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North American Fiddle Music: A Research and Information Guide.

North American Fiddle Music: A Research and Information Guide. By Drew Beissweriger. (Routledge Music Bibliographies.) New York: Routledge, 2011. [xxiv, 535 p. ISBN 9780415994545. $150.] Name index.

The European violin, also called the fiddle, has been played by informally trained musicians for as long as they have been able to get their hands on them. As the violin spread throughout the court orchestras of Europe, it was also adopted to folk music and folk purposes. In the New World, fiddlers are recorded since at least the six-weigh century. Its resonant, vocal-like sound made it appealing and adaptable to many musical purposes and aesthetics. In North America, its portability allowed it. to be carried to the frontier as the continent was settled. ft has been adapted to many of the folk musics of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Though it is often closely associated in the popular imagination with white rural culture, as in country and bluegrass music, the fiddle was a popular instrument for African Americans, Native Americans and various waves of European immigrants. In the late twentieth century. the fiddle was taken up by new generations of musicians who participated in the revivals of old-time, folk, klezmer, and Cajun traditions. Research and writings on the instrument and its many styles are found in scholarly journals, to be sure, but more often in more infbrmal venues such as newspaper and magazine articles and liner notes. Drew Beisswcnger's North American Fiddle Music is an annotated bibliographic guide to the published research on the various fiddle musics of the continent. Beisswenger includes books, articles, liner notes, and Internet resources. His stated preference is for "[s]ubstantive published research and historically important tune collections ... [s]ources that integrate social and biographical information, and sources that explore how fiddlers interact with their communities" (p. xv). Short promotional pieces and obituaries are among the briefer works that are excluded. Beisswenger also excludes most tune-history studies, arguing that the web site "The Fiddler's Companion" ( [accessed 12 January 2012]) has effectively compiled this information in one location. In addition to the full bibliographic information, Beisswenger provides brief summaries of most of the listed works. Many older resources are now available for free on the Internet, and Beisswenger helpfully provides that information when appropriate. Web resources and video recordings are also included.

Due to the various ways fiddlers have of referring to their music, and the approaches researchers take to defining music. no one taxonomy vill serve to divide the entirety of fiddle music research. In organizing his mass of information, Reisswenger, an academic librarian and author of an excellent study of old-time fiddler Melvin Wine (Drew Beisswenger, Fiddling Way Out Yonder: The Lore and Music of Melvin Wine [Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002] ), has divided the world of North American fiddling along generic, ethnic, and geographic (national or regional) lines. Wisely, Beisswenger chose to place items according to the most prominent category assigned by the researcher. Works that encompassed fiddling in general, or that could not be connected to any one genre, ethnicity, or national or regional group, are included in the first section, "Major General Categories." This section includes earlier bibliographies and discographies, tune collections, Web sources, and an "Open Listing" section for items that addressed multiple categories or that do not have an emphasis on any particular category. Of these subcategories, the largest collection is that of tune books, with several sources listed from the nineteenth century.

The next section gathers works on specific genres of fiddle music. These are bluegrass, blues and rock (grouped together), contest, country, jazz and progressive (grouped together), minstrelsy, old-time, Western swing and cowboy. Bluegrass has by far the largest number of resources listed, but the listings for old-time and country are extensive as well. This section also includes listings of resources on fiddle-related dance music, and a brief listing of fiction works about fiddlers and scholarly studies of fiddlers in fiction.

As some fiddlers connect their music to their ethnic group rather than to a region or genre, a short section is inserted to collect resources on four such groups. These are African Americans, Jews, Native Americans, and Meas. The African Americans have overlap with the blues and old-time genres. The Jewish section is almost exclusively devoted to the klezmer tradition in America. Both the Native American and Metis sections are short, and it is not explained why they are treated separately. Being so much shorter than the other sections, and containing such an odd assortment of categories, this section is a bit of an orphan. I understand the reasons for creating it, but it does somewhat marginalize these traditions by keeping them out of the main body of the guide.

The fourth section, which occupies more than half of the book, is devoted to "Selected Regional and National Groups." The nations considered are those that sent large numbers of immigrants to North America, and the resources included address their fiddle traditions as they are or were carried on in North America, not in the "old country." The old countries covered are the Czech Republic, England, Finland, France, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Sweden, and Ukraine. Most of these national traditions are represented by only a few listings, but. Scotland, England, and Ireland have several. Two sources are listed in the next subsection, on "North American fiddling with strong ties to Africa."

The subsection on "North American fiddling with strong ties to Mexico and Latin America" is longer, but somewhat confused. This is the only section that includes articles on fiddling outside the United States and Canada. In addition to articles on U.S.-based mariachis, there are articles listed about son calentano and about the Tarahumara Indians. Beisswenger acknowledges that his guide is short on resources for Mexico and the Caribbean, and he promises a second volume to rectify this, but I wish that this guide did not continue the practice of leaving Mexico out of North America.

The long final section includes state-by-state listings of fiddle music research, grouped by region. The section for each region and each state opens with a brief essay surveying the major fiddle styles and fiddle researchers for the area, pointing out significant gaps in the literature, and suggesting avenues of research. Some states, Delaware for instance, have no resources listed at all. Virginia and Georgia have many.

In reading through this sturdy reference book, I found many articles and Web resources that were new to me and that I added to my "to read" list. I also found a few gaps, particularly in the areas and genres with which I am most familiar. I also found a distressingly high number of misspellings, particularly of names, throughout the book. In one case, the annotation for an article on Tennessee revivalist fiddler Mike Bryant (entry no. 780) is repeated almost verbatim as the annotation for an article about Joe Thompson, an African American fiddler from North Carolina (entry no. 850). Although seasoned researchers who specialize in a particular region or genre will already be familiar with most of the resources in North American Fiddle Music, Beisswenger's work will be a welcome starting point for those beginning at research project on traditional music in North America or For more experienced researchers looking into a new 'circa or genre.

JAMES RUCHALA Forsyth Tech. Community College
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Author:Ruchala, James
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 22, 2012
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