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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 6:30 am 
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Somebody posted this question on the Chiff and Fipple Facebook page. Fiddle tunes like "the red haired boy/Little Beggerman" make it with the Scots-irish into the US, and the musical similarities between ITM and the music of Appalachia is well known.

So I wonder why there's no flute tradition in Appalachian music? You could argue there's no pipes either, but the Appalachian dulcimer has drone strings and I think fills some of the niche of the pipes. Why no fluting?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 7:02 am 
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I have to wonder if part of the answer would be climate. In Appalachia it's going to go from far below freezing and bone dry in the winter to high 90s and extremely humid in the summer. That's tough on a wooden flute. Ireland and Scotland have a much more stable and consistent climate? I think most of the Native American flutes are from the South West US, where humidity is much more consistent


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 9:22 am 
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PB+J wrote:
I have to wonder if part of the answer would be climate. In Appalachia it's going to go from far below freezing and bone dry in the winter to high 90s and extremely humid in the summer.

That sounds like a solid reason to me :) . I will say that the military fife has occasionally made an appearance in both Old time and Appalachian music. You're absolutely right about the similarities between ITM and Appalachian music, though. I dance to both and it's a beautiful thing to compare both the styles of music and the styles of dance.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 9:41 am 
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PB+J wrote:
I think most of the Native American flutes are from the South West US, where humidity is much more consistent

A bit off-topic here but...
Have to note that there were Native American flutes, in one form or another, found most everywhere in North America. (It is unclear whether they existed in New England or the Mid-Atlantic states as most of the native culture in those areas was wiped out prior to their customs and traditions being noted in Anglo historic records.) So Native American flutes were subjected to pretty much all weather and climate conditions.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 10:46 am 
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Plus, if you think about it, metal flutes have been around in Europe for centuries. They would be less subject to the vagaries of climate, though they may also have been beyond the means of many hill dwellers. Native American flutes were often made by the players themselves, but this would be less feasible with a metal flute.

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Last edited by michaelpthompson on Mon Jan 28, 2019 2:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 11:01 am 
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Its a matter of timing.

The Irish Flute tradition really didn't emerge until the late 19th and early 20th century when classical flutes from the mid 19th century were repurposed for this. By then the musical traditions in Appalachia were well entrenched. Except for a few large Irish communities in New York and Boston, the Irish Flute didn't really hit American shores much until the Folk Revival movements of the 1970s.

It is certainly not climate! Consider the Cuban Charanga Flute which evolved at about the same time, utilizing discarded French 5 keyed flutes from the mid to late 19th century. There was some influence from the flute music of Galicia. Much of that tradition fled to the United States after Castro, leaving an instructional vacuum in Cuba. Eventually the modern flute supplanted the 5 key tradition though there is now a desire in some to go back to the 5 keyed flutes.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 11:44 am 
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Casey Burns wrote:
Its a matter of timing.

The Irish Flute tradition really didn't emerge until the late 19th and early 20th century when classical flutes from the mid 19th century were repurposed for this. By then the musical traditions in Appalachia were well entrenched. Except for a few large Irish communities in New York and Boston, the Irish Flute didn't really hit American shores much until the Folk Revival movements of the 1970s.

It is certainly not climate! Consider the Cuban Charanga Flute which evolved at about the same time, utilizing discarded French 5 keyed flutes from the mid to late 19th century. There was some influence from the flute music of Galicia. Much of that tradition fled to the United States after Castro, leaving an instructional vacuum in Cuba. Eventually the modern flute supplanted the 5 key tradition though there is now a desire in some to go back to the 5 keyed flutes.

Casey


Thank you Casey although Cuba is pretty much warm and humid 365 days a year isn't it?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 12:17 pm 
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I think Casey has it, with the relatively late arrival of flute as an instrument in Irish traditional music.

I do remember hearing about the fife being present in some parts of Appalachia, in bands that probably derived from Fife and Drum Corps. I'll see if I can track down a reference. The fife never managed to cross over to Appalachian string bands though, maybe due to repertoire more suited to marching than dancing (just guessing here).


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 12:27 pm 
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michaelpthompson wrote:
Plus, if you think about it, metal flutes have been around in Europe for centuries. They would be less subject to the vagaries of climate, though they may also have been beyond the means of many hill dwellers. Native American players were often made by the players themselves, but this would be less feasible with a metal flute.


