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Fiddle players of all ages carry on Missouri tradition

Thursday, July 23, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 5:52 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 23, 2009
Dale Pauley of Columbia warms up during the Fiddler's Frolic at the Boone County Fair. He's playing a Guarnerius, a fiddle given to him by his father. Attendees were welcome to dance to the music as fiddlers took their turns on stage.

COLUMBIA — “Join your hands, make a right hand star, turn around from where you are!”

That was Jim Thaxter’s call as a group from Mid-Missouri Traditional Dancers promenaded to the tunes of fiddle players on Wednesday night’s Fiddler's Frolic at the Boone County Fair. Thaxter, a member of the group, called out dance moves for the rest of the group throughout the night.

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Ten fiddle players were invited to play three tunes each: a hoedown, a waltz and a tune of their choice. Accompanying the fiddlers were musicians playing the guitar, banjo, accordion and upright bass. Some of the musicians had been playing the folk tunes for 40 years, while others were teenage newcomers who hope to keep the tradition going.

“Young people think that it’s old-timey and for senior citizens who are holding on to a tradition,” 17-year-old Sadie Currey said.

Currey has played the fiddle for seven years. Her father initially talked her into it, but after years of encouragement from her father, she now plays because she loves it. She said that it’s a talent and a purpose that she wants to share with people.

“I play to my perfection to show young people that this is really hard to do,” Currey said. “I’m advertising to wake people up and make them say that this isn’t old music; this is good music.”

Fiddling is a tradition that has deep roots in Missouri. It’s a distinct style that caters to traditional dancing, focusing on jigs, hoedowns and waltzes.

“It’s a big part of our history,” said Heinrich Leonard, a guitarist who has been playing in fiddle contests around the area since 1975. “It’s a direct connection to the settlers that came here from Kentucky.”

Leonard said that he began playing with a group of fiddlers who focused on old-time fiddling. But many of the musicians that Leonard saw compete in contests, fiddlers that he regarded as leaders within the tradition, have now passed away.

“The old-timers are gone, the strength of their playing was incredibly vital, and now we don’t have quite as strong players,” Leonard said. “But we have young players coming up on track to continue the tradition.”

Richard Shewmaker, 16, is one of the teenagers who is helping preserve the style. He has been playing fiddle music for two years and frequently listens to recordings of old fiddle players from the area to learn their technique.

He said that, despite all of the different styles of fiddling to pick from, he was disappointed that it is not more popular with people his age.

“There aren’t as many young fiddlers out there as there should be," Shewmaker said.


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