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No instrument brings the sun to a rainy day quite like the fiddle. Its cheerful strains inspire smiles and tapping toes whether young or old. The fiddle brings back memories of square dances at the local barn or folk songs at family reunions. Its sound speaks of the South.
Folkways The Fiddle explores this musical heritage by examining the different styles of fiddle playing. Unlike guitar-picking styles, which branch from two main types , fiddle playing styles can differ dramatically from one musician to another. David Holt introduces four fiddlers who have created their own styles either from picking up the musical tradition of the region, differentiating from a basic style or combining the styles of several different musicians. In addition, Audrey Hash Ham, daughter of Albert Hash, who was a guest on Folkways Music From the Hills, teaches David how to make a fiddle from a block on wood.
Red Wilson demonstrates his style of old-time bluegrass. Fiddling runs in Wilson's family; in fact, he learned from his grandfather. Wilson also spent time playing with Wade Mainer and sings one of Mainer's songs as David accompanies on guitar.
Benton Flippen and Arvil Freeman are both from the mountains but have very different styles. Flippen is famous for the "Surry County sound"- playing two strings at once. Flippen's upbeat rhythm and slide technique belie the popular venue for Mt. Airy fiddling: square dances. Freeman, on the other hand, invented his own style of playing-a long-bow playing style reminiscent of the violin.
Arvil Freeman's unique style attracted an apprentice-Josh Goforth, who saw him at a "jam" session where the youth was playing guitar. Like Freeman, Josh has created his own style of playing, borrowing techniques from several of the senior players-Flippen, Wilson, and Freeman-and adding some accent.
Nothing demonstrates the difference in the styles of these four musicians than their renditions of the tune, "Soldier's Joy." From old-time fiddling to a contemporary bluegrass sound, these musicians show that playing the fiddle is as individual as the person who handles the instrument.
From the northwest edge of North Carolina in Avery County, Red Wilson was steeped in mountain musical tradition from the start. His close relatives, Waites and Steve Ledford, taught him many old-time bluegrass songs from their large repertoire, and Wilson accompanied Waites on the guitar as the older musician played fiddle. As Wilson's musical interest grew, he learned to play fiddle and banjo and later performed with both Steve Ledford and Wade Mainer.
To keep up with changing musical times, Wilson learned to play contemporary bluegrass and country music. In the 1960s, Wilson played fiddle with the Toe River Valley Boys, playing for square dances at Geneva Hall and Penland School of Crafts. He later contributed to the increasing popularity of the Carolina Barn Dance in Spruce Pine, making the barn dance a successful venture for aspiring musicians.
After retiring, Wilson returned to the old time bluegrass that he loved, and he continues entertaining audiences either at his home outside of Bakersville or at festivals and music workshops.
A native of Mr. Airy, Benton Flippen received the 1990 North Carolina Folk Heritage Award for being an innovator of a distinctive style of old-time string music. He ranks with illustrious fiddlers such as Tommy Jarrell. His style is demarcated by double-stops (playing two notes at once), use of slides and a strong rhythmic bowing technique. Some of the best old-time string bands have adopted several of his tunes.
Flippen began his musical vocation on the banjo as a youngster. He learned he fiddle as an adult and began playing with notable musicians and bands, including Glenn McPeak and the Green Valley Boys, Leake Caudill and Esker Hutchins, and the Camp Creek Boys. As a member of the Smokey Valley Boys, he has received numerous awards at fiddler's contests in the region. He encourages younger musicians to discover their own style.
"Each one's got to have his own style. It's all creamed potatoes, just fixed a little different."
Audrey Hash Ham
Audrey Hash Ham has spent her life imbibed in music. Daughter of Albert and Ethel Hash, she learned the craft of making fiddles from her father and began her career as a luthier, making dulcimers and fiddles. She spent her early years in the Fees Branch Community of Ashe County, NC, and moved with her family to Lansing, NC and later to Mouth of Wilson, VA, near Whitetop.
She named her basement workshop in honor of her father, who spent many hours with her making instruments. After Albert's death in 1983, she continued the craft and earned recognition as a skilled instrument-maker. She organized lessons and student bands throughout the Whitetop region as well, striving to pass the tradition of instrument-making to the younger generation.
After she married, she moved back to Ashe County and continues making fiddles, adopting her father's unique carving style to her products. Archie Powers and his son Carl, longtime friends of the family who also learned the craft from Albert Hash, help her make fiddles in her shop
A Madison County native, Arvil Freeman is a welcome sight at bluegrass concerts and clogging events. That's because he's been a professional fiddler for 30 years. After beginning as an old time fiddler, he switched to bluegrass and played every weekend for years at Bill Stanley's Barbecue Restaurant, nationally known for its traditional bluegrass and clogging entertainment. Currently he hosts Asheville's Shindig On the Green every summer.
Freeman plays for his audience.
"When you play the melody in a song so that people can recognize it, you're doing something!" Freeman told Marc Pruett in an interview with Pick 'n' Grin magazine in 1978. "A musician has to play for the people who are listening, and not just for the other musicians."
Josh Goforth got hooked on mountain music after his great uncle gave him a guitar. Having performed music since the age of four, when he played the piano in church, Goforth has learned how to play at least 10 instruments without formal instruction.
"I'd go out to jam sessions and see a bunch of people I knew there, but I didn't know they played. I just got into the whole jam thing, and that's where I really learned how to play, through jams. Never had a teacher."
Although Goforth cites several musicians as influential, he primarily admires Madison County brothers Arvil and Gordon Freeman for their bluegrass and old-time fiddle. He has already proved himself a respected member of the musical community by earning the coveted "Fiddler of the Festival" title at the 76th annual Ole Time Fiddler's and Bluegrass Festival at Fiddler's Grove Campground in Union Grove.
He aspires to keep Appalachian music alive by teaching band and music education after he finishes college, while continuing to perform on the side.
North Carolina Arts Council
Especially noteworthy on this website is the Folk Heritage Award section, as two of the fiddlers featured on this episode have won the award. From the site's main page, click on "Arts Directory," then "Find an Artist," and then check the "Folk Heritage Award Winners" box for more.
Home of the famous annual festival and bluegrass event.
Old Fiddler's Convention in Galax, VA
The Old Fiddler's Convention in Galax is one of the largest fiddling events in the country.
A comprehensive resource of fiddling events, styles, history, and more.
Old Hat Records
Old Hat specializes in 78 RPM records and has several North Carolina regional recordings, including fiddle music.