extra-musical social symbolism attached to the traditional community requirements of rural square and folk dance events. “The ritual of the square dance did and still does help the group to review the sentiment it has of itself and of its unity” (Burns 297). The dance event was central to the community, allowing the participants to test and affirm balance and order. Tradition suggests the expectation of repetitious behavior, or ritual. “That the patterning of music makes it a natural association for ritual, which is already patterned, is obvious; conversely, whatever is happening in music is also patterning other forms of behavior in a redundant manner” (Herndon and McLeod 116). The music affects the music complex and the music complex affects the music. If one did not change, the other might not either.
Lomax explains the redundancy of music as a group-organizing function that displays the ‘behavioral norms which are crucial to a culture’ (15). In his terms, music has two functions: to organize groups of people into activity; and to demonstrate, within that activity, certain core concepts which represent a skeletal statement of the major values of a society. Lomax further describes music as a form of communication, in that it signals cultural patterns in specific, symbolic ways (Herndon and McLeod116).
Similarly, the extra-musical meanings and ritualistic group-organizing functions attached to the music complex of the fiddle contest have become central to the fiddling community, thereby allowing them to test their developing skills. Developing musical expertise in terms of more accepted Western/European standards, expanding the songs, personal improvement of their own abilities and doing those things necessary to try to win the contest became a norm for some members of the new complex. Thus the expansion of the style became a redundancy in itself. The participants began striving to demonstrate the differences in their individual abilities. “They are saying in effect, ’I am doing what you cannot or do not do and I am displaying it back to you’. This sense of difference may lie in the complexity – the risk taking – involved in the creation of an art” (Herndon and McLeod 189). Informant, Denise Swiniarski speaks directly to the nature of this display, “Then you have the fiddle challenge. There’s something about fiddling, where people want to challenge each other all the time, whether they’re at a jam session, playing in the living room or playing in a contest. There’s always this feeling of ‘Look and see what I can do’ ”. Some of the reasons for this change from playing the songs in the same old way and this sense of challenge are described by Matt Hartz:
For one thing there were fiddle contests. It (the stylistic change) was a way to get ahead of the other guy. It definitely wasn’t a thing for the square dances because all they wanted to achieve was a breakdown that could be played pretty quick for something they could dance to, not an intricate lick. It was done for the other fiddlers themselves. It was done to be better than this guy at the contest cause I’m going to have this new part to the song worked out.
And Herman Johnson:
I had to change my style considerably when I began to compete. They had changed their hoedowns quite a lot, fiddlers in the state of Texas. some of the fiddlers had been doing a lot of work on their tunes, had been building on to them, adding parts. Because they had been having contests a good many years before I started going to them in 1960. In order to win and keep winning you had to keep coming up with something different and that’s what they did. The better ones, they kept building and adding parts. That’s the way they were able to keep winning. I think that was pretty unique with the Texas fiddlers, because contests caught on down there so much and they had so many of them. Just almost any occasion was a reason to have a fiddle contest. And like I said, in order to win, they had to keep adding something. And you take tunes like Grey Eagle, Sally Goodin, or Dusty Miller and those that have seven and eight parts, they didn’t originate that way by no means. They originated with a couple or three parts maybe at the most. But if you were going to stay ahead of the rest of them and win, why you had to come up with something a little different. And I really think that is why we have so many tunes today that have as many parts in them.
For them, change was not merely acceptable but required, in order to obtain then maintain status. And as some studies by Rogers suggest, status-conferring aspects of educational innovations have emerged as another dimension predicting adoption (212), it can be inferred that the status accompanying doing well in a fiddle contest would press contestants into developing a winning style.
Originally, the fiddler and his music carried high social status within the confines of the dance event and the community. Over the years, these dance events have diminished in number and cultural importance leaving many older fiddlers to seek reaffirmation of their status within the old time fiddling culture and fiddle contests. This refuge serves them well until they encounter a much younger generation of Texas Style players whose culture consists of the contests and who are thereby unattached to the extra-musical meanings intrinsic to the socio-cultural dance event. In spite of the differences in musical intricacy between the styles, the origins are the same but the meanings are different.
To return to Kartomi’s examination, she says, “Transculturation occurs only when a group of people select for adoption whole new organizing and conceptual or ideological principles – musical and extramusical – as opposed to small discrete alien traits” (245). Confronted with issues concerning changes to their cultural system, the fiddling community was reorganized and reconceptualized within the context of the contest event. “Without the contest, we wouldn’t of had those people fiddlin’ in Texas like Benny and Major. Without the contest, those people would never of hooked up with each other. A lot of times the contest inspired people to play” (Morris). Since “The initial and sustaining impulse for musical transculturation is normally extra-musical” (Kartomi 245), then, had the contests not continued out of the context of the dance event the musical changes would not have sustained themselves.
Marketing the style through contest attendance, causes new initiates to enter the culture providing the impetus for the contests to continue and flourish, and for the music to continue changing and diffusing to a larger community. The older generation of fiddlers received extramusical meaning from the social significance of the dance. Contests were merely an extension or a by-product. Texas fiddlers and the new generation of fiddlers, or the innovators, obtain extramusical meaning from the events surrounding the contest, not from from the dance.
When examining the “Dynamics of Change in Jewish Oriental Ethnic Music in Israel”, Eric Cohen, like Kartomi, notes the ethnomusicologist’s resistance to recognizing change as a legitimate process. Regarding the ethnographers, he says,
In their endeavor to discover, describe and preserve the culture of the precontact period or the period preceding modernization, they discard recent creations as unwelcome disturbances and alterations of the original tradition. The false impression was often unwittingly created that this tradition existed, static and unchanging, until contact with the western world and the onset of modernization began to destroy it (227).
Regarding this resistance, Kartomi says,
Intercultural musical synthesis is not the exception but the rule. Conflict and change are part of the nature of reality, even in seemingly timeless, static societies. As long as we labor under the false impression that there is such a thing as a ‘pure’, ‘untainted’ line of musical tradition on the one hand and an ‘acculturated’ or ‘adulterated’ one on the other (and in so doing imply that the former is more valuable than the latter), then we must logically expect to disapprove of all musics that exist, have existed and will exist in the universe at large (230).
Thus fiddling did not exist static and unchanging within the confines of the dance event. It was evolving, albeit slowly, even though some traditionalists do not care to admit it. Fiddle contests merely provided the forum, the opportunity and the impetus to hasten the change and make those changes more obvious to the participants. The contest culture normalized and expected change.
The traditionalists, as exemplified by the various fiddlers associations outside of Texas whose stated purpose is to preserve and perpetuate “old time fiddling”, publicly decry what they see as the encursions of Texas Style Fiddling. Some do not refer to it as Texas Style. They call it progressive, thereby suggesting the style is not an “Old Time Style”, therefore not a legitimate part of the culture. In response, eighty-six year old, Texas native, Jessie Bingham replies, “It is progressive fiddling when it has progressed to the point where it is worth listening to” and Herman Johnson says, “Fiddling has to progress, I mean it can’t hardly stand still. If you’re going to play, you’re going to eventually kind of ad lib a little bit. And if they’re going to call it progressive why you’re just going to have to call it that. I don’t know what I am, I’m just a fiddle player”.
The traditionalists claim Texas Style is too fancy or too ornamented to be truly “old Time”. They claim the ornamentation causes the music to lose its rhythmic integrity causing the music to be no longer danceable. Perhaps in their terms, they are right, since in the previous quotation from Jessie Bingham, she referred to listening not dancing and Dale Morris says, “It wasn’t necessarily danceable, it wasn’t as fast so people didn’t dance to it. Sometimes the square dance calls didn’t fit with the new parts. But we didn’t care if people danced to it or not, it was listening music”.
Additionally, the traditionalists claim it is not an old style, by saying it is not “as grandpa used to play it”. To which Chris Daring responds, “Whose grandpa, yours or a Texan’s?” and “The Texans seem able to dance to it just fine”. All of which suggests collateral cultures, each containing similar yet discrete membership conditions.
Some traditionalists claim Texas Style is played too fast, when in reality, it tends to be played more slowly than most other styles, but the additional ornamentation combined with specific bowing characteristics (to be examined later) makes it sound/seem faster than it is. And perhaps most importantly, they protest because more often than not, Texas Style has become the style that wins contests. Matt Hartz explains, “Every year at Weiser (the National Championships), somebody else comes that has never been there before, and they see that the style that wins is the Texas Style”. These protesters seem to proclaim that their style is more valid than Texas Style. To paraphrase Kartomi, the old time fiddlers associations labor under the false assumptions that their style is a pure and untainted line of musical tradition, whereas the Texas Style contains acculturated or adulterated elements. But,
The fact is, there are few fiddlers whose playing can be shown as ‘pure’ anyway, and like any feature of cultural expression and communication, fiddle tunes and styles are in constant change and flux through time in the dynamics of daily life. Some wish to preserve the old tunes, but the way to accomplish that (the way it has always been done) is simply to document and appreciate the music in context — and if personal situations allow, play and perpetuate those valued traditional tunes and styles. Learn them, play them, pass them around, tinker with them as you wish. For fiddle tunes are always changing, if only subtly, from one generation to the next and from one rendition to the next. Indeed, that is part of the magic and fascination of traditional music (Marshall).
Much as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Texas style may appear adulterated to members of other fiddling communities but does not to its own participants.
TEXAS STYLE CHANGES AMERICAN FIDDLING
Fiddle contests were and still are a common occurrence across the United States. What began as gatherings of primarily local amateur players to showcase their talents while providing entertainment has proliferated into area, state, regional and national competition. Growth in the number and size of the contests is attributable to the transportation industry making it easier and more affordable to travel greater distances. As Texas style fiddler, Dale Morris, says, “You see there were no records, you never hear it [the fiddling style] on the radio and don’t see it on the TV. I think it was here in Texas a long time and finally it was because of the contests and people being able to get on an interstate and drive up to Denver and New Mexico or wherever to a contest, and infect the rest of the world with it or it would still be here. A lot of it was due to the contests”. The contestants traveled, and their playing styles traveled with them.
In Texas, the contests seemed to create a greater sense of cordial competitiveness than elsewhere in the United States that spurred the players to try to outdo each other. Competition, which is a characteristic contained within most social systems, has been studied by numerous social scientists, who tend to conclude that “there is little doubt that competition may lead to social change” (Lauer 209) and, that “Competition is also a factor in creativity and innovation” (209). Within the context of the fiddle contest social system, competition is readily apparent if not the over arching factor. H. G. Barnett describes competition as a ”potent incentive when mutually desirable rewards are allocated on the basis of performance” (72). Competition can press individuals within a social system to attempt to outdo one another in order to obtain financial remuneration and/or obtain or maintain status within the community.
While discussing the norms contained within the casual context of a musical jam session (which shall be discussed in detail later), Dasilva, Blasi and Dees suggest, “a competitive situation occurs when instrumentalists with identical instruments join a session. The competitors alternately display virtuosity until one recognizes the other as a superior and plays a subordinate role” (73). As each player takes their turn, they are expected to use their individual creativity to expand upon the melody line of the song. They are required to be innovators.
The Texas contests were and still are treated as a sporting event, the crowds cheer and scream during the contest. Matt Hartz explains, “Down here its a completely different thing. The crowd, they are real knowledgeable about fiddle music, they are repeat people, they come back every year. The crowd plays a more participative role here. They’re yellin’ and hollerin’ during the song”. And Mark O’Connor, “If you go down to Crockett, Texas its still like the old days down there. The old guys hang out. Fiddling is a sport. They’re yelling, ‘Go, Go, Go!’ Its a way of life. You stay up all night and get drunk, go to different people’s houses and play all night” (Phillips, Contest 26).
Over the years, and much to the chagrin of fiddlers of other styles, Texas fiddlers extended and refined the songs and their style. Regarding this progression in any musical style, Leonard Meyer suggests:
Early stages of a style tend to be characterized by an excessive amount of compositional redundancy–so much so that they often appear to later generations to be somewhat naive and even ridiculous. As the norms of the new style become part of the audiences habit responses–as the level of cultural redundancy rises–the level of compositional redundancy declines (117).
The more familiar the players and their contest audience became (as opposed to the previous dance audience) with the form, structure and intricacy of the music, the more adventurous the contestants became. Risks were taken in order to achieve gain. The contestants “started taking the two part songs and embellishing, maybe playing a part in a higher octave or something like that. Maybe taking a part and just varying it a little bit, moving it to third position, just a little twist” (Hartz). At each stage in the unfolding process, the players and their audience have “less awareness of, or commitment to, the original innovation than the previous audience and so will accept the more diluted form” (Kamin 242). They continually blended the old with the new. Benny Thomasson says, “In the older days when I began to come up, I took these old tunes and began to build different sections to them. Like there would be two parts, well I’d add another, it would be the same part but in a different position. The tunes finally got to where they were sort of hard to handle. The harder to handle, the harder it was for the next guy to do” (Phillips, Contest 28).
Within Texas, the spirit of competition surrounding the contests and attendant jam sessions, seemed to press the fiddlers to improve their skills. As Lisa Barrett describes some of the early players and their motivations:
Those peoples personality was such a driving force behind the development of this music. They were not satisfied to play the same redundant lines over and over and over ad nauseum. I have to think that most of them were quite brilliant and probably somewhat egotistical. They all have extremely defined personalities. They all were characters. There was a very competitive edge to all these men and women that were the early players of this style. They were not content with good enough or pretty good. They had somewhat of a perfectionist personality and I think when they could go to a contest or a jam session and make these other musicians who they respected whoop and holler while they were playing and then when their turn came they would try to outdo them. I think that was a lot of the drive, the respect of their peers.
