'Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes,' by Jeff Todd Titon (University Press of Kentucky, 2001, $45)


The styles and repertoire of Kentucky fiddlers have become a focus of attention for Southern old-time fiddling enthusiasts in the past decade or so. And now Jeff Todd Titon, a professor of ethnomusicology at Brown University, has written one of the few hardcover books about traditional American fiddling. The bulk consists of transcriptions and detailed discographies of 170 tunes (many with multiple versions) as played by Kentucky fiddlers. Since most of the material has never been commercially available, the enclosed CD is a critical asset. In fact, it's one of the best recent fiddle CDs I've heard.

Fiddlers covered range from those commercially recorded in the 1920s, to those collected for the Library of Congress in the 1930s (like Luther Strong and William Stepp), to the obscure, sought out by Titon with an eye toward discovering rare, local pieces.

There are about 30 pages of text dealing with the social settings and technical aspects of Southern fiddling in general (explained in terms you'll understand even if you're not acquainted with the fiddlers' ways) and the Kentucky repertoire in particular. There are thumbnail biographies of all the fiddlers whose settings are included.

I do wish that Titon had included some bowings. Though bowing is often varied with each repetition of a tune, at least one version of the bowing would eliminate much of the guesswork. Even with that qualification, I highly recommend this book. I hope it's a signal of greater academic interest in one of America's lesser-known native arts.

ISBN 0-8131-2200-7

*This article appeared in Strings August/September 2002
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