Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection

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The Historical and Cultural Significance of Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier

Henry Reed's fiddle music provides an excellent example of the historical dynamics of folk culture in the Upper South. Born in 1884 along the Virginia-West Virginia border in the Appalachian Mountains, Henry Reed learned fiddle and banjo before the turn of the century and showed an amazing ability to absorb and remember music wherever and whenever he encountered it. His repertory thus presents a sort of aural encylopedia of the history and cultural life of one of America's most important and influential cultural regions, the old frontier of the Appalachian Upper South.

The fiddle — that is, the modern European violin — arrived in North America in the seventeenth century. In the later eighteenth century, European manufacturers made the violin cheap and readily accessible. As it became the new instrument of choice, its democratization fostered a revolution in dance music in the English-speaking world. One regional flowering that grew out of this cultural revolution occurred in the Piedmont and the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia — the "old frontier" of America's westward expansion. The fiddle tunes and the fiddle style of the old frontier were carried westward as settlement expanded into the trans-Allegheny West. At the same time, with the rise of the minstrel stage, the fiddle tunes of the old frontier carried their energy and creative musical ferment — including a synthesis of not only British but African and perhaps Native-American cultural elements — from the rural Upper South into American popular music.

Many of Henry Reed's instrumental tunes have precedents in British tradition dating back to the late eighteenth century — tunes such as "Leather Britches," which began life as a Scottish reel, or "George Booker," which can be traced to a Scottish strathspey. Other tunes seem to have circulated primarily in America in the same period, like "Ricketts' Hornpipe," named after the late eighteenth-century circus entrepreneur John Bill Ricketts. A large number of Henry Reed's tunes are redolent of the cultural experience of the early frontier. Such tunes as "Ducks in the Pond," "Cabin Creek," "Folding Down the Sheets," "Over the Waterfall," or "Frosty Morning" are perhaps the quintessential fiddle tunes of the old frontier.

Yet though the old frontier is often imagined as an isolated place, the evidence of the music suggests a region in the midst of the crosscurrents of a still-evolving nation. In addition to the old dance tunes, the collection contains marches such as "British Field March" and "Santa Anna's Retreat," learned from Quince Dillion, a fifer in the Mexican War and an old man when Henry Reed was a boy. There are waltzes, schottisches, clogs, and other dance tunes reflecting both ballroom fashions and ethnic immigration to America in the middle and later nineteenth century, and there are also popular songs from the mid-nineteenth century on, such as Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home" ("Swanee River"). A clutch of turn-of-the-century tunes reflects the arrival of ragtime in both folk and popular music, and some twentieth century tunes bring Reed's tradition closer to the present with influences garnered from radio, records, and modern styles such as bluegrass and country-and-western music.

The titles of many of the tunes add a colorful and evocative dimension to the collection, conjuring up people and places, incidents and functions, stuff and nonsense that is part of the texture of the culture of the Appalachian frontier. Many of the titles are resonant fragments of rhymes and jingles associated with the tunes. Others serve as a point of entry for interesting stories, a few of which are narrated by Henry Reed himself in the recordings. Where Henry Reed did not supply a title himself, the compilers have assigned a title in brackets, usually a name by which the tune is commonly known, to make the collection more conveniently searchable. Notes and musical analyses help the student of the tunes in this collection to learn more about the history, diffusion, musical features, and performance. The collection includes a number of tune transcriptions, which indicate Henry Reed's complex bowing patterns. A glossary and a guide to related published resources are included to facilitate comparative historical and cultural research.


The Online Collection

Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection presents digital audio files for 184 tunes, 19 pages of searchable fieldnote documentation, and 69 tune-transcription images, all pertaining to West Virginia-born fiddler Henry Reed (1884-1968) and recorded and documented by Alan Jabbour in Glen Lyn, Virginia, in 1966-67.

To enhance the quality of this presentation, digital files were made from the original sound recordings and manuscripts, which remain the property of Alan Jabbour. A duplicate set of these materials belongs to the Library of Congress. See The Alan Jabbour Duplication Project Collections for further information.