In an interview with Stacy Phillips, Benny Thomasson relates his experience at one of his first contests in the 1920’s by saying, “I thought I was a pretty good fiddler. These boys have got to wake up in the morning to beat me. I laid Grey Eagle in there. They never knew I was there and that’s when I started fiddling” (Phillips, Contest 34). He continues regarding the succeeding years, “I’ve lost a lot of crops playing the fiddle. I’ve stayed in the bathroom sometimes all night working on one tune, getting to where it’d be presentable. Better than last year” (34).
Not only did the Texas contests press the players to improve their technical skills, it also drove them to extend their songs. Benny continues, “We’d play Grey Eagle or something like that at a contest and I’d play it one year with a little change from the year before. Next I’d play a little different version to it. It got to where it had several parts” (Phillips, Contest 29). With respect to Benny Thomasson’s ability to reconstruct a song, Dale Morris says, “Unfortunately, not everybody has a composer’s mind like like he had. He was a composer. He could take those tunes and he could add things to them and it still sounded like the tune and it was in good taste”. Spurred by competition, innovativeness became the new norm.
Regarding the players of other styles who complained about the evolution of the Texas Style, Benny says, “The old timey fiddling that they try to hang onto nowadays, its alright. its good to listen to but we take those same tunes and just weave a web around them and make it come out real pretty. But it seems to me that they don’t like that much. I never was used to them making these accusations about the changes we made. We didn’t know where the tunes came from or what it was. We just played them and kept adding to them until we got it to suit ourselves” (Phillips, Contest 29). Apparently the original national folk fiddling contest culture contained a renegade group that by the 1970’s was able to begin to diffuse its innovation and have it accepted by some within the original national culture.
Texas Style as Innovation
Within the following description, various formal and colloquial jargon is used to help define the innovation of Texas style fiddling. “Fingering”, refers to the various left hand techniques used by the fiddler as they place their fingers upon the strings of the instrument in order to change the pitch (higher or lower) of the note. “Bowing” refers to the use of the right arm as it moves the bow in an upward or downward direction across the strings. “Backwards bowing” means moving the bow in the opposite direction from that which it should be traveling in order to produce the most pleasing sound usually by starting with an up bow on the down beat instead of a down bow. The length of the bow stroke is also referenced in terms of either short or long. “Single notes” and “bowed notes” refer to playing just one note before changing the direction of the bow. “Slurred notes” mean playing more than one note before changing bow direction. Other terms such as “drive” and “on top of the beat” are thoroughly defined within the descriptions.
Benny Thomasson and Major Franklin (both deceased) are generally credited with being the primary creators of the Texas Style of fiddle playing. It is probably more correct to say that their technical ability on the instrument made them the best known among the originators. Per the interviews for this effort and the interview between Stacy Phillips and Benny Thomasson, other primary contributors were Eck Robertson, Lefty Franklin, Orville Burns, Matt Brown, Lum Sellers, Bryant Houston, Norman Solomon, Vernon Solomon, Ervin Solomon, Lewis Franklin, Bartow Riley, and several others.
Texas Style Fiddling is played a little slower than other styles with an emphasis on “drive”. The slower pace has given the Texas fiddler time to add notes to the original simple melody of the song and perhaps more importantly, to develop bowing techniques that are intricate and unique to this style of play. These techniques comprise the “necessary information” that anyone attempting to play this style must obtain. Without these techniques, a fiddler can learn and be playing all the same musical notes as the Texas Style fiddler but the music still will not sound the same. Access to information about the bowing is essential. Matt Hartz explains:
The unsung hero of this is Orville Burns. Orville Burns is, as far as bowing goes, he was the most revolutionary bowing person as far as the backward slurs, three note resolutions and things like that. Major added syncopations. Benny had these great renditions of these songs and he did a few bowing things, but Orville did some radical bowing things. He just changed the face of it. And when I learned from Terry Morris, whose best kept secret was Orville Burns, by staying at his house for a month, that’s when I learned all the bowing stuff. That’s when all the doors got unlocked.
Another student of Terry Morris, Chris Daring relates that In 1987, she had the opportunity to play for William Morris, director of the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra and music faculty member at Metropolitan State College. According to her he commented, “Your bow timing is extraordinary”. Later that same year, she was in Omaha, Nebraska, visiting the concertmaster for the Omaha Symphony, who upon watching her play said, “Your bow technique is so odd. You hold and use your right arm very differently, but it works so well”.
The specific characteristics of Texas bowing and the style’s slower, more relaxed pace differentiates it from other styles. In the interview with Dale Morris, he indicated that he believed this to be a direct result of the Texas contests and the higher level of competitors. “They slowed down so the judges could hear every note. Everything going on in the version. It gave them more time, more room to do things with the song and the bow”. Dick Barrett supported Dale during a conversation in March 1992, “Everybody wanted to win. We had to come up with a better version. So it slowed down, but it didn’t lose its drive”. Benny Thomasson says, “We might play a little faster for the dance than contests” (Phillips, Contest 32).
And Herman Johnson:
It slowed down because as one fellow put it one time, ‘The reason I like to hear it played slow is that if I hit a good note, a pretty note, why I want people to be able to hear it’. I think due to the fiddle contest and the judging and all, that the judges like to hear it a little slower because they can get a better evaluation of it. It works out better that way. And in Texas, they’re main interest has always seemed to be the contest. Slow it down where you can hear your notes. A lot of these old tunes, they are really pretty to hear. But if you’ve got to hear them so fast like a bluegrass fiddler, why you don’t really get the benefit of the tone, the harmony and all that. Course they can be played to slow too. I like a little drive.
Why Texas fiddlers were able to reduce the tempo of the music without losing drive and/or danceability, seems a mystery to, and is hard to duplicate by, players of other styles. As noted earlier, Texas fiddling, like fiddling elsewhere in the United States began as a response to the social requirements of a community. Residents gathered and they danced to the sound of a fiddle. Eventually, in addition to playing for these dances, fiddlers also played in fiddle contests. When the more prominent Texas fiddlers, such as Major Franklin and Benny Thomasson began to both slow the music and make it more intricate as well as more listenable, they still had to play for the dances. As such they remained very aware of the rhythmic requirements of the dances. The songs slowed, bow mechanics changed, becoming more “right on top of the beat” to replace the loss of speed. Although some fiddlers of other styles dispute this, the feeling of being right on top of the beat, or riding the wave (Hartz), combined with a very rhythmic down beat emphasis, makes Texas style seem faster than it is, thus providing “drive” while retaining danceability.
These original Texas Style fiddlers were judged in contests and on the dance floors. When they extended the songs, they had to maintain the danceable characteristics of the original, thereby forcing other adaptations. This problem combined with the dance requirements is addressed by non-Texas style fiddler, Matthew Guntharp, in his book Learning the Fiddler’s Ways. He describes his own attempts to ornament (add more notes to the basic melody of a song) a song while playing for a dance.
Working in conjunction with the caller who directs the dance, the fiddler must provide a strong lead for the dancers, the caller and the rest of the band. Once, while playing ‘The Kingdom” for a square dance, this responsibility became painfully apparent to me. I started the dance by playing the simple version, then I gradually incorporated ornamentation into the tune. The more I ornamented the less functional my playing became. The caller and the dancers began to lose cohesiveness as ornamentation engulfed my rhythm. It got so bad that the rest of the band could hardly follow me. I was bowing far fewer notes in the ornamented version than in the simple one. The beat became less and less prominent as I more and more sacrificed rhythm for ornamentation. I finally realized, as the dance continued to deteriorate that I had better return to the simple rhythmic version and save the fancy rendition for a suitable situation. Since then I have always tried to remember that the job of the square dance fiddler is to maintain a loud rhythmic lead (90).
By ornamenting and extending the song, Guntharp lost the cultural/danceable requirements of its form. He added more notes to the song, but he did not adapt the bow so he could meet the overall criteria of the presentation. If a Texas fiddler had ornamented that same song then notes are not merely added, bow patterns are also changed to meet the new requirements, while retaining rhythm, drive anddanceability. But coming to Guntharp’s defense is Dale Morris:
When you’re talking traditional dancing, when I saw a dance step go with every note, I thought, well my lord, I couldn’t slur those notes. That traditional dancing, there’s a dance step that goes with every one of those songs. So where that dancing still exists, where they still do that, I can see why those people are down on people changing the songs and why they don’t like it. See they do that up in Canada and places like that. And they don’t want those songs changed. See, if you change them, why you’re just not playin’ them right. I don’t think in the Texas fiddling, people dancing to it is the farthest thing from our mind. I don’t think the dancing part is really a part of fiddling anymore. I don’t think it is as important a factor.
The mechanics of a Texas fiddler’s bow arm are completely different from any other style. These mechanics are created by the Texas fiddler’s approach to the instrument. To them, as Dick Barrett says, “The fiddle is not a stringed instrument, it is a bowed instrument”. Thus the emphasis is placed on bow technique and right arm mechanics. Chris Daring explains:
The following description of the Texas bowing technique and resulting tone production should help explain this styles slightly different focus. Although I edited and expanded on it, much of the description was related to me by Dick Barrett the morning after a jam session at our house during the summer of 1990.
Most budding or book taught fiddlers, including those who play other styles and are now attempting Texas style, use entirely too much bow.
If we were to draw the sound of a single bowed note as played by most fiddlers and classical musicians, we would see that the loudest and strongest part of that note is at its center or towards its end.
They let the note build intensity:
The bow begins its stroke (A), and the sound of the note builds as the bow accelerates, then peaks at its loudest most noticeable point (B), and dies off as the bow decelerates to change direction (C) for the next note.
A series of bowed (not slurred notes) would look like this:
The player changes bow direction and begins the new note right on the beat (A), holding it for the time value of the note. Since the strongest and most noticeable part of the note is in the middle or toward the end of the bow stroke, the note and the player tend to sound late because the beat was at the start of the stroke and the notes emphasis was in the middle or towards the end of the stroke. This late feeling is especially noticeable when contrasted with the plucked note from an accompanying guitar since the strength of the plucked note is at its beginning.
The gaps between each of the previous diagrams are referred to as “air-time”, which consists of the time necessary for one note to end, the bow to change direction, and a new note to begin. A Texas fiddler seeks to make that gap as small as possible, ideally to eliminate it.
Eliminate the air time:
Even if a player were to accomplish the elimination of air-time, he still would not sound like a Texas fiddler because the strength of the note falls slightly after the beat.
The goal is to move the strength of the note closer and closer to its start, right where the beat hits. You are then playing “on top of the beat” or as Matt Hartz calls it, “riding the wave”, and the perfect note would look like this.
A series of perfect notes played on top of the beat with no air-time would look like this:
This approach, playing on top of the beat, produces the drive which makes the song dance. To consistently play on top of the beat, a players up-bow must be as strong as their down-bow which other styles do not advocate. A short bow stroke, about two or three inches long, appearing to move slowly, accomplishes this on top of the beat feel more effectively than a longer stroke moved quickly and is less work. It will also produce a thicker tone.
Air-time cannot be entirely eliminated (except when slurring) simply because you must first stop moving in one direction before going the other way. By using the bow correctly, the ear can be tricked into believing the air-time is gone. This is why it is so difficult to decipher a Texas fiddler’s bow direction. While a copyist can find the notes, the music still does not sound the same as the original, they must also find the bow.
At the end of Stacy Phillips’ second book, Mark O’Connor: The Championship Years, he interviews the head of the jazz string department at the Berklee School of Music who at that time was working on a Master’s Thesis in Ethnomusicology at Tufts University entitled “Controlled improvisation in Texas Contest Style Fiddling: Mark O’Connor and Benny Thomasson play Grey Eagle”. Part of their conversation is as follows.
Stacy Phillips: What is meant when people say that Texas fiddling uses a long bow?
Matt Glazer: (laughs) I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I think it’s because the style is smoother in some ways than Bluegrass or Appalachian playing. I don’t think anyone uses a lot of slurs in this style.
S.P. It sounds like long bows because the bow changes are so smooth.
M.G. It must be something like that.
The bow changes are smooth because the Texas fiddler approaches the fiddle as a bowed instrument not a stringed instrument. Even when slurring the Texas player is able to maintain drive and stay on top of the beat. Contrary to Matt Glazer’s opinion some Texas players slur often. As Dale Morris says, “There’s a long bow a lot, a lot of times more than a note per bow”.
Reminiscent of Matthew Guntharp’s attempt at improvisation, Mark O’Connor describes his and another players’ attempt to handle the bowing to Stacy Phillips.
The only way I learned bowing was by watching. There was no way to get it from records. A perfect case is a friend of mine who really is a talented fiddler. The first time he came to Weiser he already was a pretty heavy young classical violinist. He got totally into fiddling and got all the records. The smooth bowing really threw him to where he thought it was all one bow stroke. He’d play literally maybe 15-20 notes per stroke. He didn’t know where the rhythmic aspect came from. He just heard the incredibly smooth sounding bow. So that’s how he played his tunes when he first came to Weiser. Benny Thomasson got ahold of him and straightened him out right away. He was never the same afterwards. Its hard to play as smooth as Benny does going back and forth. That’s an example of why it was so important to be around, looking at somebody doing this incredibly perfect bowing. The bowing is very rhythmic, but not in patterns. That’s what I’ve always thought. I didn’t like fiddling with pattern bowing. My approach is to drive it, really rhythmic with the bow, but never patterns. (Phillips, Championship19).
Herman Johnson described the importance of the bowing in Texas Style fiddle playing by discussing backwards bowing.
There’s such a thing as bowing backwards. A lot of people bow backwards and don’t even know it. Absolutely, a lot of people do that on certain tunes and don’t even know they’re doing it. For Texas style of fiddle playing especially, you have a little different style of bowing. Texas Style is played with kind of a heavy bow. You hook the bow on the down stroke. And that is something they’re going to have to learn if they play Texas Style tunes. That is very important not to get in the habit of bowing backwards. If you’re going to get anywhere in this day and time, you just have to get away from that kind of bowing.
