Voyager Recordings & Publications

The Essential Fiddle Tune Books
by Vivian T. Williams

There are hundreds of fiddle tune books available today. If you have a limited budget, or limited space on your bookshelf, it gets pretty hard to choose which ones to get. Here are the ones that I think are the "classics" which should be the nucleus of the collection of anyone interested in books of North American fiddle tunes.

Ryan's Mammoth Collection Mel Bay Publications. This is a reprint of the 1883 collection. The better known Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes, a slightly abbreviated version from the 1940's, has for decades been the "Bible" for fiddlers who read music. Contains lots of Irish & Scottish tunes, some odd minstrel stuff; especially good for hornpipes. Versions of tunes in this book have over several generations become "standard" in the U.S.

Don Messer Anthology of Favorite Fiddle Tunes Mel Bay Publications, 1980. A reprint of several older books by Don Messer, an excellent fiddler who had radio and television shows in Canada for several decades. The versions of most of the tunes in this book have become the "standard" in Canada, although some of the versions of American tunes are a little odd. Watch out for occasional errors in the music, often in the timing of the last notes of the first part of a tune and the pickup notes of the next part.

The Fiddler's Fakebook Oak Publications, 1983. Contains many of the common tunes played today by fiddlers in various American and Celtic styles, as well as useful (although out-of-date) discographic information and a very good introductory section. I would be happier with this book if it either lived up to its title or had a different one. It isn't really a fakebook in the normal sense of the word, because instead of simple, standard versions of the tunes, it contains exact transcriptions of a particular fiddler's (sometimes idiosyncratic) version. It becomes a lot more useful if you ignore the bowings, and listen to other fiddlers' versions of the same tune to find out what is essential to that tune and what isn't.

The Phillips Collection of Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, Volumes 1 & 2 Mel Bay Publications, 1995. A sampling of fiddle tunes currently played all over the country, collected by Stacy Phillips. It's the only printed source I've seen for a lot of the tunes played in the Northwest. Most of the transcriptions are of a particular fiddler's version of the tune; a few are synthesized from the playing of more than one fiddler. There are a few inaccuracies, especially in the bowings. The name of Stacy's source for the tune is written after each tune title.

Now That's A Good Tune: Masters of Traditional Missouri Fiddling. Voyager Recordings & Publications, 2008. This is a revised edition reissue of the influential book on Missouri fiddlers first published by the University of Missouri in 1989 as two LP records with a 64 page book. Thirteen of the most influential Missouri fiddlers in the 20th Century tell their stories, along with over forty photographs. Dr. Howard Marshall wrote a chapter on the different regional fiddling styles found in Missouri. The book included two CDs containing 53 tracks of tunes played by the fiddlers in the book, and some stories. The fiddlers are: Carol Hascall, Vesta Johnson, Gene Goforth, Dean Johnston, R. P. Christeson, Nile Wilson, Cyril Stinnett, Lyman Enloe, Pete McMahan, Bob Walsh, Howe Teague, Bill Eddy, and Charlie Walden.

The Peter Beemer Manuscript, Voyager Recordings & Publications, 2008. This publication of 124 tunes collected in the mining camp of Warren's Diggins, Idaho, and hand written by the dance band leader for the Saturday night dances in one of the fiddler's tavern in the 1860s, is the most important document yet discovered and published on the music actually played for community dances in the Pioneer West. Before its discovery and publication, there was mostly only speculation about the kinds of tunes and style of fiddling predominating the dances in this region in pioneer times. The tunes in this manuscript were actually played for dances in the Pacific Northwest in the 1960s, and the scope, variety, and technical demands of the music in the manuscript will surprise most of today's fiddlers. In addition, it adds approximately one hundred tunes that are historically appropriate to play at a Civil War re-enactment ball. Prior to the publication of this manuscript, which survived for over 130 years before being brought before the public, there was virtually no history of what was played at community dances in the Pioneer West. Now there is. The tunes include those for the popular dances of the day, both in the West and the East - quadrilles, longways set dances, polkas, mazurkas, varsouviennes, waltzes, marches, schottisches, and others. Some of the tunes can be played by the average fiddler; some, however, require knowledge of violin technique and have a greater degree of difficulty. A must for fiddlers interest in the history of the art.

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