Fiddlin’ around

Published 2:30 pm Monday, April 5, 2010

Joyce Cauthen delights in the prospect of stirring up musical memories for seniors in Vincent April 8.

Cauthen, a member of the Alabama Humanities Foundation’s Road Scholars Bureau, plans to offer a presentation entitled “Fiddlers, Banjo Players and Strawbeaters” at 10 a.m. at the Vincent Senior’s Center.

“For some people it will jog memories,” she said. “There will always be people in the audience whose fathers and grandfathers played this kind of music.”

This kind of music is what Cauthen describes as ‘old mountain music’; the kind played before bluegrass became a genre.

Cauthen herself heard the music at a festival years ago. As executive director of the Alabama Folklife Association, Cauthen hopes to promote the preservation of Alabama’s folk culture. Her last project was a CD and booklet entitled “Bullfrog Jumped,” which features recordings of children’s folksongs and games in 1947.

Cauthen anticipates guests being intrigued to know how this music originated.

She will discuss the early fiddles of Alabama, the musicians who played them and the popularity of the music.

Cauthen said African Americans especially played a pivotal role in developing the music at the roots of today’s bluegrass and country music.

“A lot of the best music at that time was African American music,” Cauthen said. “They had a big influence on the way the music today sounds.”

Cauthen said many Irish immigrants traveled South blending their Celtic music with the sounds of the music slaves were singing on plantations.

“African Americans made the music more rhythmic,” she said. “It really created a distinct sound in the South.”

Cauthen, along with her fiddler husband, Jim, will demonstrate use of the banjo and guitar in backing up the fiddle. They also plan to show audience members the straw method, a technique in which a person beats broom straws or knitting needles on the strings of a fiddle as its played.

The audience will hear musical styles and tunes that are seldom heard today and will have the opportunity to ask questions.

While Cauthen plans this presentation at the Vincent Senior Center, she said the music of early America attracts people of all generations. She said she’s been particularly encouraged by a younger generation taking interest in the roots of modern day music.

“It has a lot to do with the back to the land movement, I think,” Cauthen said. “People who like the real organic, earthy, rootsy way of life find themselves drawn to this type of music.

“Its real happy music, it makes you smile,” she said.