In a conversation with Chris Daring, she described to me some of the actual mechanics of the bow arm.
To deceive the ear into believing the “air time” is gone, several changes must be made with the bow arm to distinguish it from a classical approach to the instrument.
The right elbow must be lifted to a point where it is level with or slightly above the right hand. There are times when the bow strokes are led with the elbow or with both the elbow and the shoulder. If the elbow is up the bow will travel back and forth across the strings rather than up and down so you won’t be fighting gravity on the up bow.
Many Texas fiddlers, although not all, use what is normally considered a beginner bow hold with the thumb under the frog, which changes the fulcrum within the hand. The knuckles of the right hand should then be tilted toward the fiddle.
Contrary to popular belief, a loose or floppy wrist is not used. It should be relaxed but firm. If it is floppy the arm will change directions on the beat, ahead of the hand and the bow, making the player sound late.
When crossing strings, most players have been taught to finish the note they are playing, then drop or lift the bow to the new string and then begin the new note. The angle formed at the point where the first bow stroke ends and the hand/bow drops or lifts to start on the new string will be almost 90 degrees.
This angle needs to be eliminated or reworked into a circular effect. The bow should not finish its stroke, move to the new string, then begin a new stroke. It should circle into the new string while finishing the old stroke.
The bow should be played just slightly beyond the middle of the bow instead of on the tip. This is the strongest part of the bow and the stroke. Playing there will help in string crossing and moving in circles. The hand will not need to be raised or lowered as far when changing strings if the bow is played in the middle instead of the tip. Think in terms of economy of movement.
Compared to elsewhere in the United States and Canada, a Texas fiddler also tends to play their waltzes a bit slower (Morris and Daring). Additionally, the use of vibrato (which is almost nonexistent in anything other than a waltz) is quite different, especially when compared to a classical violinists. The Texas player eases into the vibrato rather than immediately using it at the beginning of the note and it is employed sparingly and slowly. In this manner they try to emulate the human voice (Daring and Morris). Whereas most violinists and/or players of styles other than Texas, begin their vibrato by making the pitch of the note rise, the Texas player begins their vibrato by making it move lower.
Fiddle Books as Impetus for Change
Texas fiddlers improvise (ornament) in two different manners. They improvise with both the notes and the bow, and with the bow alone. In the latter case, a given part of the song is played more than once, the notes remain the same but the bow directions are changed so that it sounds like a different part.
This type of bow improvisation, combined with the unique characteristics of Texas Style bowing in general, confounds players of other styles as well as the authors of existing books written about Texas Style and those people trying to learn from them.
Since the late 1970’s, when Mark O’Connor began bringing Texas style fiddling into national prominence, several books have been written about the style. Since these books are commercially for sale in music stores, their appearance has assisted the style’s diffusion by making the style accessible to a more geographically diverse group of outsiders, as well as availing the style to misunderstanding, dilution and eventual reinvention. People think they are playing Texas style because they are playing all the notes, but they do not have the prescribed bow techniques. Thus, to a true Texas player, meaning one who has been taught in the folk/oral tradition, the sound is wrong.
When asked if people could learn to play Texas Style from books, Herman Johnson humorously replied:
It’s pretty hard to learn to play this style from books. I guess you could eventually. I don’t believe you could ever really learn to play it unless you got with somebody and could watch and hear certain things. It’s really hard to get it all down on notes. You know fiddle music has been described many times by having ‘that certain whang’ (laughs). You just can’t get that whang down on those notes. You can get everything else down. But that’s what you can’t write down. That whang is hard to get in there.
Dale Morris responded by saying:
Some of them are hindrances because they teach the songs wrong. They’ve got bastard bowing in it and stuff like that, that in no way is it the way anybody does it. Teaching songs wrong. They (the authors) have no conception of it. These books though, they’re ok. What I find is that a lot of people I teach that have been wanting to play fiddle, their house is full of those books. They buy everything they can find. When they hear it though, it’s a little bit different. Many people see it in a book and they don’t hear it. I think they have to hear it.
Denise Swiniarski replied:
I don’t feel like they’ve had a productive role, a positive role. Although it has caused people to realize just how difficult certain things are. Students who just go out and get them, I feel like it just puts them on the wrong track.
Trish Osthoff replied:
I think the books are a bad thing in a lot of ways, but at least they get the word out. I don’t see how anyone can learn it without hearing it a lot. There’s no way to get that sound without hearing it.
The two most widely circulated books, by Stacy Phillips, failed to address bow mechanics except in terms of smoothness. In the introduction to Phillips’ first book in 1983, he says, “The tempo of both hoedowns and waltzes are noticeably slower than in the southeast. This allows concentration on more intricate and smooth bowing and the technical aspects of playing in general. Most of the bowing is one note per stroke, but the change of direction is done very smoothly so the sound is not choppy. This makes exact decipherment of the bow pattern nearly impossible in hoedowns” (7). He then proceeds to write the book, complete with transcriptions to fourteen hoedowns, ten waltzes and nine of what are called tunes of choice, meaning something other than a hoedown or a waltz, after admitting the indicated bow directions are probably wrong.
When asked by Stacy Phillips what he thought of the books, Matt Hartz replied, “Stacy, very honestly those bowings are way off”. Not being a Texas fiddler since he was not taught the style in the folk/oral tradition, Matt indicated Stacy did not realize the importance of the “Texas bow”. Matt continued with me by describing the content of the books, “Like Stacy and Craig, they get these versions of the songs and write them out and then they put their own bowings that are the most ludicrous, God-awful bowings in the world.”
Since Stacy Phillips did not have access to many of the fiddlers referenced in the book, he was unable to learn the songs directly from them. He did what he could by attempting to transcribe parts of the songs from recordings of them. In some cases he was probably accurate, in others, he was not even close.
In 1985, neither Dale nor Terry Morris was aware that versions of their playing had been reduced to written form. Since neither of them could read music, Chris Daring played for them the parts in the book credited to them. Both Dale and Terry Morris responded by saying that they had never played the song that way nor would they. Daring then played the transcriptions for parts of songs credited to fiddlers Dale and Terry knew. Neither had ever heard those fiddlers play those songs that way either. Dale went as far as to offer to buy the book from Chris so she would not be tempted to try to learn from it. Chris has since played the transcriptions for others referenced in the book with similar results. Matt Hartz says, “Anybody comes to me and says they have been learning out of books and I’ll say, burn the book”. And Herman Johnson describes it,
Some of the tunes they’ve put in there have been kind of a mixed up affair. They’ve got something by me for Sally Johnson in there. Then they take a little of my version and take a little of Vernon Solomon’s version and a little of somebody elses version and you’ve got it so mixed up that if somebody was wanting to learn off it, they’d have a pretty rough time. It’s kind of a duke’s mixture. And the part that’s attributed to me, that’s not really the way I played it. That’s for sure.
In spite of the inaccuracies, this first book by Stacy Phillips was valuable in that it introduced Texas Style, in written form, to fiddlers across the United States. As Chris Daring says,
I think fiddle books have done some good to a point. The problem is you can’t write down some of this stuff. I don’t know how you write, steal from this measure and borrow from that measure and make it up later. The books have raised a lot of awareness up to a point. The bad part about it is that people who have got the top two fiddle books in the country have memorized everything in the book, go to a fiddle contest, play it about three times the speed it’s supposed to go and walk away with last place wondering how this could have happened, thinking they played as good as those guys. These books don’t deliver the understanding.
Even though the books provided limited and in some cases misinformation, at least some information was finally available from a source outside of the Texas fiddling community itself. However, access to the information has lead to some misconceptions. People tend to believe that if something is written down, it must be correct. But, “Western notation is incomplete – not allowing for indication of such things as upglides to a pitch, rasp, or dozens of other performance devices “ (Herndon and McLeod v) including Herman Johnson’s “whang” and what Orville Burns called a “scrape”. So the last ten years have produced a large number of players who did not have access to Texas fiddlers but still believe they are playing Texas style.
The author presumes and hopes, due to his continuing interest in the style and in an effort to correct some inaccuracies, Stacy Phillips released a second book in 1991. In this book he stays with one fiddler, Mark O’Connor. As his introduction states, “This book contains meticulously accurate transcriptions of the music on the album ‘Mark O’Connor, The Championship Years’. It details the first phase of Mark’s career, during which he established a new standard for old-time fiddling. All the tunes were performed at the Weiser, Idaho fiddle contest” (3). Since he worked with Mark in producing this book the transcriptions of the notes played and the bow directions are accurate, but once again, descriptions of the bow mechanics are inadequate.
The Fiddle Contest as Impetus for Change
As supported by the respondents, the author presumes the fiddle contest to be the primary source of an outsiders first exposure to Texas Style Fiddling, which then prompts some of them to seek instruction. As such the contest serves as an impetus for diffusion necessitating the following description of contests.
Fiddle contests vary greatly in size and structure. The National Championships in Weiser, Idaho, are held every year during the third full week of June and usually attracts between 250 and 300 contestants. Regional contests such as Denver’s Rocky Mountain Regional Championships, Fiddlers on the Gorge, or California’s Western Open usually attract between forty and eighty contestants. State Championships and other so called local contests will normally attract between fifteen and fifty contestants. Local contests in Texas and the Texas State Championships are the exception, occasionally drawing fifty to one hundred players. Some Regional and state contests are held over a two or three day period but most are one day long.
Depending upon climate and the time of year, the contests are held either indoors or outdoors with the bulk of them held outdoors during the summer and usually occur in conjunction with another event. The Rocky Mountain Regional Championships take place outdoors during Denver’s three day long, “Festival of Mountain and Plain, A Taste of Colorado” and are sponsored by the Denver Partnership. The Colorado State Championships, sponsored by Keystone Resort, are held in Keystone, Colorado, during their “Taste of Keystone”, weekend. Numerous other contests are hosted by local communities, state and county fairs and Bluegrass festivals such as those held during the Fort Collins Bluegrass Festival , The Telluride Bluegrass festival, The Elbert County Fair, the Happy Jack Festival, the Casper, Wyoming Community Contest, the Eagle County Fair, The Old South Gaylord Street Community Fair, The El Paso County Fair and many others. Sponsorship is essential since prizes and/or prize money are normally awarded to the winners of the contest.
Over the years, communities and those people who organize and run the contests, have determined that in order to be successful most contests must be presented in conjunction with another event. By itself, fiddling does not seem to be adequately popular to draw a paying audience large enough to support the contest. Most often, intentional attendance is limited to immediate family and friends of the contestants (Daring), which, for financial reasons, significantly restricts the opportunities for contests thereby reducing the teachers’ chances to draw outsiders into the system. Some of the reasons for this phenomena, primarily that of stereotyping, shall be examined later. These presenters and organizers have found that by inserting the contest into another event, the contest will draw and perhaps more importantly hold the crowd that actually attended to participate within the confines of the entire activity. Holding the contest in conjunction with another event expands the potential audience, increasing the potential for musical and interpersonal communication among the cultures. After the first contest held at the 24th annual “Buffalo Bill Days Festival” in Golden, Colorado, one of the food booths, which was run by the local Elks Club and located immediately adjacent to the contest, reported doing in excess of $4,000 worth of additional business than they ever had in the past (Daring). By capturing people already in attendance, the contest is able to make the entire event more profitable.
Some contests carry enough size and reputation to stand on their own, in terms of not needing the assistance of another event. Although receiving donations from the entire community, the Weiser contest stands on its own. The Grand Masters, which is held in Nashville, Tennessee, is separate from, but held at the same time as Fan Fair. The Texas State Championships is a singular event although they do receive financial donations from the local community. These contests and some others are the exceptions, which seem to carry enough prestige, publicity and financial rewards to allow them to function alone.
Fiddle contests are generally open to anyone who wants to enter, although some state championships are restricted to state residents. Normally, the contests have a variety of age divisions so that the younger contestants do not have to compete against more experienced players. What follows was excerpted from Weiser, Idaho’s 30th Annual, National Oldtime Fiddler’s Contest program and provides a brief history of the contest while detailing the evolution of the age groups.
Fiddling came to Weiser in 1863 when the Logans established a way station here and covered wagon emigrants stopped for rest and recreation. Newspaper files report fiddling contests here from 1914 to WWI. Resurrector of fiddling was Blaine Stubblefield, Chamber of Commerce Secretary from 1948 until his death in December, 1960.
Blaine was raised on fiddling in Wallowa Valley above Hells Canyon and he hounded Chamber Directors to allocate $175 for a fiddle contest. Nothing happened until January, 1953, when the idea was proposed to hold the contest during intermissions of the Fifth Annual Weiser Square Dance Festival. Prize money was underwritten by two individuals and the event came off on April 18,1953. It was billed as the Northwest Mountain Fiddler’s Contest and was a huge success.
The name was changed to Northwest Oldtime Fiddling Championship in 1956 when a regional division was added for
Treasure Valley Fiddlers. In 1959 a separate division for Junior (under 18) fiddlers and in 1960 the Senior (over 65) division were introduced. The present National Oldtime Fiddler’s Contest was inaugurated in 1963 in conjunction with Idaho’s Territorial Centennial observances. The Junior-Junior (under 13) division was added in 1972 so pre-teenagers wouldn’t have to compete with teen-agers. The National Men’s division (over 18) was added in 1979 and in 1983 the Small Fry division (under 9) was introduced. Under a new alignment for 1991 the Men’s and Ladies divisions were eliminated and the Young Adult,Adult and Senior-Senior divisions were added. The Young Adult division is for anyone between the ages of 18 and 36 and the Adult division for anyone 37 to 59. The Senior division was split to form the Senior-Senior division for those age 70 and over.
