Cross-Atlantic Bluegrass Reception?
November 9, 2005 6:04 AM   Subscribe

Appalachian mountain music and bluegrass owe a lot to the songs and styles brought to Appalachia by Scottish settlers who came from those highlands to the US highlands. Still, the music is different from most Celtic styles. How have musical styles in Scotland been affected by bluegrass, and what are some examples?
posted by OmieWise to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
There is more to American instrumental folk music than just the Scottish background, but basically when those Celtic-derived tunes became part of the repertoire of Black American musicians, the result was a very different sense of rythym and bowing that became the basic sound of southern fiddle music. You can hear it very clearly if you listen to (links to pages with sound files)
a) Cape Breton Scots Fiddle - a style even more archaic than the modern Scots style.
b) Northen US style fiddling - music that was less consciously "Celtic" but was not traditionally played by Black AMerican musicians.
c) Appalachian Fiddle - Scots/Irish fully nativized. Already the rythym has changed away from the Old Country/Northern norm.
d) Deep south fiddling. Ozarks, Mississippi, Tennessee, Ky, Georgia. In these regions Black performers were professionals playing for both white and black audiences, and the fiddle bow style has radically changed from the European ancestor.

From that it was a simple step for Bill Monroe to mix Blues scales with Mountain music and create Bluegrass.

In Ireland there is a strong C+W scene, and a lot of Irish folkies like Andy Irvine have a strong rooting in Woody Guthrie's music. Scotland itself had less connection to the US south after the 19th century - Canada and New Zealand became the focus of their emmigration waves, so I suspect that there was less cultural back-and-forth from the US south, musically speaking, to be influencing Scottish folk music.
posted by zaelic at 7:38 AM on November 9, 2005


Many songs and tunes from around the British isles are found in American folk music, not just (or even mostly) those from Scotland. However, the only suggestion I have for looking into American influence on British folk music is to look into the Irish tenor banjo.
posted by transient at 7:55 AM on November 9, 2005


zaelic's answer is excellent!

Also, keep in mind that bluegrass is yet one more step removed from traditional music. It's important to make a distinction between bluegrass and traditional, because bluegrass is really a different animal. Bluegrass is a highly stylized and particular form. Yes, it drew much of its basis from Southern American traditional musics (which in their turn had drawn from both European styles and stateside influences) but bluegrass celebratesoriginal compositions, musical showmanship, and commercial appeal. Bluegrass was created by specific individuals and performed primarily for a radio and recording audience, at least initially. At the time of its inception, it wasn't considered an especially close cousin of old-time music.

Another important idea: sometimes we get the impression that Celtic styles were in some way pure and permanent and had evolved to a stasis before they came to the U.S. But that's a mistaken impression. The violin itself was not that old an instrument in 1700s and 1800s Europe, so the fiddling that Celts and Bretons developed was undergoing constant change and responding to shifting culture, as well. It happened that great waves of immigration to the US brought with them 'snapshots' of the popular fiddling styles in Europe at the time. But these 'import eras' represented moments in an ever-changing musical landscape. So styles in Europe continued to evolve and change in the old country, just as they did in the U.S. It's interesting that we think nothing strange about hearing a banjo in Irish music, for instance; but the banjo did not make its way to Ireland at all until the popularity of minstrel shows caught on in Europe in the late 19th century. So the addition of banjo to irish traditional music, and the development of an Irish banjo style, are both very recent.

An excellent way to begin exploring the many branches and tributaries of evolving American music is to listen to NPR's incredible series "Honky Tonks, Hymns, and the Blues". It makes a great online tutorial.
posted by Miko at 8:34 AM on November 9, 2005


Miko writes "It's interesting that we think nothing strange about hearing a banjo in Irish music, for instance; but the banjo did not make its way to Ireland at all until the popularity of minstrel shows caught on in Europe in the late 19th century. So the addition of banjo to irish traditional music, and the development of an Irish banjo style, are both very recent. "

Excellent answers so far, and thanks. Yes, I was specifically asking about bluegrass because of how it was a music changed from traditional Appalachian music. My question is specifically about how those American developments were reintegrated (or not) in Europe. The quote above is a great example of what I mean, although in a slightly different vein.
posted by OmieWise at 8:41 AM on November 9, 2005


Well, I gather this American folk tradition called "rock and roll" got popular in the UK a while back....
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:58 AM on November 9, 2005


What is this "rock and roll" of which you speak?
posted by OmieWise at 12:09 PM on November 9, 2005


OmieWise: Clearly you've got a dissertation topic here. You've stumped AskMe. Wish I had more to relate, but I just don't have a sense of recent changes to Celtic styles as a result of bluegrass/pop-country. Please post back if anything turns up.
posted by Miko at 9:31 PM on November 21, 2005


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