Archive for the ‘Miles Krassen’ Category

Homage to Miles Krassen

November 22, 2012

Bobbie Thompson and Miles Krassen

edited from “OLD-TIME MUSIC AND DANCE: Community and Folk Revival,” by John Bealle:

Miles Krassen came to Bloomington, Indiana, from New York, in 1967, to study ethnomusicology. Already, Krassen was a serious student of old-time music. Of his association with traditional fiddlers, he would say, “I have always looked upon fiddlers as people who in at least one area of their lives were a type of Western wise man. Their tunes were like incantations, a form of ancient wisdom that induced high feeling”.

Later, Krassen wrote two important old-time music instruction books, Appalachian Fiddle (1973) and Clawhammer Banjo (1974). They were published by Oak Publications and followed the format established by the Oak folk music style instruction books that had proliferated throughout the 1960s. They were also widely popular, even to the extent that they were some- times stocked with band instruction materials in mainstream music stores.

For Krassen, style was a social entity, the common knowledge that formed the basis of community musical tradition. Individual style could have enduring significance only within this social nexus. Consequently, Krassen sought to explore in depth a single banjo tradition—the music of the Galax, Virginia, area and of southeastern West Virginia.

Clawhammer Banjo featured contemporary photographs, most of rural scenes unrelated to the music. None were landscapes; none except the few of musicians were portraits. Instead there was a roadside cabin, a barefoot child crossing a country bridge, a run-down country store, a flock of guineas in a yard, an aging porch swing. All situated the viewer/ photographer up close and within the arena of involvement of the scene. Many reflected an odd sense of composition, with some subjects half in and out of the frame, as if they were composed not by the eye, but by a circumstance from which someone had briefly withdrawn to photo- graph.

On the back cover of Appalachian Fiddle was a considerably more deliberate pose, with Miles Krassen playing his fiddle on a stump beside a farmhouse, flanked on either side by a pig and an uncooperative- looking goat, half out of the frame.

These images reflected a new symbolic currency circulating in the old-time music revival, one from which the revival was positioned not as an observer of tradition but as a part of a return to comprehensive traditional rural living. This movement, which gained considerable strength in the 1970s, provided the ideological underpinning for a variety of “old-time” social enterprises, one of which was old-time music.