Offering over $11,000 in cash prizes, the Weiser contest is hosted in the gymnasium of the local high school which seats about 3,000 people in the audience. In addition to watching the contest, most spectators record some or all of it on cassette or video. Ticket prices range from $2.50 for children and $5.00 for adults, which covers most of the age group competitions, up to $4.00 for children and $8.00 for adults during the Senior and Senior-Senior contests, and a flat $10.00 for the Grand Nationals on Saturday night.
Unlike most contests which charge the contestants a minimal entry fee of $5.00 or $10.00 or none at all, entry fees for the Weiser contest are expensive but the prize money is also higher. contestants in the Small Fry Division are charged $5.00, the Junior-Junior Division are charged $10.00, the Junior Division and Senior Division are charged $15.00, in the Young Adult and Adult Divisions are charged $25.00, the Senior-Senior Division are charged $12.50 and the Grand Champion Division $35.00. If the contestant registers after arriving at the contest instead of by mail before June 1st then they are charged an additional $5.00.
A panel of six judges is chosen each year. The organizers of the contest try to choose the judges so that a diversity of styles, ages and locations are represented. The judges are always accomplished players themselves and many times are past winners of one or more divisions of the Weiser contest. Some people argue that the regular use of previous winners creates a stylistic patronage in itself. Stacy Phillips states, “The tendency for previous winners to work as judges has led to the predominance of one style as the favorite in major contests, the Texas manner, represented by Benny Thomasson and his foremost pupil, Mark O’Connor” (16). This tendency may have created a type of informal surveillance system that allows the contestants to measure their abilities, on the national level, in the Texas Style. To counter the stylistic favoritism potential, the Weiser contest usually employs one judge from Canada and one from the southeast or fiddlers who play in those styles. In 1992, the judges were from Colorado, Oklahoma, Washington, Arkansas, California and Washington (the Canadian Judge). In 1993, they came from Idaho, Texas, Arizona, California, Canada and Oregon.
The judges do not get to watch the contest but are secluded in the high schools library. The seclusion supposedly allows them to concentrate on the music which is being broadcast into the library from the gymnasium without audience distraction and since they cannot see (therefore recognize) the contestant their judgments will be impartial. Since conversations with some judges dispute this, their seclusion is probably more beneficial for the mental health of the judges as opposed to insuring anonymity and impartiality. Chris Daring says:
If you are around the players and the contests much at all, you come to recognize each players versions of the different songs. So even if you are secluded you pretty much know who is playing or you can narrow it down to a couple of players. Certainly there are exceptions but even then you can tell who their major influences were and usually who taught them.
Her comments suggest considerable sophistication on the part of the judges, yet Daring admits that with regards to the fairness of the judging:
High levels of advanced fiddle playing is still too young to provide most contests with enough judges able to tell the difference when it comes to the finer points. For many of them, it’s almost as though the more difficult, the more intricate stuff goes right past them. They don’t understand it.
Her comments address the issues of the kind of fiddling honored, and how that choice is made and reinforced within the different locales, while implying that in some cases the judging produces deserving winners and in other cases it does not. In terms of the innovation decision on the part of the initiate, whichever style played by the winners is the style most likely to be emulated by the audience (since the judges are supposed to know), with those winners becoming the most sought after teachers.
At Weiser, five of the six judges are working at any given time with the sixth judge having some time off. This rotation not only serves to give each judge a break but also creates a different set of judges for each round of the contest thereby decreasing the potential for bias over the course of each division. In an attempt to further eliminate bias the high and low scores for each contestant are thrown out so that only the middle three are used.
Similar to a boxing match, the stage sits in the center of the gym floor so that the contestants are surrounded on all sides by the audience. The arena area is dark except for the stage lights and some light that trickles in from outside doorways. The atmosphere is highly charged. Chris Daring says “The tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife”.
The contest is structured on an elimination round basis; meaning that all contestants will play at least once. Then, depending upon the size of the division, a cut will be made to reduce the number of players for the second round which will be followed by another cut and so on. The Small Fry have three rounds of play. The Junior-Junior division, the Junior division, the Young Adult division, the Adult division, the Senior division and the Senior-Senior division have four rounds of play. The Grand National division has six rounds of play stretching over three days.
In each round, the contestant must play three songs: a breakdown, a waltz, and a tune of their choice. No song may be repeated by the contestant in any of their rounds. And each round cannot exceed a four minute time limit, or points are automatically deducted which usually stops the contestant from making the cut. In his 1983 interview with Stacy Phillips, Mark O’Connor describes the setting.
It’s a gymnasium with a stage right in the middle. There are mikes coming down from the ceiling. The audience is sitting all around. You can hear a pin drop. You walk out and they say where you’re from and you get the applause and you step up there, man its like a do-or-die thing. So many people lose it So many people get off the stage like, crying because they couldn’t handle the pressure. A lot of girls go straight to the bathroom. Some guys get sick and go off some place and can’t stand the thought of seeing the cut [the list of qualifiers for the next round].
The day’s events begin at 8:00 AM in the morning and continue until approximately midnight, with a morning and afternoon break and a break for lunch and dinner. In scheduling the contest, the presenters allow five minutes per contestant, four minutes of playing time and an additional minute to get them on and off the stage. While one contestant is on the stage, stewards (usually local high school students) have escorted the nest contestant and their accompanists into the gym where they wait their turn. The next contestant has also been located and is made to wait immediately outside the closed door to the gymnasium. As soon as the current contestant finishes, the next player makes their way to the stage usually arriving before any applause for the previous contestant is finished. Once on stage the contestant is introduced to the audience by the announcer who has been supplied with a brief biography of the fiddler. Unless some sort of mechanical problem interrupts, such as a fiddle or guitar string breaking, the fiddler then proceeds to play their round without stopping. The process is then repeated.
Immediately outside the gym, but within the high school is a room approximately twenty-five feet by fifty feet which serves as a practice room and staging area for the contestants. From the time the room opens in the morning until the days rounds are over there are usually between five and fifteen fiddlers and their guitar players practicing in this room at one time. This room is open to the public so each fiddler is surrounded by their own individual audience. Cassette tape recorders and video cameras are constantly in use. In one corner of the room is an old upright piano. At various times during the day, someone (who is usually very good) begins to play and is quickly surrounded by guitar and bass players who provide accompaniment. The rooms large number of people and chaotic musical abandon creates a serious yet party like atmosphere.
Immediately beyond both ends of this warm-up room are the front and rear entrances to the high school itself. Again, at various times of the day, an additional ten or so fiddlers can also be found practicing in these areas although the observers are usually fewer in number.
The high school football and baseball fields are used as a campground for the contestants and observers. By Sunday, the day before the contest begins, both are filled to capacity with tents, campers and motor homes. The tents usually contain younger contestants, while the campers and motor homes house the older retirees and the families whose children are participating. Across the street from the baseball field is a park area which fills with food and crafts vendors and an additional hundred campers. Across the street from the front of the high school is a privately owned field which also fills with motor homes. Fiddle playing, in the form of casual “jam sessions”, can be heard throughout these locations all day and most of each night all week long.
Jam sessions exist in various shapes, sizes and qualities. In simple form, they are a gathering of musicians, who are playing their music, first for themselves and second for anyone who cares to listen. These gatherings provide opportunities for interpersonal information/innovation sharing among the participants. Outside one of the campers or motor homes, a few fiddlers and guitar players circle some chairs and begin to play. “Jamming and tune trading are the rule and friendly music cutting sessions are common between high-ranking rivals” (Phillips 19). Soon after the jam session begins, a group of listeners will arrive and stand behind the circle of musicians. Many of the listeners will be unobtrusively holding cassette tape recorders. “Many thousands at Weiser, for example never listen to the contest at all” (Phillips Contest19). These recordings are valuable for the dissemination of the stylistic innovation. Most often, they are made by other less experienced fiddlers or by the parents of younger fiddlers for purposes of learning the songs. Because there are as yet so few teachers of the Texas Style and those who are highly respected live in such diverse locations, the recordings become surrogates for them. Learning by tape has served to expand the styles diffusion while increasing opportunities for a type of reinvention resulting from the previously noted difficulties in deciphering bow usage. Chris Daring says:
Some of these people who have learned by tape, they play well, very well. But they think they’re playing Texas style when they’re not. Even though they’re calling it that. Just because they learned the song from a tape of me playing it, doesn’t mean they’re playing it right and they’re usually not. Usually the bow is all screwed up.
Due to the dissemination of these recordings, the style (or at least the styles label) may well be already evolving past the current generation of teachers.
During Weiser jam sessions, sometimes, only one fiddler will be playing while being accompanied by one or more guitar players. The fiddler plays the song, then pauses to converse with the accompanists and listeners before starting another song. This fiddler may play for an hour or two before taking a break and being replaced by another fiddler. Other times a group of fiddlers may “pass” the song between themselves, while being accompanied by a group of guitar players. “Passing” the song is when one fiddler starts playing a song, and as soon as that player has finished, another player begins the same song and then passes it to another player and so on around the circle. In either scenario, guitar players are usually joining and leaving the group for as long as the jam session continues. As Stacy Phillips says when addressing the context of the contest event or the music complex, “When you really get involved with fiddling – the gradual working-up of tunes, the camaraderie of jam sessions and contests – it can be much more than the music itself” (19), including ego-involvement, identity sharing and a sense of membership. Regarding the importance of the jam session with specific reference to those from the original fiddling group and in relation to the entire fiddling culture, Lisa Barrett says:
There were so many things about the old jam sessions that were wonderful and so many things about it that weren’t so wonderful. And it’s hard to separate, can the wonderful part occur without the not so wonderful. The not so wonderful part being, I think a truckload of booze was consumed. You can’t help but think how exposure to that kind of thing effects the young people and they should look at it that way. That’s a valid concern. But at the same time, not having contact with those kind of characters, somehow you miss the richness of the tradition.
But Dale Morris sees the reverse situation as having evolved:
I think there’s been a distortion. I think the young people think they’re carrying on the tradition of Texas fiddling in their jam sessions. And they have in their head the idea of a belligerent bastard who cusses people and insults people and threatens to punch somebody out and that drinks all the time. That’s what they’re trying to emulate. And that’s not the way it used to be. They think it was It’s become a closed world. I can’t imagine sending my students to one of these drunken jam sessions. They’re never used to be any disrespect. The ones now, I don’t know who they’re tryin’ to be like, it’s not right, they have the wrong pattern they’re trying to follow.
In spite of the seeming casualness and revelry of the jam session there is a specific etiquette involved. Players, either fiddle or guitar, should not and do not indiscriminately join the session. They wait until they are invited. Lisa Barrett continues:
Current fiddlers participate largely in competitions and probably don’t get enough exposure to jam sessions. At the jam sessions, I think they get some of both playing and listening but they don’t get enough of either one as they should have. But part of that can be attributed to the fact that something that has lasted through the years, and this is one of the aspects when I said there were some not so good aspects, this exclusive thing, where it was understood that if you were not able to play at a certain level, you were not allowed to play, period. And that has continued to some degree.
Dale Morris concurs:
Everybody used to be welcomed in. Everybody could come and they would get to play. Now, they get off and they all get drunk together and they think they are playin well. You need somebody like Benny Thomasson and more Terry’s [Morris], that are nice to people, that won’t insult people, that’s what you need to spread it around.
And Herman Johnson addresses his feelings regarding his first trips to the Texas contests from Oklahoma in 1960. “When I first started going down there, it wasn’t so much for winning back in those days as it was just for participation. Fiddlers just went to help one another and they would help one another. They just did everything they could to help one another”. All of which suggests that cultural components, other than the fiddling style itself, have also undergone specific changes which may well be contributing to the current direction of the style including degrees of reinvention.
Musicians of similar age and ability tend to group together. The jam sessions then, tend to be comprised of members of those groups, so that as musicians enter and leave, the level of play remains consistent. Unlike Lisa Barrett, Matt Hartz says this is the way it should be.
These kids should do like I did. I was no where near an instrument. I watched and I soaked it up and I knew that my day would come. But, I damn sure had a tape recorder and I was taking it home with me and I was going to learn about it. But as far as if there were good musicians around, the last thing I was going to do was let them see how bad I was. Of course I played with my friends, but when it came to the big dogs, the last thing I wanted to do was intrude. As far as the kids, I sure wish that a lot more of them had the respect that I had. It’s more that they want to say, ‘look what I can do’. They want to gain acceptance from those people who can really do it. For the most part, I knew my place.
The generations seem to mix only when their fiddling capabilities are comparable which may, to a certain extent, compel the younger fiddlers to learn as best as they can from tapes, rather than from personal instruction via the folk/oral method. If a fiddler of moderate accomplishment begins a session they will be joined by comparable players. Highly accomplished players usually do not play but may be present in the circle of listeners or will occasionally be playing guitar for the fiddler. At a session consisting of the very best players, the moderate player is expected to listen and not play. If these covert norms are broken the jam session will quickly disperse.
The exception to this jam session protocol normally occurs at least once during the week. Some of the better players, most notably Joey McKenzie and Chris Daring, will organize a jam session for the younger fiddlers. This gathering is very obviously aimed at fostering an opportunity for the younger generation to learn the rules and to participate with the better players. This gathering emerges later in the week, most often in the afternoon, but occasionally in the evening, outside of one of the families campers. The kids range in age from about eight to sixteen with the number of participants increasing as it becomes apparent that unlike other sessions, players of all abilities are welcome.
Dancing is almost non-existent during the week except at the Weiser Community Center and at the Friday night party at the Fiddlers Hall of Fame in downtown Weiser. The Community Center in downtown Weiser is open all week long for breakfast through late evening. Fiddlers and accompanists are invited to perform (for free) on stage for anyone who cares to listen or to dance. Patrons tend to be senior citizens. At the Fiddlers Hall of Fame, the Friday night dance offers both live and recorded “top forty” music. Participants are the families of the pre-teen and teenager contestants. At this gathering the rules are obvious: the kids dance and the parents converse. Occasionally, some adults will dance with each other as well as with their children, but they are the exception and not the rule. Clearly, this dance is for the kids.