Despite the use of the higher-quality original sound recordings, the audio files sound truncated at times; Alan Jabbour tended to turn the tape recorder off between tunes and at times missed the beginning or end of a tune or did not allow a speaker to complete his or her sentence.

The online presentation also features an original essay by Alan Jabbour about Henry Reed's life and music, illustrated with photographs of Henry Reed, his family, and his friends, which have been reproduced with permission from the photographers: Carl Fleischhauer, Karen Singer Jabbour, and Kit Olson. A glossary of musical and subject-cataloging terms and a selected list of resources relating to Henry Reed, to old-time fiddling, and to the tunes also enhance the online presentation.


The Alan Jabbour Duplication Project Collections

Alan Jabbour recorded Henry Reed as part of a series of recordings in the Upper South, 1965-68. Jabbour was a graduate student at Duke University at the time, and used his own equipment, supplies, finances, and time to record Henry Reed and other fiddlers on nineteen 7-inch reels taped at 7.5 ips (inches per second).

The original recordings remain the property of Alan Jabbour, but in 1967 and again in 1969, he brought the tapes to the Library of Congress for duplication in the Recording Lab of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division and accession into the Archive of Folk Song (now the American Folklife Center's Archive of Folk Culture).

Because the tapes were accessioned in two batches, there are actually two Alan Jabbour Duplication Project collections: LWO (for Library Work Order) 5031, encompassing AFS series 13,031-13,037; and LWO 5379, AFS series 13,703-13,709.

LWO 5031
Accessioned in June 1967, LWO 5031 consists of seven 10-inch reels at 7.5 ips (approximately fourteen hours of sound recordings), containing instrumentals performed on banjo, fiddle, guitar, hammered dulcimer, and harmonica, recorded in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia by Alan Jabbour, October 2, 1965-April 1, 1967. The collection includes one linear inch of manuscript materials, including fieldnotes, logs, and tune transcriptions. The performers featured in this series are: Joseph Y. Aiken, Romie Aiken, D. M. Andrews, Andrew Bennett, Lester Brooks, Maurice Carden, Kemp Chambers, Tinsey Clapp, Harlan Coble, William Alonzo ("Lonnie") Corsbie, Harry Dixon (Dickerson), Ed Hall, Albert Eli ("Uncle Abner") King, John Lewis, Vaughan Marley, Ross Miller, Fred Phillips, Kilby Reeves, Earl Shatterly, and Edsel Terry, of North Carolina; Oscar and Eugene Wright, of Princeton, West Virginia; and Henry Reed, of Glen Lyn, Virginia.
LWO 5379
Accessioned in June 1969, LWO 5379 consists of seven 10-inch reels at 7.5 ips (approximately fourteen hours of sound recordings), containing instrumentals and songs performed with banjo, fiddle, guitar, and harmonica, recorded in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia by Alan Jabbour, May 6, 1967-June 22, 1968. The collection includes one-half linear inch of manuscript materials, including fieldnotes, logs, and tune transcriptions.
The performers are: Virgil Craven and Tommy Jarrell of North Carolina; Joe W. Anglin, Sam Connor, Walter "Peg" Hatcher, Stella and Taylor Kimble, Henry Reed, and Ernest Stanley, of Virginia; and Lee Triplett, Winston Ward, and "Doc" Frank White, of West Virginia.


Henry Reed Materials in the Archive of Folk Culture

The portions of the Alan Jabbour Duplication Project collections featuring Henry Reed are as follows:

