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What is… Old Time Music?
The question is often asked and there are various answers. Are we talking about the origins of music that was brought to North America by its settlers or the commercially labeled music known as “Old Time”? Actually the commercial label was coined in 1929 by Fiddlin’ John Carson when he needed a name for the rural folk music he and others like him were recording for the OKeh record label. Rural folk music had had other names prior to that time but these names were thought to be degrading to the people and rural communities where it was played on front porches and at barn dances. Certainly not the names you would associate with a successful music recording studio. So, Old Time Music got its name.
Rural folk music came to the continent with settlers from France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and England primarily as these were the earliest settlers in North America. As they built their communities, music occupied an important part of life—providing an outlet for their joys and sorrows, protests over working conditions, and the like. What had been English ballads about knights and kings morphed into tales of oppression (servitude), poor working conditions (coal mining), and death. Since the barn dance was often the only recreational outlet for families, fiddle tunes and dancing provided an escape from the hardships of everyday life. As wandering mistral shows traveled the southern part of the United States, the banjo was introduced to these settlers and provided an excellent rhythm accompaniment for the fiddle lead. Old Time Music evolved over time as others settled in the melting pot of North America. Certain areas still show a strong influence of the culture of the area on old time music played there—Scottish in Nova Scotia, French Canadian in Quebec, and Metis in Manitoba.
Old Time Music did not enjoy a long commercial success after the initial recordings were made in the 1920’s. It reverted back to its rural folk roots for many years. In the 1950’s folk artists such as Pete Seeger brought rural folk music into mainstream music. It survives today through music festivals, fiddling contests, and organizations such as the Manitoba Old Tyme & Bluegrass Music Society.
For more information on Old Time Music, there are many sources on the Internet. Try the Wikipedia topic, Old Time Music, or visit sites such as www.oldtimemusic.com.
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