Prior to each evenings divisional championship rounds of competition, Weiser hosts a completely separate contest at the same location known as the “Certified Divisions”. Each state has the opportunity during the year to certify their state or regional championships with the National Championships. Certified winners of those state championships are then eligible to compete in the Certified Divisions at Weiser. Each state must pay a fee to the National and agree to conduct their state contest according to Weiser rules. The fee is used by Weiser to “cover the cost of entry fees of contest winners in the National Contest, printing and mailing of certificates” and other certified prizes. “The National Fiddlers’ Certification and Advisory Council, in cooperation with the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest, established the plan of certifying State and Regional Contests in order that authentic oldtime fiddling activities throughout the nation will be coordinated in carrying out the purpose of the National Contest”. Additionally, certification:
(a) Promotes National recognition and perpetuation of oldtime fiddling throughout all areas of the United States.
(b) Encourages Regional Styles and tunes as part of the National fiddling lore.
(c) Supplies Certified Contests with National rules and gives assistance in the conduct of contests.
(d) Awards the sponsors of Certified Contests special certificates (suitable for framing) of honor and designation.
(e) Furnishes Champion Award Certificate (suitable for framing) for presentation at Certified Contest.
(f) Provides special recognition to Certified Champions at events during National Contest.
(g) Winners are given a certified ribbon along with their contestant ribbon.
(h) Provides prepaid registration to the National Contest.
(i) Public recognition for Certified Contests at the National Contest.
(j) Public recognition for Certified Champion at Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame in Weiser, Idaho, by placing photo of Champion in space of honor.
(k) Has been instrumental in starting and promoting contests for Junior-Juniors (under 13 years of age), and Small Fry (under 9 years of age), in order that youngsters will get started at an early age playing the fiddle.
The Certified Contest is specifically designed to be fun for the fiddlers and for audience entertainment. Prizes are awarded for Best Dressed Fiddler, etc. Consequently, the participants wear outlandish costumes and some very non-traditional songs are heard. In 1987 a contestant dressed as the Lone Ranger and played the William Tell Overture. These festive contests serve to remove some of the tension for the participants of the National Contest while also providing them with some additional time on stage.
Local contests vary greatly in design and structure from the National. The number of participants is much smaller, entry fees and prize money are less, they do not have the separate certified divisions and most often they last only one day.
Age divisions in these contests are usually very different from the divisions in the Nationals. Somewhat dictated by the amount of prize money and who is running the contest, they will have anywhere from one large division for all contestants, to two divisions, one for adults and one for kids, to three or more divisions. The contest hosted by Royal Gorge, Colorado, during August of each year has four divisions: 15 and under, 16 -34, 35 -64 and 65 and up. The Colorado State Championship has seven different age groups: 9 and under, 10 -12, 13 -16, 17 -29, 30 -49, 50 -64 and 65 and over. After the age groups have finished competing, all fiddlers return to play again for the over all State Championship. Some sponsors believe it to be more beneficial to provide additional childrens divisions, so that the young kids are not competing against the older kids, while others provide for the adults. Some of these contests prohibit any contestant from performing on the contest stage at any time during the day other than when they are competing. Other contests allow their contenders to play informally for audience entertainment between the age divisions and before or after the contest. Participants are more relaxed and seem to enjoy themselves more in the latter situation (Daring).
Judges are usually well known fiddlers in the community who have been chosen based on their experience and availability. Due to the smaller number of people involved at the local level there are usually only three judges and all scores are included. Some of these contests seclude their judges and some allow them to watch the contest while judging.
Hiring local judges often times creates unintentional preferences for indigenous styles and fiddlers. This sort of unintentional favoritism serves to restrict the diffusion of Texas Style (or other styles) since players of those styles tend to avoid those contests. Speculation is that either the judges simply do not know any better or that they are so used to hearing the songs played one way that anything else must be wrong (Daring). Although rare, intentional favoritism also occurs. David Brose, Director of the Iowa Council on the Arts, relates being asked to judge a fiddle contest in the early 1980’s in the southeastern United States where the instructions to the judges were to be sure a local male placed first, a regional male placed second and a local female placed third.
Local participants will begin arriving one to two hours before the contest begins and in some cases the night before. Early arrival is essential so that the contestants have the opportunity to locate their back up guitar players, practice for the contest, socialize and have time for jam sessions. Those arriving the night before attempt to congregate at some convenient location such as another contestants home or someplace within the motel to socialize and jam. Many times the out of town fiddlers will stay an additional night so that they can continue their socializing, share their songs and learn from each other at one more jam session.
Before, during and occasionally after the contest, fiddlers can be found among the crowd, scattered around the contest grounds, playing for their own enjoyment and practicing for the contest. They are almost always surrounded by a small audience, some of whom have been previously exposed to fiddling and some of whom have not. New comers to a fiddle contest often ask the fiddler or the guitar player questions while others request specific songs.
Because most local contests are held in conjunction with another event such as the county fair many audience members are accidentally exposed to the fiddlers, the contest and the jam sessions. They wander into the area and choose to stay for a while. At the Nationals in Weiser and similar contests, most if not all audience members are intentionally present. They are familiar with fiddling and have elected to attend. Consequently, the local contests are more influential in introducing fiddling to those who are unfamiliar with it. Chris Daring reflects on the differences:
Weiser, I can’t see where it could be considered to be important in bringing outsiders in, because it’s held in a small town, 60 miles from anywhere. So their audience is generally pretty much retirees from the community and other fiddle players and their families. So all of those people are really pretty much insiders. Fiddle contests that are held at large festivals are much more important, where John Q. Public is there for something else and they happen to stumble upon the fiddling.
Availability of Instruction
As previously stated, when the cultural event of the local dance expanded to include the fiddle contest event, cultural norms changed, resulting in the development of a particular fiddling style that originated in Texas and that styles diffusion to the innovators within the national fiddle playing community. Diffusion is defined as “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among members of a social system” (Rogers 5). As such , it is a kind of social change incorporating technical elements of the innovation itself as well as some of the substance of the social settings in which it occurs. I suspect that the teachers of what has come to be known as “Texas Style Fiddling” are acting as change agents and that they are responsible for exposing fiddling to the outsider by attending and performing at public fiddle contests and eventually word of mouth advertising, thus changing existing negative opinions of fiddle playing, so that prospective students/innovators from the outside culture feel free to join the fiddling community by taking lessons.
Change agents are individuals “who influence a clients’ innovation decision in a direction deemed desirable by a change agency” (Rogers 312). In this case, the change agent/teachers of Texas Style Fiddling seek students in order to financially support themselves. They act in a self directed manner, with neither surveillance nor guidance from a change agency, while influencing a clients adoption decision. The prospective students, who tend to be younger, are exposed to the change agent/teachers and the music at public fiddle contests. As Kamin says regarding the attraction of the early white audience to black rhythm and blues, these students are “more or less self-selected, based on interest in the music. The presentation occurred largely by accident.” (274).
Since the prospective students could not find this style of fiddling within their normal social circles due to existing negative stereotypes of fiddling and fiddle players, they would have had to stumble across the music at a fiddle contest. The teachers’ activities and behaviors take the form of a marketing function which first non-verbally, via the musical style itself, exposes the client to the innovation and then verbally, via interpersonally exchange, persuades the client to take lessons. Since they do not report to a higher authority, they are acting as both change agent and change agency. By seeking to support themselves by obtaining students, these original teachers are reaching some innovators from the larger non-fiddling culture, thereby socializing them into the fiddling culture.
Texas Style Fiddling remained to the largest extent, in Texas, until the late 1960’s when Dick Barrett and Herman Johnson began to attend the Weiser contest in Idaho and the early 1970’s when Benny Thomasson moved from Texas to the Seattle, Washington, area. Unlike Major Franklin and some of the other Texans, Benny, Herman and Dick liked to teach. They made “how to” information available to outsiders.
While in Texas, Benny had made National and World Champions out of “Texas” Shorty Chancellor, Dale and Terry Morris and Jimmy Don Bates. In Washington, he was besieged by students (mostly around the age of twenty) who wanted to learn this new style. As Dale Morris says:
When Benny went to Washington, that really opened it Any time these fiddlers, you know like Benny and Major, any time these guys got up into Oklahoma, they got some of those people infected. I’m saying infected cause that’s really what it’s like. But,it didn’t seem to spread very far past New Mexico or Oklahoma City until Benny moved to Washington. And then his students spread it all over Washington, California, Idaho and even to Kansas. Benny was an open book, he was always willing to show anybody anything.
Although Benny moved back to Texas after only three years in Washington, many of those students, including Joe Sites, Mark O’Connor, Jeannette Beyer, J’Anna Jacoby and Loretta Brank, went on to become State, Regional and National Champions.
His most publicly recognizable student from Washington, four time National Champion and recording artist Mark O’Connor says, “Benny influenced my whole generation of fiddlers in the Northwest. He had lots of patience to teach, and he was an inspirational character. You wanted to emulate him” (Phillips 16). Dale Morris says:
What appealed to me was the feelin in it, and it was pretty music. It wasn’t just a fiddle playin’. Everything had a purpose. It was like it was comin’ straight from Benny and Omega (a rhythm guitar player). Like it was comin’ right out of their insides. It had soul in it. Back when I first started, I’d rather play then eat.
Regarding Benny Thomasson’s and Dick Barrett’s contribution to the styles diffusion, Lisa Barrett says:
Texas style definitely has spread like wildfire over the last twenty years. Dick started going to Weiser in 1969 and the style was something very new and when people hear a new sound they are usually attracted to it. Benny started coming in 1973. As a result of their appearances at Weiser, they started helping people in the northern states. Dick helped several young men with the guitar part of it. There was a bunch of them that Dick kind of helped get going when they were fifteen or sixteen. Which was then followed by the melodic part, the fiddle. So probably the spread of it is mostly due to Benny and Dick. Dick also spent a couple of years out in Washington in 76 and 77 and did a lot of teaching while he was out there working construction.
Current Texas resident, Matt Hartz, who is originally from Idaho describes the original diffusion of the style as follows:
When Benny moved to Washington that was a huge deal. But, then you’ve got people like Dale Morris – world travelers – Dale is probably more responsible than anybody. And Texas Shorty with his 45’s [records]. Shorty’s never been to Weiser. His dad would drive a VW bus up and have a loudspeaker playing Shorty’s 45’s in the parking lot and people would go buy them. And Dick Barrett, who left Texas and went to Montana, and is spreading his music throughout an enormous part of the country.
And from Herman Johnson,
I think Benny left his mark pretty well on Washington fiddlers and others when he came to Weiser. However the Texas style fiddling had been there before Benny came because there were several others before him that had gone up there. Benny moved to Washington. He helped Mark [O’Connor] of course and several others. He helped several others along the way.
In point of fact, Herman Johnson first went to Weiser in 1968 and Dick Barrett’s first trip was in 1969. When this vanguard of Texas Style player/change agents arrived in the northwest, a first wave of initiates was attracted to both the style and the players.
Prior to their arrival, the winners of the Weiser contest had come from either the northwest, or from Missouri and Kansas. The most notorious winner during those years was Bluegrass fiddler, Byron Berline, who won the contest in 1965 and 1970. Herman Johnson won the contest in 1969 and Dick Barrett won in 1971. Since then, the winners of the National Championships have always played Texas Style.
For eight years, from 1971 through 1978 the National Championships were won by either Herman Johnson, Dick Barrett or Benny Thomasson. Status obtained by these men and their winning style assisted them in attracting students, thus accelerating the styles perpetuation and diffusion. Beginning with 1979, when Mark O’Connor won, the National Champion has always been young (meaning in their teens or twenties) and directly taught or heavily influenced by at least one of the three Texas style predecessors. The student innovators had come into their own. Texas Style Fiddling was firmly in place at the National Championships. As Nashville fiddler and author Stacy Phillips said in 1983, “This manner of fiddling originated in Texas but is now on its way towards becoming a national style” (3). The change agents had done their job. And, their students now began functioning as additional change agents.
ACCEPTANCE OF CHANGE
Change agents are potentially the most effective when there exists a high degree of homophily between themselves and their clients. Homophily “ is the degree to which pairs of individuals who interact are similar in certain attributes, such as beliefs, education, social status and the like” (Rogers 274). These similarities allow the individuals to quickly find a common ground for the exchange of ideas and mutual respect. “Homophily and effective communication breed each other” (Rogers 275). The shared meanings, whether coming from the musical or verbal interactions of the participants, helps assure effective and continuing communication. The greater the communication, the greater the opportunity for them to become homophilous, “the more homophilous they are , the more likely it is that their communication will be effective” (Rogers 275). Effective musical communication contributes to effective interpersonal communication and effective interpersonal communication contributes to effective musical communication.
The teachers of Texas Style fiddle playing come from a culture which during the past fifty years or so, incorporated some of the more accepted elements of western/European music such as tone and consistent intonation so that their music can be perceived as homophilous to prospective students who come from a structured classical music background. A high degree of compatibility exists among the styles. As a group, the informants supported this trend towards these elements by the Texas fiddlers. When asked if she thought Texas Style were more closely related to classical violin than other fiddle styles, Trish Osthoff replied:
The musical requirements are definitely more closely related. I mean all the things I wish I had been better at as a violin player would have helped me immensely as a Texas fiddler, but they did not seem to make much difference in any other style I’ve ever played. If people can quit thinking of fiddle playing as something slightly out of tune and scratchy it would be much more easily accepted then it has been in the past. And I think when people hear a good Texas fiddle player, and hear them playing in tune and doing just what they’re supposed to, I think anybody would have a hard time saying that it’s not a style that’s desirable. When teaching, you have a responsibility to teach these kids that fiddle playing is not just scratching and that it is just as respected as violin playing when it is done well. People stay away from learning fiddling until they come across Texas Style. It seems to me the standard of play is greater than other styles. Its closer to the standards of classical violin playing because you can play other styles for years and never play anything very hard.
