Thursday, October 29, 2009

Brown Enters Sinister “Phase II of Operation”

I think I am done gathering sources. I have way more than I can read already, and some of it extremely interesting. Through ILL I was able to get a copy of the “Black Music Research Journal” with an article by Paul F. Wells called “Fiddling as an Avenue of Black-White Musical Interchange.” This article is very important for me to read because it is, in effect, the article I wish I could write. It was published in 2003, so it is not too old, and cites a great many sources, so it should completely fill me in on what is already in the scholarship on this subject. There is a great quote in the article from a 1973 interview with Charles Wolfe of Kentucky fiddler Richard Burnett, who was born in1883. Wolfe asked Burnett about whether many blacks played old-time music when he was young:
Oh yeah. Yeah. Bled Coffey here in town [Monticello, Kentucky], he was a fiddler during the Civil War, and the Bertram boys here, Cooge Bertram was a good fiddler. He was raised in Corbin [Kentucky]. Yes sir, there were a lot of black men playin’ old time music. Bled Coffey was the best fiddler in the county. Been dead for years. I played many a tune with him—used to play with me, oh, sixty year ago. He’d play any o’ the old songs that I did. The old-fashioned tunes, like “Cripple Creek,” “Sourwood Mountain,” “Soldier’s Joy,” “Fire on the Mountain―them old-fashioned tunes is about what he played. (Quoted in Wolfe 1973, 7)1

This is exactly the kind of information I was looking for, and Wells and Wolfe got to it way before me. But that’s okay. I am thankful to have their work to learn from, and I hope, to build on or at least to synthesize with what I am getting from some of the other fantastic sources I’ve gotten through ILL, such as “the Birth of the Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney and Early Minstrelsy” by Bob Carlin, the fascinating story of one of the first well-known white banjo players, who learned the instrument from slaves.

I also still have three or four interviews to do, which I will start over the weekend. I’m very excited and less intimidated every week. This seems doable! I will now turn to my document, edit the bibliography to reflect these new sources, and begin to add some headings; some kind of break-down of the different sections I want to go on about. I will print out the first draft of my paper, such as it is, for the perusal and criticism of my illustrious professor. I am thankful for the opportunity to get everything right as I’m doing it, rather than waiting to hand in a draft when the whole thing is already done. Tally Ho!


Wells, Paul F. “Fiddling as an Avenue of Black-White Interchange,” Black Music Research
Journal Spring/Fall (2003) 135-147.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Analysis of the Chariot

The use of a chariot as a simile for the self first appears in Buddhist scripture in the Saṃyutta-nikaya, the third of the five collections of sūtras in the Pali canon. A Buddhist nun, one Vajira, tells Māra the tempter:

There is no “being” found...[within oneself], only a heap of karmic constituents. Just as the word “chariot” is used when we come across a combination of parts, so we speak conventionally of a [human] being when the five aggregates are present. (Mitchell 39)

Later, the monk Nāgasena, in a dialogue known as the “Questions of Milinda”(Stryk 89), uses this same simile in greater detail, asking King Milinda a series of rhetorical questions:

Is the axle the chariot?... Are the wheels the chariot?...Is the chariot-body the chariot?...Is the flagstaff...the yoke...the reins...Is the Goad-stick the chariot? (Stryk 92)

He goes on to ask whether the chariot is simply “a sound”(92), and then explains to the King that, like the chariot, human beings are simply the sum of their parts: namely, the five aggregates (skandhas). Any one part of a human being, though it might be integral, is not the being. The parts of the chariot, though while they are assembled do conventionally constitute a chariot, are destined eventually to separate, leaving no sign that a chariot ever existed.

