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Hiking Through History, Fiddling Through History

The above map is a GPS track overlaid on a map from 1893. The actual route we took is the same as the outer loop on this map, of Chatfield Hollow State Park in Connecticut. Look on the lower left of the orange track we took. It matches up with an old road that no longer is there.

You can see the route we took on the orange trail, as well as the far left orange and white trail, are actually parts of the old Ninevah Road, now know as Rt.80, before it was relocated. The other part of the orange trail on the map just above is a route taken by many workers, and perhaps native Americans through the years. One industry here was charcoal making, and as the process took a couple of weeks out in the woods, and needing constant supervision, you come across their old cooking fireplaces, built from the 1880's to the 1920's. Here are a couple of examples:

We were actually walking the exact same route as farmers and charcoal makers over 150 years ago. Many of these paths existed before then, created by earlier settlers and the natives. Cool, huh?

It's no different when we play fiddle tunes, or any kind of "folk" music. We all know tunes that are basically the same as others that came before. For example, the old time tune "Have You Ever Seen The Devil Uncle Joe" is the exact same as borrowed from the Irish "Mrs. McLoud's Reel." Or is it the Scottish "Mrs MacCloud of Raasay"s Reel"?

And for a high-speed new-grass version, nothing beats David Grier's version:

They're all the same, one borrowed from the other. Remember the Mighty Dog commercial? That's taken from Aaron Copland's Rodeo: Hoe-Down. But wait, Copland simply took it from the "C" part of the old time tune, "Bonaparte's Retreat."

There are innumerable tunes that originated from older tunes, and once you start learning and playing a bunch of them, they get stuck in your subconscious. As you play it, it may morph and change ever so slightly due to the way you play it, but it's always shifting.

The big conversation always involves the traditionalists vs. the more organic approach...let the tune morph any way it's going to go. And while it's nice to have the original, traditional "academically correct" way to play a tune, we already have that. Why repeat it? Just like the road that was once travelled by many farmers is now nothing more than a footpath, it still leads somewhere. Just like you're walking though history, you're also playing through musical history. As ancient roads can change their location, so can a tune. It's ok if you want to stray from the path, make a little new history. It's music, not religion. Or, as the saying goes, "Tradition is living in fear of what dead people will say."

Enjoy this example by the extraordinary Jayme Stone, combing with jazz group baby States for a take on The old-time staple, Josie-O.


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