When asked the same question, Denise Swiniarski responded,
I think there wouldn’t be as many classical players playing fiddle if we just had old timey styles. I go by my own experience. By the time I came here to Colorado and had been exposed to classical, I pretty much said I don’t want to play fiddle any more. It was boring. Things that I had always considered top priority on your playing, like intonation, were not a factor. There are similarities between classical and Texas Style that aren’t there between classical and old timey style. Fiddling is as legitimate and as hard as classical. I didn’t know that before I got involved. Texas style, not old timey. I knew it would be more challenging. I didn’t know it would make me crazy, obsessed for about three years. Yet, for some reason, it is still more valid to play classical music than it is to play fiddle.
And Herman Johnson:
A good fiddle player should deserve as much credit as a good violinist. I’ve always thought that way about it. There’s good bow work and some wonderful noting patterns in these old fiddle tunes. If a fiddler can play these tunes and get the notes and the bowing to them where it’s good, good and clean to listen to, he deserves a lot of credit. He certainly does. And, they’re just as hard to get as some of the classical pieces are. Execution is pretty important in Texas Style Fiddling and you’ve got to get up into second and third positions on some of the hoedowns. In Missouri style and Tennessee style and other styles around the country, most of their tunes are played in first position. So the execution of their tunes are not nearly as difficult.
When asked about the intonation requirements and overall difficulty of Texas Style compared to other styles, Dale Morris said:
Yes, Texas Style is harder to play than other styles. I would say it is. Why it requires at least third position in a lot of things. To win contests it better get out of first position or it’s not gonna win. The sound quality has to be better. It has to be more in tune, I think now. Finally, I think they’re getting used to hearing it in tune. And for a long time the sound of a fiddle was slightly out of tune. I haven’t wanted to admit that, but it’s the truth. Just close to it. That was just about it. It was on the verge of in tune, wasn’t really completely out of tune, just almost right and flat sounding. Now I think it’s gotten more educated.
Herman Johnson responded:
Intonation is so very important for someone that’s going to be competing and wants to have people enjoy listening to them. If you can’t produce a good tone and if you can’t be in proper pitch with your notes, it’s not pleasing to the human ear.
Regarding the similarities between Texas Style and classical violin playing, Chris Daring replied:
That it [Texas Style] is closely related contributes to the interest in Texas fiddle from both parents and kids. I think it just sits better. It’s more challenging. There’s avenues where it can be used and they’re gonna have some residual benefit from their $20.00 a week lesson money. I just think it sits better. It can be legitimized easier. I think the similarities account for classical players joining the fiddle culture. It doesn’t seem quite so different. ‘Oh well, I can do that!’. But it’s deceiving. I’ve done both. I’ve done high level classical playing and I’m doing high level fiddle playing. I think they’re both very difficult in their own ways and I think they’re both legitimate. I think they’re just different. Intonation requirements are a big similarity though. I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘What’s the difference between violin and fiddle? Isn’t it just that the fiddle is tuned a little flat?’ That’s just ignorance.
Matt Hartz replied:
The fundamentals, no matter how you play the violin should be the same. You should have good posture, hold the instrument correctly, you should have good tone and intonation. That all should be there, no matter what. There’s the similarity. It doesn’t matter what you’re playing, it ought to be fundamentally sound.
These recognizable musical similarities, especially those involving intonation and general overall difficulty, appear to attract students to the music . By definition, a student seeks a teacher in order to learn, and “Learning takes energy. If a new product is blended with the familiar, less learning is necessary, and more people can accept it” (Kamin 242). Since the music is not perceived as substantially foreign to the listener, the musical homophily affords the teachers the opportunity to obtain students who would not otherwise choose to play the fiddle because of the outsiders previously assumed dissimilarities in the musical requirements of the two art forms. But, being attracted to the music, differs from the next step in the process of seeking a teacher and making the choice to join the culture.
Compatibility and Resistance to Change
Cultural Compatibility and Potential Adoption
Even if the music is perceived as similar thus attractive, so must participation in the contest and the rest of the current fiddle music complex. If membership within the new culture does not appeal, then what the prospective initiate is avoiding is not the music but the setting of the music. It should be remembered that due to previously existing stereotypes of both the music and the players, “Folk musicians are an out-group for the upper class” (Herndon and McLeod 175) and “Young people have strong feelings about musicians, songs, genres and lifestyle features associated with musical elements of culture and subculture” (Sun and Lull 124). The change agents, the culture contained within the music complex and the music itself must appeal to familiar cultural and aesthetic values of new recruits. Referring to who is drawn to the culture, Chris Daring says:
More young are drawn to it today. Just by the sheer number of contests and the exposure and then being attracted to it because other kids are doing it. The young are the highlight of whatever event that it is. Whether it’s a jam session or a contest, the young people are the highlight. The torch has been passed whether anybody wanted to pass it or not.
Regarding the kids and the reasons they are drawn to it, Chris continues,
The students that are primarily violin students, who then in the summer get to play fiddle tunes, I think the appeal is two fold. One, they get to do something different that is fun to them. There is a performance opportunity all over the place with contests. And two, it’s a solo opportunity rather than a group setting where they get a prize and recognition. For the strictly fiddle student, what appeals to them Texas fiddle wise is the same thing that my whole generation liked about Led Zeppelin and Rock and Roll, and Blues and stuff. It’s that rhythmic feel and the complexity of it and the opportunity to be expressive.
Regarding her adult students and their reasons for participating, she says:
It seems as though the classical player has a higher level of discontent after 15 or 18 years of violin lessons and playing in the section, and not a lot of creativity. Generally speaking, classical players are not presented with any avenues as far as improvisation or any kind of creating on their own, that the instrumentalist is the one delivering the message rather than creating their own message. That creativity part, the whole reason they started playing in the first place never comes to pass. There’s a lot of starving classical musicians out there and they don’t get together and have a jam session on Sunday afternoons. The social aspect is probably the biggest draw in the early part of it. Anybody who went through the classical training has created in themselves a need to play. Whether it’s playing classical or playing whatever. It’s like a need for food, you have to have it in order to be a whole person.
Regarding who is participating and why, Dale Morris says:
More young people are definitely being attracted to it. They’re seeing more young people do it. Like outside of Texas. It’s the thing to do out in California. Out in Redding, these young kids, that’s the in thing, to play the fiddle at a contest. Out in California, it’s a respectable thing. They see professional people involved in it, dressed nice. There’s just a whole lot of young people involved in it. When they can see a young person playing it that looks respectable and it’s in tune, that helps draw them in. When a person who plays classical music can feel challenged by it, I think that helps draw them into it.
And Trish Osthoff:
A lot of outsiders are coming into it and mostly in the form of kids. Not as many would come into it if it weren’t for Texas Style, because I think the standards for some of the other types of fiddle playing are maybe not as high and have the reputation for maybe not playing very well. It’s not as challenging to play other types. At the contests a few years ago, you would get a couple people that wee trying to play Texas style and a bunch of old men that played any style. Now you’re getting more and more kids that play Texas Style, and play it better and better because they have an incentive. I’ve seen a lot of kids come in and learn to play really well. And, I’ve seen a lot of adults stay home because they don’t want to get beat in a contest by a kid.
Matt Hartz relates the attraction of the young to the playing of Terry Morris by saying:
Terry Morris was the most influential breakdown fiddler probably to ever live, for the sole point that he was the guy that made it an attractive thing to do. The kids got excited when they saw Terry Morris play. Terry made it desirable. He made it desirable so that the kid didn’t have to look up and see the old guy in suspenders with the dog howling at his feet. They saw Terry Morris, movie star, playin’ breakdowns, gettin’ the girls. He turned it into a positive thing. He used it to his advantage.
The change agents, the culture contained within the music complex and the music itself must appeal to familiar cultural and aesthetic values of new recruits. It appears that current participants have discovered that they are speaking the same musical language and because the current teachers have become mostly younger, there is also a fit between them and the potential initiates.
Regarding the attractiveness of the culture or the music complex containing the participants and the music, Herman Johnson says:
I think it’s the contest that’s responsible for a lot of the people that have started out on the violin to switch over because they’ve been to some of the contests and they’ve seen the fun there is in it and the people are all having a good time. That’s what they want to do, join the culture. Kind of like Amber Randall (she is fourteen years old). She came here and said she played violin for three years or five years or something and her folks took her to a fiddle contest and she told them right off after the contest, now that’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to learn to play, I want to learn to play fiddle music. They’re connected to the contest, not anything else. At some of their ages, that’s where it’s all at for them. They want to get good enough to win at contests. Get good enough to be some serious competition for somebody.
Chris Daring says:
For most of the kids and I guess the adults too, the contest is the most obvious place for them. The one forum they have to get in front of the audience that kinds of acts as a barometer to kind of see where they fit with everybody else. I think, generally speaking, the kids and adults that are playing in contests, their objectives are to play better and better, do better in the contest, go to jam sessions and do that social thing. Most of my students participate in the contests. I have lots of kids whose parents are now having to learn to play guitar just so they can live in the house with the kid. I’ve had plenty of students who come for violin lessons who after two weeks say, I don’t want to do that anymore, I want to do that. I want to learn to play the fiddle. Then the contest becomes their place.
Herman Johnson continues:
I believe the contests around the country have given the young folks a real desire to learn to play the fiddle ad of course to play the style that they think of as a winning style. I really believe that our fiddle contests that we’ve been having for a good many years now have been responsible for so many young folks picking up fiddle music. That opportunity to participate, just to be able to play maybe. But, nowadays, whether they admit it or not, the one thing they have in mind is the competition.
Regarding the attraction of the contests, Matt Hartz continues:
The reason so many outside people are coming in is because of the popularity of fiddle contests. A growing number of them across the nation and a growing number of the people that attend them and that’s how the word is getting out. They’re coming in because it’s Texas Style that’s made it grow. We’ve got a black student. Their first thing was not to be fiddle players [Matt’s wife teaches classical violin]. You know after a couple of lessons his mom called me and said ‘you know what about that fiddle stuff. I heard you mention contests, that might be something that we’re interested in’. And a lot more beside them who say we might be interested in some of the contests.
These stereotypes, which are herein described by some of the teacher/informants, create a heterophilous situation between members of the fiddle playing and non-fiddle playing cultures, which, until they are exposed to Texas style fiddling, appears to keep many non-members from seeking instruction. Heterophily is the opposite of homophily, or “the degree to which pairs of individuals who interact are different in certain attributes” (Rogers 18). In cases of extreme heterophily, when there are no common languages or meanings to be shared, so that the participants have no perceived reason for even beginning much less continuing communication, information exchange is almost impossible. “Differences in technical competence, social status and beliefs all contribute to heterophily in language and meaning, thereby leading to messages that go unheeded” (Rogers 275). The teachers of Texas Style Fiddling believe the stereotypes of both fiddle music and fiddle players have tended to be so extreme as to keep non-players, who have been raised in the classical music tradition, away from the music. Chris Daring explains:
People that have never even heard Texas fiddling immediately figure, when the stereotype comes into play, ‘oh, she’s a fiddle player, therefore she must not bathe or have front teeth or play well’. I did a radio show a few years ago. When it was over the host told me that when he first heard their was going to be a girl fiddle player on the show he thought ,’ Oh great, the music’s going to be terrible and she’s going to look like she just rolled out of a sleeping bag’. Most of the time, with my fiddle students, by the time they’re learning some fiddle tunes, their parents have heard me play and other students who have been doing them well for a while. So it’s not frightening. They know their child is not going to turn into a hillbilly or something.
Dale Morris discusses some of the direct effects of the stereotype by describing his experience when he auditioned for a part in a movie.”I didn’t get the part. The producer said I was too clean cut. The guy they used in the movie was slouchy, half way hippie with a ponytail, scruffy beard and wire rim glasses. I didn’t fit the image”.
The author’s own experience with assisting Chris Daring in educating younger audiences about Texas style fiddling confirms the existence of the stereotype. Chris performs and lectures at numerous high schools and grade schools throughout Colorado. When she makes these presentations, I am in attendance to provide her with rhythmic accompaniment on guitar. Normally our audience does not know who she is, what she looks like, and because her name is “Chris”, they do not know whether she is male or female. At the start of our program, I do not introduce her, but ask the audience to describe the appearance of a fiddle player. Their descriptions are always the same. A fiddler is “male, old, chews tobacco, usually barefoot, wears bib overalls that are to short, sometimes a hat, and has a dog howling at his feet”. Interestingly enough, they describe the trophy that is awarded to the National Champion in Weiser, Idaho, each year. After receiving the stereotypical descriptions, I then introduce her. Regarding these and other presentations, Chris says, “In performance, I love going and having an audience be so surprised. ‘Boy, what is it that you call that’. Generally speaking, John Q. Public hasn’t heard Texas fiddle or seen any Texas fiddle players”.
Lisa Barrett relates her perception of the damage done by the stereotype.
The stereotypes definitely effect my ability to make a living and bring new students in. But if you play enough personal appearances, where people see that you don’t play that stereotypical scratching, squawking out of tune, eventually enough people realize that’s not what you do and they in turn tell other people and word gets around. But it’s difficult to go about demolishing that stereotype with a plan.
When asked if mere exposure to her playing created interest in outsiders and helped to overcome the stereotype and why, Lisa cautiously replied:
Ah, yes. If you’ll observe people. I’ve had opportunity to observe people in their first situational exposure to fiddle playing and many different kinds of fiddle playing. And what I notice a lot of times is, certain types of fiddle playing tend to bring out the comic in a lot of people. I guess what I’m saying is, there are certain styles that are sort of redundant. They play the same two phrases over and over. And, most listeners, if that is their first exposure to fiddle playing, right away they’re turned off. You see them sitting there making motions, they’re making fun of it.