AFS 13,033B; 13,034B29-36; 13,305A31-B14; 13,037A1-27, B1-3:
Four tapes containing instrumentals performed on fiddle and harmonica by Henry Reed, originally of Monroe County, West Virginia. Recorded in Glen Lyn, Virginia, June 18, August 27, and November 26, 1966. Reed's son Neal accompanies on harmonica on two of the forty-one tunes recorded on June 18. Reed's son Watha accompanies on guitar on seven of the thirty tunes recorded on November 26. (One hour and forty-five minutes; LWO 5031 reels 3B, 4B, 5, 7)
AFS 13,703B; 13,705A32-57, B:
Two tapes containing instrumentals performed on fiddle and harmonica by Henry Reed, originally of Monroe County, West Virginia. Recorded in Glen Lyn, Virginia, May 6, July 17, and October 28, 1967. Reed's son Gene accompanies on guitar on thirteen of the twenty-six tunes recorded on May 6. (Two hours and fifteen minutes; LWO 5379 reels 1B, 3)

Prints of the photographs illustrating Alan Jabbour's essay on Henry Reed are filed in the Archive of Folk Culture's corporate subject file. Use of these photographs requires the permission of the photographers. See the How to Order Reproductions page for further information about obtaining copies of sound recordings and photographs.

Photocopies of the tune transcriptions and fieldnotes in the collection files are available to researchers.

Photocopies of articles pertaining to Henry Reed in the corporate subject files are available to researchers.


Glossary of Musical and Subject Cataloging Terms

The plural terms in this glossary represent the uncontrolled indexing vocabulary used in the subject cataloging of this collection. They appear in the "Genre" list on the bibliographic records of the sound recordings and tune transcriptions. Because of the variation in local usage and the unique nature of Henry Reed's performance style, multiple genre terms were used to create as broad a subject search as possible.

The singular terms in this glossary appear either as headings on the bibliographic records for the collection materials (e.g. Genre), in the annotations for the collection materials, or within another glossary definition. They have been included here to illustrate the American Folklife Center's cataloging methods (as in the case of "Rendition," for example) and to translate musical concepts for the non-musician.

