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Dale Farmer and Warren Waldron practice for their Traditional Arts Apprenticeship showcase performance in Oxford.

Traditional Arts Apprenticeship: Sharing Appalachian Fiddle Tunes and the Stories They Carry

Dale Farmer and Warren and Judy Waldron at the Oxford Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Judy Waldron.Dale Farmer ended his Traditional Arts Apprenticeship showcase in Oxford, Ohio, with words of sincere thanks for his mentor, Warren Waldron.
“Thank you,” he said, “for changing the course of my life.”
Over the last three years, Farmer has studied with Warren and Judy Waldron, supported by the Ohio Arts Council’s (OAC) Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program, to learn around 100 Appalachian fiddle tunes that have circulated throughout North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Warren Waldron explained that instead of “lessons,” he called their time together “sessions,” since they involved both learning to play tunes and sharing the stories that travel with them. We in the audience also got to experience this process: for each song that they played, the Waldrons and Farmer took the time to share where the tune came from (as far as they knew) and how it had traveled and transformed with the artists who carried it.
Traditional art forms often serve as cultural resources to comment on contemporary issues and local histories. The Waldrons and Farmer played songs like “Waterbound” and “Jimmy in the Swamp” while talking about the wet spring and summer that we’ve been experiencing in Ohio (which is having a serious impact on our state’s farmers). Other songs were transformed to fit local contexts. Warren Waldron explained that he learned the song “Goin’ on Downtown” as being about “Lynchburg Town” in Virginia, but that when he plays it, he sings about “HamilTown,” a shout-out to nearby Hamilton, Ohio. The topic of the song – bringing goods to market – still fits with Butler County histories of canal commerce that allowed farmers to sell their goods to urban markets like Cincinnati.
Throughout their apprenticeship, the Waldrons pushed Farmer to develop a broad repertoire of tunes. They explained that most old time tunes are played in the keys of G, A, or D, but that it was important that Farmer also learn songs in the key of C, which often better suit women’s vocal ranges. Farmer expressed some trepidation as he was about to play a waltz, which tests a player’s intonation because the notes are held longer. Warren Waldron explained that for this reason, waltzes are always featured in fiddle contests.
Judy Waldron also had some words of advice for any musicians who might be trying to count along with their “crooked” tunes (which feature variable time signatures): “Don’t bother!” Warren explained that since a lot of traditional fiddle tunes were played for the pleasure of musicians and their friends, changing up time signatures was not a problem if it felt right (it’s a different story, of course, if you’re playing for a dance).
Before playing their final tune together, Farmer told the audience that he would hold the last note as long as he could, since it would sadly mark the end of his apprenticeship with Warren. But fortunately, their relationship will continue – Farmer said that they’re like family, and they will be playing together in the Waldrons' group, the Jericho Old Time Band. Their collaboration has also transcended art forms: the Waldrons appear in Farmer's upcoming movie The Mountain Minor, a feature-length film that he wrote and directed based on his family’s migration story from Eastern Kentucky to Southwest Ohio, told through the traditional music that they carried with them to their new home.
 
Watch the trailer for The Mountain Minor:
 
Video by The Mountain Minor film.
 
The OAC's Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program provides support for master artists to work with apprentices to build understanding and proficiency in folk and traditional art forms. By pairing exemplary practitioners of traditional art forms with dedicated apprentices, this program allows for concentrated study and cultural exchange through awards that support the teaching and sharing of important cultural traditions. Find more information about Traditional Arts Apprenticeships here: rebrand.ly/oac-traditional-arts-apprenticeship.

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.
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Article by Cristina Benedetti, Ohio Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Contractor
Featured Photo: Dale Farmer and Warren Waldron practice for their Traditional Arts Apprenticeship showcase performance in Oxford. Photo courtesy of Judy Waldron.



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