I think many people are attracted to the Texas fiddle playing because it’s very imaginative, where you’re not playing a specific melodic line all the time. You’re using harmony parts to weave in and out of that melodic line. I think, because of that, it tends to avoid musical cliches. And, I think that’s why people are attracted to it as opposed to other styles.
But, there are some people who are never going to be attracted to any fiddle playing because they hate the sound of a fiddle. I can relate to that because I’m not fond of accordions. But on the other hand, I have to admit there’s some accordion playing that I really enjoy. But you know, you have that image in your mind of the accordion player from hell, playing ‘Lady of Spain’. And it’s the same thing when you visualize the fiddle player scratchin’ away at ‘Turkey in the Straw’. I mean, how many hundreds of thousands of times have you heard that on TV and saw the hayseed dressed up to go with the sound.
Matt Hartz reminds us that the media is also an outsider by saying:
I think that those stereotypes hinder the real message of Texas style fiddling getting out to the outsiders. You can’t overcome it, because remember, the media is the outsiders. There’s the perfect example. To them the ‘Dusty Miller’ played real well, is not the interesting thing. The interesting thing is the cute little kid playing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, or the real old man, who’s barely eking out ‘Turkey in the Straw’, which more fits the stereotype that they’re used to seeing. So, that’s what they’re going to go after. They see what the rest of the outsiders see. So, they’re going to present it that way.
They contend that the characteristics of their style, the Texas Style, of fiddle playing, are more closely related to the characteristics of classical violin playing than are other styles of fiddling. Additionally, they claim new participants to the fiddling culture, who have grown up in the typical junior high school and high school classical violin culture, would not join if it were not for the perceived similarities in the styles. Initially, the music speaks to potential students by sending a message of technical similarities, which then communicates no loss of social status and may well provide an increase in status as an innovator or opinion leader, when playing this new musical style. They do not have to corrupt their existing belief system with regards to how music is constructed. These initiates are changing to play Texas Style because of the freshly discovered homophily with the music, the contest culture and the existing participants.
Diffusion Models and Teaching Fiddling Style
When disparate yet similar musical cultures, have operated for years in relative isolation from the other, then suddenly, either by accident or by design, discover shared meanings between themselves with regards to specific areas of their music and thus their cultures, there exists at that time the opportunity for both cultures to receive information, ideas and techniques from the other. The information offered and received is an innovation. This acculturation process, meaning “the influence exercised by one culture over another, or the mutual influence of two cultures, that results in cultural change” (Lauer 294), is not passive but an active communication process of mutual discovery and significance.
Most classical diffusion models suggest diffusion is a process whereby one culture “injects” the other culture with new information. “In this classical diffusion model, an innovation originates from some expert source. This source then diffuses the innovation as a uniform package to potential adopters who accept or reject the innovation” (Rogers 333). These classical diffusion models and the variants are mostly referred to as center-periphery models. “The center-periphery model assumes the diffusion of an item of change from a center of innovation to the ultimate adopters of change” (Harper 126), or from Texas fiddlers, to fiddlers outside of Texas.
The attractiveness of center-periphery models is in their utility to illuminate change in a variety of concrete contexts. They can be used to understand the growth and expansion of political empires, market systems and a wide variety of cultural frameworks. Center-periphery models can help us understand the growth and diffusion of such diverse things as Christianity, Coca-Cola and communism (Harper 127).
The innovation is carried to remote areas by change agents having distinct ties to the origin of the innovation such as a salesman marketing a new product for his company, or a missionary seeking converts, or when Benny Thomasson moved to Washington.
In the late 1970’s, Everett Rogers began examining a second type of diffusion system that was originally discussed by Schon in 1971, who noted that center-periphery models fail “to capture the complexity of relatively decentralized diffusion systems in which innovations originate from numerous sources and evolve as they diffuse via horizontal networks” (Rogers 334). The true center-periphery model tends to address what Rogers calls a centralized diffusion system. However, a decentralized model appears to more effectively explain the fiddling styles initial development and diffusion within Texas itself. Innovations within a decentralized diffusion system, often bubbled up from the operational levels of a system, with the inventing done by certain users. Then the new ideas spread horizontally via peer networks, with a high degree of re-invention occurring as the innovations are modified by users to fit their particular conditions. Such decentralized diffusion systems usually are not run by a small set of technical experts. Instead, decision making in the diffusion system is widely shared with adopters making many decisions. In many cases, adopters served as their own change agents. (Rogers 334).
The original Texas fiddle playing community contained a wide number of individuals who contributed to the development, expansion, invention and re-invention of the style. Re-invention is the “degree to which an innovation is changed or modified by a user in the process of its adoption and implementation” (Rogers 16). Since each of the performers of the style attempted to play the songs differently from the other competitors, and as has been previously noted, with each successive enhancement, commitment to the original becomes less and less, one could contend that the styles entire development was mostly one of re-invention. But, as Chris Daring points out, “One of the hallmarks of Texas fiddling, when compared to other styles, is that no matter where the fiddler is in the song, you can always tell what the song is. In spite of the improvisation the melody remains recognizable”. Or as Dick Barrett says, “Every fourth note had better be a melody note”.
In any case, the style underwent this maturation process at the operational level as a result of the contest and the competitive challenge presented by the participants. Resulting from the desire to defeat other contestants, these original players acted as their own change agents, by spreading the innovation horizontally among their competitive peers. This cumulatively increasing degree of influence upon the fiddlers to adopt the innovative techniques resulting from the activation of their peer networks is known as the diffusion effect (Rogers 234). “In other words, the norms of the system toward the innovation change over time as the diffusion process proceeds, and the new idea is gradually incorporated into the lifestream of the system” (235). The fiddle players themselves, created and shared information, while learning from each other. Although it could easily be argued that the style was developed by a few players who were more technically expert at the music, then in a central, from the top-down, manner diffused to other contest participants and local users; it appears more likely, that the music’s progression, as activated by the contests, initially expanded, in a casual, decentralized manner, over an extended period of time, along horizontal networks to the peer members of the Texas fiddling community.
“Compared to centralized systems, the innovations that decentralized systems diffuse are likely to fit with users’ needs and problems more closely” (Rogers 337). Texas fiddling appears to have developed in response to users’ needs stemming from their participation in contests. The increasing complexity of the style unfolded, over time, matching the incremental needs of the contestants to improve their play so they could continue to win, thereby maintaining status. Over the years, the developers of the style expanded and modified as much of the original as they needed in order to win contests. Each year produced succeedingly more challenging versions of the songs. The fiddlers controlled the overall progression of the style in response to the innovativeness of their peers, thus gearing the styles elaborations to their own needs.
Since the Texas Style Fiddling innovation appears to have been initially developed and diffused horizontally, via peer networks, without benefit of a central organizing agency, this suggests that high degrees of homophily were present. Once the innovation began making its way outside of Texas via the teacher/change agents, it is likely that higher degrees of heterophily were present. Many, if not all of that first wave of students outside of Texas, who were attracted to the fiddling style came from existing fiddling groups and as such were probably more innovative than their peers. Most of this group and their successors began teaching during the late 70’s. In turn, the diffusion system began to obtain different characteristics. In order to continue disseminating, the system now had to attract interested players from outside the prevailing social networks contained within fiddling organizations and among contest fiddlers. The style and the participant/change agent/teachers had to appear homophilous to heterophilous individuals from outside the system in order to bring them in.
At this point in time, the music had already taken on most of the characteristics contained within commonly accepted western/European music traditions and the teachers had become younger thus appearing more familiar to the outsiders they needed to attract. Exposure or what Rogers calls awareness-knowledge was now crucial to continue the diffusion process. The primary source for exposing the outsider to Texas Style Fiddling was provided at public fiddle contests which then had to be followed by the availability of how-to knowledge as provided by the teachers whose decentralized nature lead to an assortment of deviations from the standard center-periphery diffusion model.
A variation of the center-periphery model is the Johnny Appleseed model (Harper 126). This model consists of the change agent traveling throughout a widespread territory, disseminating the message. The example of the Texas fiddle playing change agent who falls into this category is Dale Morris. One of the original students of Benny Thomasson’s in Texas, Dale went on to perform for Ray Price, Marty Robbins and The Sons of the Pioneers. Around 1980, Dale stopped performing and began making his living by repairing instruments and teaching. Dale’s customers are located all over the western half of the United States. Living a type of gypsy life style, he travels to see them. His wanderings have allowed him to teach Texas style fiddling to a very geographically spread, diverse group of people. Which, as previously noted, is why Matt Hartz says,
When Benny [Thomasson] moved to Washington that was a huge deal. But, then you’ve got people like Dale [Morris] – world travelers – Dale is probably more responsible than anybody.
Over the years, Dale’s travels have probably exposed more people to Texas Style Fiddling, in geographically diverse locations, on an interpersonal conversational level, than anyone else. These conversational elaborations sometimes developed into a teacher/student relationship, so that the seeds were sown. Eventually some of these students also became teachers in their own right.
Another variation of the center-periphery model has been called the magnet model, in which, “bright ‘provincials’ go to the cultural center, learn the innovation, and carry it home” (Harper 126). A large group of budding Texas Style Fiddle players is active in Redding, California. They receive instruction from Dale Morris when he travels through their area and they receive instruction by raising money to send members of their group, for a week at a time, to Dick and Lisa Barrett in Montana.
In the late 1970’s, Dick and his wife Lisa, left Texas and moved to Montana. Since then they have made their living as performers, instrument dealers and most importantly as fiddle teachers by running what they refer to as a “fiddle school”. Lisa describes their situation,
I know, a lot of people that we’ve helped through the years, go back home and set up shop and teach other people. Or don’t set up shop and maybe they’re just approached by some people who say, ‘Hey I’d like to learn to do this or I’d like to learn to play this tune’ or whatever.
Students, both young and old, come to them from across the nation to spend six hours a day for a week or more, learning to play Texas Style. Dick and Lisa are blessed with the infinite patience necessary to work with the kids and the infinite respect required for the adults. Consequently, they “are spreading their music throughout an enormous part of the country” (Hartz). Additionally, they have been very successful. Many of the National Champions from all the divisions during the last ten years have been their students, with a number of them coming from Redding, California.
The Redding group, raises money to send individual members to the Barretts for instruction. To repay the group, when the student returns to Redding, he or she is expected to teach other group members the newly learned songs and methods. This extended teaching process impacts the system by providing opportunities for new teachers to develop their own methods and by further removing the instruction from cultural centers which affords opportunities for variation and/or reinvention.
Although functioning without Redding’s organized system, students from elsewhere in the country, who are also teachers, visit Dick and Lisa, then upon returning home pass the information on to their students. As Denise Swiniarski says, “I think that the Barretts setting up their fiddle school was probably the biggest single influence on causing it (the style) to spread. Because so many people come from so many places and those people went back to their places and then someone heard what they did and then they wanted to learn, so that now it’s everywhere”. In this manner the Barretts are functioning as “magnets” for students in California and across the country. In addition to the Barretts, Dale Morris, Herman Johnson and Chris Daring offer a similar resident type of instruction to their students. One teacher from outside of Redding, Denise Swiniarski, has begun sending her students to Chris Daring for resident instruction.
A third variation on the center-periphery model is the proliferation of centers model (Harper 126). In this variation, the peripheral locations become subcenters with peripheries of their own. By tracing the diffusion of Texas style fiddling through the physical locations of the teachers we find many of them at locations distant from the original center in Texas. Currently, there are a few predominant teachers in northern California, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Colorado. The Barretts reside in Montana, Herman Johnson in Oklahoma and the primary balance remaining in Texas. Some, if not all of those teachers have had some of their students go on to become teachers within their own locale, so the centers proliferate.
Selective Exposure, Homophily and a Decentralized System
Selective exposure is the desire to actively seek or pay attention to information which conforms to existing opinions, attitudes, values and beliefs and the desire to avoid information that opposes existing opinions, attitudes, values and beliefs. It is a self selected search for homophilous individuals and information. The obtained information, “is shaped by what is selected and how that selection of experience is transformed by the learning process” (Herndon and McLeod 141). Since selectivity is a dynamic learning (or not learning) process it can be seen as an active search for homophily. When considered in terms of diffusion, the potential receivers of the new information must be willing to receive that information. The receivers will be much more open to the information “when the new item is perceived as being consistent with the structure and values of the host culture” (Harper 127); meaning that the information should conform to the receiver’s existing norms and values.
Receivers must first become aware of the information and then choose to act upon the awareness. “Thus, knowledge is selective and awareness is, in many cases, culturally determined” (Harper141). At the time the receivers obtain awareness-knowledge, that information should conform as closely as possible to their existing opinions, attitudes, values and beliefs. All of which constitutes culture. If the information does not conform, they will actively avoid it. If it does, some members of the outside receiving system, will almost immediately inquire further and seek how-to knowledge. These individuals are the innovators within their own social system. If the information provided and the senders of the information are perceived as homophilous to the receivers of the information, the communication is much more effective and rewarding to those involved in it (Rogers 274).
As perceived and expressed by the informants, due to pre-existing attitudes towards fiddling and the fiddling culture, non-members of that culture intentionally chose to remain outside since they had not discovered anything within the culture that converged or was homophilous with their existing value systems. Their choice to remain outside the system would then also keep them from encountering the stylistic musical innovation itself. It should be remembered that, “Music does not occur within a vacuum; it lives within a set of values which shape and control it almost totally” (Herndon and McLeod 88). An intentional choice to avoid the fiddling culture because of incompatible social systems includes the unintentional choice to avoid the more technical innovation. Since, “Innovation is often resisted because it is perceived to be incongruent with prevailing values and social mores” (Harper 136), it may well be that outsiders perceive any new culture as an innovation, as well as the technologies existing inside it. Thus, prior to their introduction to Texas style fiddling, these outsiders found nothing within their perceptions of the fiddling community to attract them.
