Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Greene’

Scott’s Return

May 18, 2012

by Jim Taylor, from “The Civil War Collection”:

Scott’s Return

Solo fiddle playing is a tradition that was well established at the time of the Civil War. Contests were often held to determine the best fiddler in a brigade, regiment, or even down to the company level. Old issues of Confederate Veteran magazine are filled with stories of fiddle contests and the exploits of fiddle players. For example, an article appearing in an 1894 edition speaks of treasure trove of entertainment granted to the boys of General A.P. Hill’s signal corps while stationed on Clark’s Mountain in Orange County, VA. “Down by the river,” an old veteran of the corps recalled, “was the regiment of Barksdale’s Mississippians. In one company of ninety men, ‘seventy-five were good fiddlers.’ We cultivated these fellows and they cultivated us. We had a dance three nights out of the week, and went courting two out of the other four.” Years after the war, fiddle contests were held at veterans’ reunions.

At the 1916 United Confedertate Veterans’ reunion in Birmingham, Dr. Lauriston H. Hill, former surgeon for the 53rd North Carolina Regiment, organized such an event where “old vets and their children can contest.” He urged them to come prepared “to do your best” for “the championship of old-time fiddlers.” And, after they’d done their best, Dr. Hill added, “if you don’t mind, these old Tarheels will show you how they play and put ‘the tar on you.’” These contests were fierce and serious affairs with bragging rights awarded to the winner. Thus, Dr. Hill closed his announcement with a bit of bragging of his own: “I will say, lastly, that when allowed to play, I have won the first prize.”

Scott’s Return on this recording is a good example of a contest tune played by a master fiddler in the Old-time tradition. And, Bruce Greene is one of the finest there is. Bruce learned this version from Milo Biggers (born around 1890) of Glasgow, KY. Bruce adds: “Mr. Biggers got it from Henry Carver, a legendary fiddler of that area and patriarch of a musical family that included the Carver Boys (recorded in the 1920’s), Cousin Emmy, and Noble (Uncle Bozo) Carver. Milo said it was a Civil War piece, but all he knew about it was something about an old soldier coming back from the war.”

Bruce Greene plays “Scott’s Return”:


John Durang’s Hornpipe

January 20, 2012

John Durang (1768–1822) was the first U.S.-born professional dancer of note, best known for his hornpipe dance.  The son of Jacob and Catherine Durang, he was born on January 6, 1768, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but grew up mostly in York, Pennsylvania.  He went on to spend much of the rest of his life as a dancer, acrobat, actor, mime, rope dancer, and blackface comic. He was a part of a group called Ricketts’s Circus, which traveled throughout the northeastern United States and into Canada.

For much of his career his hornpipe dancing was both his and his audience’s favorite.  He boasted in his memoirs that, around 1790, he danced “a Hornpipe on thirteen eggs blindfolded without breaking one.” Durang is also credited with popularizing the nautical-style hornpipe dance that is still thought of as the ‘Sailor’s Hornpipe’.  It is the hornpipe that bears his name for which fiddlers remember him, however, and, according to his memoirs it was composed specifically for him by one “Mr. Hoffmaster, a German Dwarf, in New York, 1785.”

Durang had taken violin lessons from Hoffmaster, who was all of three feet in height and who was married to a wife of similar stature.  Hoffmaster had “a large head, hands and feet,” yet must have been an accomplished musician. The hornpipe became famous in his own time, for Durang noted (again, in his memoirs) that it was written “expressly for me, which is become well known in America, for I have since heard it play’d the other side of (Pennsylvania’s) Blue Mountains as well as in the cities.”

Bruce Greene and Don Pedi play “Durang’s Hornpipe”: