Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Appalachian Music and Flat-footin'

If you have ever traveled to the states around the southern Appalachian Mountains, you probably have some knowledge of the music that represents that area. We really enjoy the folksy music and attending the little jam sessions you can find in the small mountain towns.

Right here in Salem, Virginia we found one of those little jam sessions and we went there yesterday with my cousin, Gail, and husband, Rick. Gail read on the website for the Salem Senior Center that a jam session was planned for Monday afternoon. So, we jumped into the car and I brought along my camera for some photos to share on this blog.

We got to the Senior Center and the "Senior Mountain Pickers" were already playing. There were about 10 of them in all. One particular lady was the lead vocalist and there were a variety of guitars, a couple of banjos, and a fiddle or two in the group as well. It just ain't right if there ain't a fiddle in the band! The fiddle and banjo are really the mainstay of the music. The banjo was introduced to mountain musicians in 1860 and the guitar became popular in 1910.

This type of music gets its origins from anglo-celtic folk ballads and instrumental dance tunes. They are often lively tunes but some are slow, almost mournful, songs telling some sad tale regarding life in the "hollers" of those mountains. It was often a hard way of life (still is for many) and all they had for enjoyment and pleasure was often just simply gathering to share their music and their "song stories". There is a tonal, nasal quality preferred by most traditional Appalachian singers.

Although this music style is considered "old time" and archaic by some, a visit to Virginia, West Virginia or North Carolina will find singers and musicians holding forth on banjo and fiddle. You can find Fiddler's Conventions, house parties, and back porch jam sessions in most small towns around the southern Appalachians.

Here is a photo of part of the group and it shows our "lead singer" on the far left.

This is the larger group and they were a playin' and a-pickin' to the delight of all the listeners in the hall.

Here are some of the "flat-footin' dancers". What is commonly called flat-footin' is a type of dance akin to clogging. This dancing emphasizes the downbeat of music using enthusiastic footwork. Cloggers traditionally wore shoes with taps or wooden pieces on the soles to make the loud sounds as they danced. Flat-footin' shoes are normally without taps and made of leather or velvet with soles of hard leather. Of course, folks now a days go dancing in their Nikes! Flat-footin' is also a style of dancing where you don't need a partner. Just get out there on the dance floor all by yourself and have at it. When you attend a jam session you'll see people of all ages just jump up out of their chairs and start the fancy footwork on the dance floor. Usually the arms are held down at their sides but sometimes they hold them up a bit as the music just overtakes them.
Here is a close-up shot of one woman just enjoying the music and having fun. See, she is wearing her athletic shoes and she don't care !! Below that photo you can see a group of a few people just dancing away.

We stayed and watched and listened for well over an hour before the musicians began to disperse. It was great fun and we hope to find some more jam sessions before we leave the area. Awesome fun for a real cultural experience.

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