The teachers of Texas Style Fiddling believe their students first had to be exposed to compatible values contained within the technical innovation of the musical style before exploring the cultural context of the style which would accompany it. If a value is something humans strive to obtain or keep, then prior to being introduced to that which was familiar, these outsiders would have found membership within the fiddling culture of little value; especially if they were raised to believe that in order for music to be music it had to conform with established western/European standards and the fiddling they had previously been exposed to did not comply with those standards. They would then choose to keep to the values of their existing musical culture.
Texas Style fiddle playing, with its tendency to include more of the western/European standards, such as tonal quality, proper mechanics and correct intonation than other fiddling styles, held and still holds some value for potential initiates. These aesthetic additions to traditional fiddling styles made it possible for other musicians, within the outside yet majority culture, to take Texas Style Fiddling seriously. “This implies that the music is acceptable only insofar as it conforms to traditional (western/European) canons of structure and style, which are fairly far from the original intent of the music” (Kamin 263). Some will argue that the fiddling style’s complexity makes it comparable to classical violin playing so that it can approach fine art status. Because exposure to new data about fiddling could be easily integrated with existing values and belief systems, those outsiders would then not only heed the new musical information presented them, but at least some of them would also consider obtaining the musical value contained therein.
Again, if the musical or interpersonal communications did not comply, the outsiders would tend to intentionally and actively remain on the outside. They would reject the information as not being substantially similar, thereby containing little or nothing of value and choose to avoid additional information. Selective exposure is then closely tied to awareness-knowledge and homophily, resulting in the desire for how-to knowledge. Awareness-knowledge or the point at which a person is exposed to a new idea, influences the individual to accept or reject the information in present and future terms. As argued by the teachers interviewed for this study, the primary point of awareness-knowledge for a potential initiate is usually at a fiddle contest. If the information is accepted, it is more likely that the person may pursue additional information by seeking instruction at some point in time and less likely for them to automatically reject additional information. Perceived homophily with the teachers and their music promotes future interactions.
Each of the locations outside of Texas can readily be thought of as a subcenter, especially as those teachers become further removed from the original players. The further removed from the original the greater the latitude for, “These subcenters to become partly autonomous and differentiated from the original center” (Harper 126), which distinguishes the proliferation of centers model from the other models. Since fiddling is primarily an oral as opposed to written tradition and especially since the Texas Style tradition seems founded on adding to and extending the songs, the opportunity is ripe for these teachers and eventually their students, to further change the songs and thus the style, to suit themselves. When, and as current teachers continue to teach new teachers, who in turn teach additional teachers the greater the opportunity for separate distinguishing characteristics between the subcenters to unfold. As Chris Daring says, “California plays Texas Style, but with their own twist to it. You can always tell a California player”. Without a formal surveillance system to hold the style to its original form, Texas Style Fiddling is already evolving and/or being reinvented. Even now, what began as a folk music style is not resting static and unchanging.
As previously noted, now that the style has diffused beyond Texas, a type of informal surveillance system may have casually developed at the National Championships in Weiser, Idaho. Participation at that contest can be used by the contestants to measure their abilities in the style, especially considering the Texas Style has dominated the contest for over twenty years. Presumably, the contest winners are offering the best example of the style, as honored by the judges.
However, some argue that not only the competitive nature of the contest, but also changes to the structure of the national contest itself, have contributed to the styles development and even to its reinvention. Several of the teachers noted that Texas Style Fiddling is currently played much faster then it used to be. Regarding this phenomena, Hughie Smith argues that Texas Styles arrival at Weiser in the 60’s, caused other players to emulate and attempt to copy the style, including its much slower tempo or speed then had been previously seen at Weiser. After approximately six years the contest could no longer accommodate 300 contestants who now played much slower than they had in the past. The contest simply did not have enough time.
This crisis forced a rule change calling for each player to limit each round of play to no more than four minutes. Smith says, that the contestant’s response to this time limit, was to increase the tempo of their songs so that they could showcase more of their ability within the prescribed time limit than they could if they continued to play at the slower speed. He contends the style now contains all of its original elements plus this additional speed, although the style still is not played as fast as other styles. Assuming his position to be correct, the fiddling style, which originally evolved out of the dance culture by being placed within the contest culture, is now experiencing reinvention resulting from a rule change within the contest culture. This description suggests that cultural change can result from technological change, and that technological change can result from cultural change, or the reciprocal nature of reinvention.
In terms of diffusion, we encounter a type of chicken or the egg problem. To a prospective buyer or member, what comes first, the new culture or the technologies contained within that culture? Do you buy into the culture or simply buy the product of that culture? Have new fiddle players bought into the fiddling culture or have they bought into the technology of Texas fiddling? The teachers interviewed for this effort have suggested that their students first buy into the technology of the style, then enter and participate within the culture.
Most diffusion and marketing studies approach the process from the reverse standpoint of how to insert an innovation developed within one social system into another social system or how to get a buyer to purchase an untried product. In either case the expectation is for the buyer to use the product/innovation within their own social system or culture. Thus the success of those innovations hinges on the extent that they conflict or do not conflict with the new users existing scheme of things on a personal and societal level. As Harper says, “an invention is acceptable to a society in direct proportion to the degree that the innovation does not require a change in the roles or social organization of that society” (137).
Regarding Texas Style Fiddling and probably many similar forms of innovation, it appears the change agents are not so much attempting to insert the innovation into an outside system but are obtaining new initiates into their own system, who in turn carry the innovation back with them. The initiates are using the innovation at contests and jam sessions in what to them is a new social setting but is not to the innovation. They are not required to use the innovation within their old peer networks. They are thereby able to use the innovation in a secure, non-threatening environment. When they return to their own culture, it is their choice as to whether or not to introduce the innovation to anyone else. The initiate can remain safe by keeping the new information and their participation in the new culture secret if they wish. They have the choice to reveal only as much as they deem socially acceptable. Control rests with them. And as Harper notes, “Resistance to change is less when the client feels that the change project is ‘their own’” (228). As such, the initiates making use of the Texas Style Fiddling innovation, does not require a change in anyone’s role within the old society, especially the initiates.
DISCUSSION AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
Although the sample taken from the teachers of Texas Style Fiddling, interviewed for this project is too small to analyze statistically, their descriptions suggest several common biases regarding their own communication approaches to marketing their product, as well as what they believe it is about their product that communicates to the purchasers, their students. They all, for example, agree that fiddle contests are a primary source for providing first exposure of their product (the fiddling style), and that the musical similarities among Texas style Fiddling and classical violin playing serves to bridge the cultural gaps. The original appeal was to that which was already familiar to the cultural outsider.
Numerous communication researchers, including Clark and Delia and Bingham and Burleson, argue that the success of a message should be evaluated in terms of its variety of outcomes, including task achievements. In this study, the teachers task was to devise communication/marketing messages that allowed them to cross cultural boundaries to obtain students. Since all of the teachers interviewed for this study are to the largest extent supporting themselves by teaching Texas Style Fiddling (some are involved in peripheral enterprises such as performing and instrument repair) the outcomes produced by their marketing strategies, their task achievements, have been successful enough to allow them to earn a living. Without regard for the accuracy of their assumptions regarding the receivers, those assumptions caused them to send their messages in a specific manner, enabling them to cross those cultural boundaries to effectively market their product.
Over the years, the change agent/teachers have developed attitudes and activities, which they employ in the manner of a change agent, to expose and motivate cultural outsiders to join the fiddle playing culture by taking lessons from them. These attitudes, as herein described, evolved from a need for accurate information, thus reflect a bias towards “what works” when the teachers need to obtain students. As such, the informants have described what they believe entices people to come to them for lessons or what has made their marketing strategies successful. In other words, the teachers addressed what they think, their students thought, about fiddle playing when the innovation-decision was made. None of which is meant to suggest that the teachers are correct in their assumptions, but is to say that the interviews were designed to discover any commonalities within those assumptions, as well as any commonalities among the teacher’s perceptions regarding the evolution and diffusion of Texas Style Fiddling.
Those commonalities shared by the change agent/teachers identified within this study are: (1) Texas Style Fiddling evolved into its current form as a result of the competitive nature of Texas fiddle contests, (2) the style was carried out of Texas by a core group of teachers who availed themselves to students elsewhere in the country, (3) the style cannot be learned from books but requires a face to face exchange between teacher and student, (4) Texas Style Fiddling has become the winning style at fiddle contests, (5) previous winners work as judges at fiddle contests, thereby contributing to the predominance of the style, (6) diffusion results from exposing the style to audience members at the fiddle contests who then request instruction, (7) contests which are most effective for recruiting initiates are those held as part of a larger community event, (8) the primary point of awareness knowledge and/or first exposure to the style for the potential initiate is at the fiddle contest, (9) first exposure is within the cultural requirements of the contest, (10) stereotypes of fiddling and fiddle players cause non-members of the fiddling culture to intentionally remain outside until they are exposed to Texas Style Fiddling at the contest, (11) that Texas Style Fiddling is more closely related to the European standards of classical violin playing than are other fiddling styles assists in overcoming the stereotype, (12) the similarity between Texas Style Fiddling and classical violin playing results in the new information closely conforming with existing norms and values, (13) more young people are attracted to the style, because it appeals to familiar cultural and aesthetic values of that age group.
All of which suggests, that due to perceived homophily with the style, the contest culture, and the contest participants, awareness knowledge prompts innovators from the non-fiddling culture to seek instruction or how-to knowledge from the teachers. The initiates first buy into the familiar technology of the style, then enter and participate within the culture. By seeking to learn the technology, they inadvertently join the rest of the fiddling social system.
The true potency of the teachers attitudes and actions has not been addressed nor measured within this effort in any fashion. A follow up study should be undertaken from the students viewpoint. Instead of asking “What is it about Texas Style Fiddling that you believe attracts people to it?”, the study would ask “What is it about Texas Style Fiddling that attracted you to it?”. At least to a certain extent, the receivers point of view could then be compared with the senders point of view in a real world setting. Since their are many more students (hundreds) than there are teachers, this study could obtain a large enough statistical sample to allow for quantitative analysis.
Barnett, H.G. Innovation: The Basis of Cultural Change New York: McGraw, 1953.
Bingham, Shereen G. and Brant R. Burleson. “Multiple effects of Messages with Multiple Goals.” Human Communication Research 16 (1989): 184-216.
Burns, Thomas A. “Social Symbolism in a Rural Square Dance Event.” Southern Folklore Quarterly 42 (1978): 295-327.
Cauthen, Joyce. With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P 1989.
Chu, Godwin C., Syed A. Rahim, D. Lawrence Kincaid.: Eds. Communication for Group Transformation in Development, Communication Monographs #2, September 1976, East – West Center, East – West Communication Institute.
Clark, R.A., and J. G. Delia. “Topoi and Rhetorical Competence.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979): 187-206.
Cohen, Eric. “The Dynamics of Change in Jewish Oriental Ethnic Music in Israel.” Journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology 24 (1980): 61-73.
Dasilva, Fabio, Anthony Blasi, David Dees. : The Sociology of Music U of Notre Dame P, 1984
Enis Ben M., Keith K. Cox, Eds.: Marketing Classics, A Selection of Influential Articles Needham Heights, MA.: Allyn and Bacon, 1991.
Guntharp, Matthew. Learning the Fiddler’s Ways University Park: Pennsylvania State UP 1980.
Harper, Charles L. Exploring Social Change Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1993.
Herndon, Marcia, Norma McLeod. Music as Culture Darby, PA.: Norwood Editions, 1981.
Kaemmer, John E. “Between the Event and the Tradition: A New Look at Music in Sociocultural Systems.” Journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology 25 (1981): 61-73.
Kamin, Jonathan Liff. Rhythm & Blues in White America, Diss. Princeton U, 1976. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1980.
Kartomi, Margaret J. “The Process and Results of Musical Culture Contact.” Journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology 25 (1981): 227-247.
Lauer, Robert H. : Perspectives on Social Change Boston : Allyn and Bacon. 1982.
Marshall, H. W. “The Place of Traditional Fiddling in Midwestern Culture.” The Devil’s Box 22 (1988): 40-47.
Meyer, Leonard : Emotion and Meaning in Music Chicago: U Chicago P. 1956.
Phillips, Stacy. Contest Fiddling Pacific: Mel Bay 1983.
Phillips, Stacy. Mark O’Connor, The Championship Years Pacific: Mel Bay 1991.
Rand, Ayn. The Virtue of Selfishness New York: New American Library, Inc. 1964.
Rogers, Everett M. Diffusion of Innovations New York: Macmillan 1983.
Shibutani, Tamotsu. “Reference Groups as Perspectives” American Journal of Sociology 60 (1955): 562-569.
Stone, Verlon L. “Event, Feedback and Analysis.” Journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology 25 (1981): 215-225.
Sun, Se-Wen and James Lull. “The Adolescent Audience for Music Videos and Why They Watch.” Journal of Communication 36 (1986): 115-125.
Barrett, Dick. Personal Interview. 6 August 1993.
Barrett, Lisa. Telephone Interview. 5 January 1994.
Daring, Chris. Personal Interview. 18 January 1994.
Hartz, Matthew. Telephone Interview. 23 February 1994.
Johnson, Herman. Telephone Interview. 12 January 1994.
Morris, Dale. Telephone Interview. 29 December 1993.
Osthoff, Patricia. Personal Interview. 25 January 1994.
Swiniarski, Denise. Personal Interview. 8 February 1994.