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Fiddling Way Out Yonder

Fiddling Way Out Yonder: The Life and Music of Melvin Wine

Drew Beisswenger
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Fiddling Way Out Yonder
    Book Description:

    From a small mountain town in West Virginia, elder fiddler Melvin Wine has inspired musicians and music enthusiasts far beyond his homeplace.

    Music, community, and tradition influence all aspects of life in this rural region.Fiddling Way Out Yonder: The Life and Music of Melvin Wineshows how in Wine's playing and teaching all three have created a vital and enduring legacy.

    Wine has been honored nationally for his musical skills and his leadership role in an American musical tradition. A farmer, a coal miner, a father of ten children, and a deeply religious man, he has played music from the hard lessons of his own experience and shaped a musical tradition even while passing it to others.

    Fiddling Way Out Yonderexamines the fiddler, his music, and its context from a variety of perspectives. Many rousing fiddlers came from isolated mountain regions like Melvin's home stomp. The book makes a point to address the broad historical issues related both to North American fiddling and to Wine's personal history.

    Wine has spent almost all of his ninety-two years in rural Braxton County, an area where the fiddle and dance traditions that were strong during his childhood and early adult life continue to be active today. Utilizing models from folklore studies and ethnomusicology,Fiddling Way Out Yonderdiscusses how community life and educational environment have affected Melvin's music and his approaches to performance.

    Such a unique fiddler deserves close stylistic scrutiny. The book reveals Wine's particular tunings, his ways of holding the instrument, his licks, his bowing techniques and patterns, his tune categories, and his favorite keys. The book includes transcriptions and analyses of ten of Melvin's tunes, some of which are linked to minstrelsy, ballad singing traditions, and gospel music. Narratives discuss the background of each tune and how it has fit into Melvin's life.

    While his music is tied to community and family traditions, Melvin is a unique and complex person. This biography heralds a musician who wants both to communicate the spirit of his mountains and to sway an audience into having an old-fashioned good time.

    Drew Beisswenger is a music librarian at Southwest Missouri State University. His work has been published inTennessee Folklore Society Bulletin, theEMIE Bulletin,Mid-American Folklore, and theArkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-619-9
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    When senior West Virginia fiddler Melvin Wine was asked if he had wanted to record a fiddle music album before his first one was released, he responded, “Yeah, from a kid up … I always had a hope for way out yonder.”¹ Today well into his nineties, he continues to express a belief that something else is out there for his music. This study documents, in part, Melvin’s lifelong and continuing “hope for way out yonder.” Central West Virginia, the region Melvin Wine calls home, has sustained a rich array of documented fiddle traditions since the early 1800s, principally in...

  5. Chapter 1 The Region and the Fiddle
    (pp. 3-11)

    When Melvin Wine began playing the fiddle around 1920, the instrument was widely played throughout the central Appalachian Mountain region. In some areas, especially those where the terrain was too rough to attract industry and transportation but smooth enough to attract significant numbers of settlers onto small farms, fiddle traditions were particularly strong. Neighborhoods in these rural areas were close-knit, and residents nurtured their established music and dance traditions. One such area was Braxton County, West Virginia, where according to research by Gerry Milnes at least 179 fiddlers have been active during the twentieth century.¹ Melvin Wine has always lived...

  6. Chapter 2 Family History, Childhood, and Learning
    (pp. 12-43)

    The Wine family has a history in Braxton County that has lasted at least 155 years, and the Wines’ association with the central Appalachian region is likely over 200 years old. Braxton County is located in the center of West Virginia on the western slope of the Allegheny Mountains. Although the high mountain peaks are to the east, the county’s large rolling hills—rising from 760 feet to 2,085 feet above sea level—have precluded large-scale farming and many forms of industry. Natural resources are abundant, however, and residents of the county have typically found work in coal mines or...

  7. Chapter 3 Performing, Working, Raising a Family, and Finding Religion
    (pp. 44-83)

    As Melvin settled into his decision to focus on the fiddle, his youngest brother, Clarence, was choosing the banjo. Their father Bob made a banjo for Clarence out of a gallon paint can, and Melvin and Clarence began playing at home at every opportunity. “We worked on the farm,” Melvin recalls, ”[and] at the noon time, we’d come off the hill to eat, and we’d get there before the rest of them did. We’d run off the hill. And we’d get our banjo and fiddle, and we’d play until dinner was already up and the rest of them come in,...

  8. Chapter 4 Picking Up the Fiddle Again
    (pp. 84-103)

    In 1950, West Virginia University English professor and folk song researcher Patrick W. Gainer organized the first West Virginia State Folk Festival in Glenville, located only about twenty miles from Copen. The festival, which continues as an annual event today, supplied an arena in which fiddle playing was viewed as an honorable and desirable skill. Melvin did not attend the first several years of the festival, but around 1957 he decided to go, along with his fiddle, to see what the event was about.

    They had what they called the old folks festival at Glenville—that’s in Gilmer County—and...

  9. Chapter 5 Approaches to Performance
    (pp. 104-119)

    Having completed a chronological review of Melvin’s life, we can benefit from taking a closer look at both the range of performance experiences in his life and the performance techniques he has used. Melvin has always found performing to be the most meaningful part of his music, and he has always been drawn to performance settings. Even in his early teens, he and his brother were eagerly performing at the movie theater in Burnsville between reels. Through performing, Melvin has been able to combine his musical skills, his gregariousness, and his ability to make people laugh.

    By looking at his...

  10. Chapter 6 Style and Technique
    (pp. 120-156)

    In this study, I am defining style as the observable patterns of expressions found consistently throughout a group of musical works. Patterns are important in Melvin’s music, not only the visible and audible patterns such as bow movements, melody lines, part divisions, tunings, and performance techniques, but also the more subtle patterns related to vocabulary, and to the ways he thinks about the music. In many cases, identifying and measuring patterns can be accomplished in a relatively objective manner, and taking the time to do so is important to establish indisputable stylistic elements. Determining the more subtle patterns and analyzing...

  11. Chapter 7 Transcriptions and Analyses of Ten Selected Tunes
    (pp. 157-182)

    The ten tunes presented in this chapter are discussed in detail with music transcription and analysis.¹ I chose the tunes principally because, as a group, they show many of the tunings, keys, scales, tune types, and techniques that characterize Melvin’s playing. Although they are wellknown in his repertoire, the tunes do not necessary represent his favorite ones, nor do they necessarily represent an accurate balance of the tune types he plays. I did, however, attempt to present a variety of types, and the collection includes a dance tune, three older listening tunes, a ballad melody, a hymn melody, a minstrel...

  12. Chapter 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 183-188)

    The musical qualities and the contextual elements of Melvin Wine’s fiddle music intertwine and merge so that one cannot be separated easily from the other. By understanding both of them and their relationships to each other we can better appreciate Melvin’s tunes. His music represents a style that was most popular in rural Appalachia about a hundred years ago, but its richness, with its melodic passages, driving rhythms, and unusual scales, continues to attract audiences. Younger fiddlers often do not capture, or they misrepresent, the subtleties of Melvin’s style, highlighting the need for careful analysis. Studying Melvin’s music also helps...

  13. Appendixes
    (pp. 189-194)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 195-214)
  15. References
    (pp. 215-222)
  16. Index
    (pp. 223-230)