tunes. In this collection, the term is reserved for slower-paced instrumental tunes derived from a secular song or hymn.
short narratives describing events or persons.
a musical element of a few notes made by playing the notes of a chord separately rather than simultaneously. Hence the verb "arpeggiate."
measure; small grouping of musical beats. In musical notation, vertical lines on the staff enclose a bar.
metrical or rhythmic stress, groupings of which constitute the meter or "time" of music.
musical genre of African-American origin often using three phrases to a musical strain or textual stanza. The blues are usually sung with instrumental accompaniment but may be purely instrumental.
the technique of handling the bow or pattern of bowstrokes used when playing a stringed instrument.
the articulation of the bow in a single direction to play a note or group of notes; often shortened to "stroke."
instrumental tunes in duple meter (2/4 or 4/4) at a quick dance speed. This general term in the American South is roughly equivalent to the term "reel" elsewhere in the English-speaking world. But it does not imply a particular type of dance; a "breakdown" tune may be used for square dances, longways dances, or other group dances, as well as for solo fancy dancing.
the final notes of a strain in a tune, normally resolving on the tonic.
a group of three or more musical tones sounded together.
a term referring to the use of all the half-tones in a scale.
a term for tunes that do not resolve at the tonic at the end of a strain but move continuously into the next strain.
a class of dance tunes drawn from a popular nineteenth-century dance form associated originally with Lancashire, England, and with wooden-soled shoes ("clogs") worn by the dancers to accentuate the rhythm of the steps. In some areas of the Appalachians "clog" has come to signify both the tune and the dance step for which it is intended.
the range of pitches between a tune's lowest and highest notes, expressed here as the number of notes in the diatonic scale. Thus a tune with the range of an octave would have a compass of 7.
a term referring to the standard seven-tone scale.
the fifth degree of the diatonic scale, measured upward from the tonic.
Double stop
two musical tones noted together. On the fiddle, a double stop is technically two notes created by using fingers simultaneously on two strings, but the term is sometimes used when one or both of the notes are open strings.
a single tone sounded continuously along with other melodic tones. On the fiddle, the term is sometimes used to refer to the practice of sounding open strings simultaneously with adjacent strings on which the melody is being played.
occurring in groups of two; used to refer to rhythmic patterns such as 2/4 or 4/4.
the violin; a four-stringed instrument played with a bow. The terms "fiddle" and "violin" are used interchangeably by fiddlers like Henry Reed, though they and other Americans sometimes use "violin" as the more formal and "fiddle" as the more informal word. For Henry Reed, "fiddle" and "violin" both refer to the modern violin, the basic design of which was developed in Italy in the seventeenth century and had spread throughout Europe and the Americas by the later eighteenth century. There is a tradition of locally crafted violins in the Appalachians, but many of the instruments current in the region were manufactured elsewhere in the United States or Europe. Other kinds and shapes of fiddle, including "cigarbox fiddles" and other simple children's instruments, are found here and there in the Appalachians but are thought of as children's toys, training instruments, or novelties.
Fiddle tunes
tunes played on and in many cases designed for the fiddle. Most fiddle tunes are dance tunes, but some are played purely for auditory appreciation, and some are slower airs adapted from vocal melodies.
a small transverse (side-blown) flute, used in America in the fife and drum corps that historically accompanied local militias.
French harp
the harmonica. In the Appalachian South "French harp," often shortened to "harp," is the preferred term for the instrument.
the small apparatus attached to the fiddle bow stick near its base, to which the hairs of the bow are attached.
an artistic category characterized by a particular style, form, or content. Most genres of instrumental music are also genres for dancing or marching.
a six-stringed instrument plucked or strummed with either fingers or picks. In the Appalachian South, guitars are flat-backed and are typically picked or strummed with a single flatpick. In this collection the guitar, when it is used, provides chords and rhythm in accompaniment to the fiddle.
a small, hand-held wind instrument on which tones are produced by exhaling and inhaling into recessed air slots. In the Appalachian South, the harmonicas play an ordinary diatonic scale but not the "chromatic" intervals between the diatonic scale tones. They are thus sold in separate models to play in different keys, and some musicians keep multiple harmonicas (a G-harmonica, a C-harmonica, a D-harmonica, and so forth) in order to play with other instruments. Also known as French harp.
a shortening of "French harp," or harmonica.
a class of dance tunes, or the dance for which those tunes are intended as musical accompaniment, relating to a fancy solo dance popular from the later eighteenth century into the twentieth century. An earlier British musical form called the hornpipe, in 3/2 time, is musically unrelated to the 4/4 hornpipe. The music for hornpipes is typically in 4/4 time and is played somewhat slower than reels. It often involves melodically complex and elaborately arpeggiated tunes. In the Appalachian South, there are not many hornpipes in the repertories of fiddlers, and they often seem to be converging in tempo and style with the larger "breakdown" category.
tunes designed for and performed on a musical instrument without use of the voice.
a class of dance tunes originating in a British dance form; or the dance for which those tunes are intended as musical accompaniment. Jig tunes in the English-speaking world are normally in 6/8 time. The slip jig in 9/8 time is a different genre, as is the jig of the American minstrel stage in 2/4 time. Jigs in 6/8 time are uncommon in the American South, and there is evidence that some earlier 6/8-time jigs have been recast into 2/4 or 4/4-time breakdowns.