This simile, like many used in early Buddhism, seems designed to be grasped fully by even the simplest hearer of the teachings. There can be no doubt. Any object or thing can be described with the simile of the chariot. For instance, a toaster is not the heating elements, nor is it the controls. It is is not the plastic feet, nor is it the metal body. Neither is it the springs or the logo imprint of the manufacturer. It is is definitely not the toast, though bread may transmigrate through the toaster, becoming toast. When viewed in this way, the toaster can be seen more
accurately. It is an assemblage of parts, briefly put together for the function of heating bread, or perhaps frozen pizza, but it has no permanent or independent self. In that way, in an absolute sense, it can be considered illusory. In the same way, all beings are made up of impermanently gathered parts, all interdependent on each other and on countless other causes and conditions. It is a very powerful and immediate way to illustrate two subtle and sublime aspects of the Buddha's teaching: the five skandhas and no-self, which would otherwise be very challenging to explain.

Works Cited:
Mitchell, Donald W. Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2008.

Stryk, Lucien. World of the Buddha: A Reader. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1969.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Response/Process Paper 6

Reading the Sources on “the Interracial Origin of Appalachian Fiddle Music”

Though I still haven't got all the materials I think I should read, I'm feeling a little bogged down in reading the books and articles I do have. That is not to say I don't find them interesting. On the contrary, They are fascinating in the extreme. All of them are things I would like to read and absorb on their own. For instance, “Singing the Master”1, Roger D. Abraham's study of early African-American culture has a large section of slave's accounts of “corn-shuckings”, where plantation owners would invite their friends (other slave owners) to bring their slaves to participate in shucking the corn harvest. The labor involved in processing the entire harvest was so great that the slaves belonging to any one plantation were insufficient to the task. So during that season, the owners would take turns going with all available slaves to their neighbor's places and having large parties, where the slaves would be encouraged, with liquor and food, to make a game of the work, competing, one plantation against the other, to see who could shuck the fastest. The labor of the slaves was then enjoyed as a spectator sport by the masters and their families. The slaves employed techniques of group organization which were straight out of Africa: the best singers would stand on top of the pile of corn and lead their teams through song, which often had a strong call-and-response component. There was also a good deal of horseplay tolerated by the masters, including members of one side trying to surreptitiously throw unshucked cobs back on to the pile of the opposing team, or the stricture that the girl who could shuck the fastest “had to be kissed”. The accounts collected by Abrahams are really fun to read: a little jarring in their caricatureish plantation dialect, but very colorful, funny, and filled with detail. I don't know exactly how to incorporate this source into my argument, but I suspect it's giving me some important background.

Another source I've enjoyed reading is a scholarly article by ethnomusicologist Chris Goertzen, called “American Fiddle Tunes and the Historic-Geographic Method”1. I had never heard of the Historic-Geographic method before, but apparently it was developed in Finland in the 19th century to analyze folkloric items as to their relative positions of origin in space and time. By identifying and cataloging various aspects of the items, and then charting the differences and similarities within a sample of similar items, the scholar can make inferences as to when and where a given item came from without any other record but the item itself. Goertzen has applied this technique to fiddle tunes, and specifically one tune, or family of tunes with the name “Billy in the Low Ground”. Goertzen's style is dense and his data are extensive, to the extent that even I, a smart-ass amateur musicologist, find my eyes glazing over while trying to figure out what his findings mean. I think that therein lies the key to my question. I'm not going to find out anything that musicologists haven't known for a long time concerning the interracial origin of Appalachian fiddle music, but if I'm smart, focused, and even lucky, I might be able to present the subject in a fresh way that will be easily graspable by the general, educated reader. This must be my goal: I must read a lot, but not too much; not more than I have time and space to digest, synthesize, and put into a coherent form in 15 pages. This is not going to be easy. I feel pulled in many different directions by all this material. If a source doesn't seem irrelevant to, or at least distant from my problem, then it seems to be already saying what I wanted to say, and with much greater authority than I could ever say it. I know these concerns are typical for beginning scholars like myself, and I have faith that my path will become clearer as I read more, and as I interview my primary sources. I simply trust, with alarming naiveté, that I will find away to write a worthwhile paper.

1Roger D. Abrahams. Singing the Master: The Emergence of African American Culture in the

Plantation South (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992) 203—328.

1Goertzen, Chris. “American Fiddle Tunes and the Historic-Geographic Method,” Ethnomusicology, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 448-473.