the tonality of a scale; the organization of the pitches of a piece of music around a tonal center, or tonic.
tunes created or adapted for walking or marching in groups. In nineteenth-century America, marches were played by the fife and drum corps that accompanied local militia, as well as by military and civic brass bands.
bar; pattern of musical beats. In musical notation, vertical lines on the staff enclose a measure.
tune; for instrumental music, an arrangement of notes typically comprising at least two strains, each of which is repeated.
"time" in music; a pattern of regularly recurring rhythmic pulses or beats, whether heard or imagined.
spoken or narrated stories.
transcription; the system of writing used to represent music.
a single tone, the smallest musical unit in a melody or tune. In notation, a note is the symbol indicating the duration and pitch of a musical sound by its shape and position on the staff.
the screw at the base of the fiddle bow stick that tightens the bow hairs.
a short musical expression, several of which comprise an entire tune or melody. The phrase structure provides insight into the shape, aesthetics, and psychodynamics of the tune. The fiddle tunes in this collection typically have two strains, each of which is composed of four phrases or eight subphrases. In the Musical Features section of the bibliographic record for each tune, phrases are indicated by capital letters and subphrases are in parentheses in lowercase letters. Thus a phrase structure described as ABA'B QRQS (abcd ab'cd qrst qrud) indicates a tune of two strains, each composed of four phrases. The first strain (ABA'B) consists of an initial phrase (A), a different second phrase (B), a third phrase repeating the first phrase with a significant alteration (A'), and a fourth phrase repeating the second phrase (B). The same first strain can be broken down into eight subphrases: (abcd) repeated with a significant alteration of the second subphrase (ab'cd).
the highness or lowness of sound or intonation; the frequency of sound waves producing a sound. Thus Henry Reed's A-string, if tuned to the current standard for the pitch of A, would vibrate at a pitch with the frequency of 440 cycles per second.
a class of dance tunes originating in nineteenth-century central Europe that became popular in the United States beginning in the 1840s; or the lively couple dance for which those tunes are intended as musical accompaniment.
fast military marches, often in 6/8 time.
a class of syncopated dance tunes that emerged in folk and popular music in America around the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth century. The musical style is sometimes called "ragtime."
a class of dance tunes in duple meter (2/4 or 4/4 time), played at a fast tempo. The reel as a dance was originally a "longways" dance with couples forming facing lines, but the reel as a tune class is used for all sorts of group dances. In the American South the reel class has expanded into the large and generic breakdown class of dance tunes.
the pattern in which strains are arranged within a particular performance of a tune. Most, but not all, strains in this collection are repeated, and there may be variation from performance to performance in whether a strain is repeated. In the Musical Features section of the bibliographic record for each tune, the strains are numbered (1, 2, etc.), and "r" indicates that the strain is repeated. A rendition described as 1r-2r-1r indicates that the tune is composed of two strains, and that Henry Reed played the first strain twice, followed by the second strain twice, followed by the first strain twice.
the pattern of musical movement through time.
the notes used as building blocks in constructing a particular tune.
a class of dance tunes originating in nineteenth-century Germany emulating Scottish music; or the dance for which those tunes are intended as musical accompaniment. The tunes are in 4/4 time, the pace is lively but slower than reels, and the music is characterized by dotted rhythmic pairs (alternating long and short notes). The schottische (sometimes spelled "schottisch") became popular in America beginning in the 1840s. Schottisches remain a popular class of tune in twentieth-century tradition, though less in the South than elsewhere.
Scotch snap
an inverted dotted rhythmic pair (short note on the beat followed by a long note after the beat).
a single bowstroke that incorporates more than one note.
the five horizontal lines on which musical notation is written.
a complete unit of musical expression composed of multiple phrases and usually resolving with a cadence to the tonic at the end. The instrumental tunes in this collection normally consist of two strains, each of which is repeated before proceeding to the other. In the Musical Features section of the bibliographic record for each tune, if the strains Henry Reed played were described as 2 (high-low, 4-4), it would indicate that the tune has two strains, that the high strain precedes the low strain, and that each strain consists of four measures.
bowstroke; the articulation of the fiddle bow in a single direction to play a note or group of notes.
a class of Scottish dance tunes in 4/4 time, lively but slower than reels; or the dance for which these tunes are played. Strathspeys are characterized by dotted rhythms, including the Scotch snap.
the speed of a musical piece. Henry Reed discusses tempo in his performance of a clog, pointing out that the tempo should be moderate to enable the dancers to keep up with the music.
meter, as in "3/4 time."
key; the organization of the pitches of a piece of music around a tonal center, or tonic.
a sound of definite pitch; a note.
tonal center, or first degree of the diatonic scale. Most of the tunes in this collection end on the tonic, although a few end on the dominant or are "circular."
notation; the system of writing used to represent music.
melody; for instrumental music, a complete melody consisting typically of at least two strains, each of which is repeated.
a class of dance tunes in 3/4 time; or the couple dance for which those tunes are played. The waltz has been popular in America since the beginning of the nineteenth century.