Boehm invented his flute in 1840, so the Appalachian music tradition was already up and running. Plus much of Appalachia was isolated from the population centers of the East Coast and wouldn't have had access to flutes or any type. Many of the fiddles and guitars were indeed home built.

I'm not familiar with any metal flutes prior to Boehm's contribution, but I suppose there could have been. I'm sure someone with more knowledge than I can enlighten both of us (Casey?). But I'm pretty certain there haven't been metal flutes around in Europe for "centuries".

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 2:44 pm 
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Casey's explanation makes sense, and is probably the right one, but guys coming from Ulster to the US in the late 19th/early 19th centuries would have surely carried a musical tradition with them, and a flute seems like an easier thing to carry across the Cumberland gap than a fiddle.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 2:54 pm 
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I believe flutes were plentiful in the USA in the 19th century. There were a number of American flute manufacturers and flutes were being imported from England. Thoreau played flute, we know. Also flutes are mobile, they sound good in ensembles (which is part of why they caught on in Ireland), and it seems likely that much of the music we play in Old Time sessions was at least occasionally played on flute. People basically picked up the instruments they had, and they had flutes, which sound very good in OT. A lot of people had the chops to play flutes cause they had played fife in the wars. OT music includes a variety of music, not just Appalachian.

This matters to me personally, because I've had people get irate with me for playing wooden flute in OT sessions (less so after they hear me play), yet I expect flute was often included in such ensembles. The lack of flutes in Appalachian music doesn't necessarily mean their absence in OT in general. If I had to guess why flute seems absent in Appalachian music in particular I would conjecture that the people couldn't afford flutes and also perhaps their sound solidified into a string band sound before they could get them.


Last edited by jim stone on Mon Jan 28, 2019 2:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 2:57 pm 
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And wooden fife's were used throughout the military up and down the east coast in the 1700s and 1800s so the wood out east theory doesn't hold water. I am with Casey, although I will add there were a lot of flutes played on the east coast that were wooden...I suspect they cost more than your average Appalachian musician could afford.

Eric


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 3:32 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
Casey's explanation makes sense, and is probably the right one, but guys coming from Ulster to the US in the late 19th/early 19th centuries would have surely carried a musical tradition with them, and a flute seems like an easier thing to carry across the Cumberland gap than a fiddle.

As I understand it (and I'm no expert), the big wave of mid to late 19th Century Irish immigrant population mostly ended up in the major cities in the USA, gathering together in Irish communities. That's how we get Chief Francis O'Neill and the Irish Music Club of Chicago, with as many flutes as fiddles, along with a great many Uilleann pipers. And similar societies and musicians in Boston and NYC.

The mountains of Appalachia were settled in a much earlier period, with British, Scottish, and Ulster Scots making up a large part of the immigrant population. By the time that "mountain" culture was established, they may not have been very accepting of recent (mid to late 19th Century) Irish immigrants. Or maybe it wasn't just culture clash, but that the Irish just had better economic opportunities in the more urban centers of the USA, and weren't especially drawn to the hard-scrabble, poor communities of Appalachia.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 5:02 pm 
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Conical bore wrote:
The mountains of Appalachia were settled in a much earlier period, with British, Scottish, and Ulster Scots making up a large part of the immigrant population.

For several years, I was fairly puzzled by the historical ambiguity regarding the origins of Appalachian/OT music. A friend of mine once explained to me that while it's true that the immigrant population did primarily consist mostly of Scottish, Ulster-Scottish and Northumbrian, rather than British, immigrants, they were soon joined by a large number of Irish immigrants in the early to mid-1700's due to the 1740-41 Famine. Even so, the Irish influence is clearly seen in the music and dance of the eastern Appalachian region rather than the western Appalachian region, which apparently retained slightly more of its Scottish heritage. I wouldn't call myself an expert either, but that was at least his opinion.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 5:59 pm 
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The question is probably more accurately: why is there no flute in what is referred to as 'old-time' music today? The answer likely lies in the process by which culture has a tendency to retrospectively 'filter out' what it deems 'inconsistency'. The flute is not associated with an identity that has been 'distilled' into an almost exclusive association with fiddle, banjo and guitar and maybe also the dulcimer. That says more about modern focus, taste and interpretation than it does about the diversity that existed before that 'neat' template evolved and was reinforced. We know that flute and fiddle were common dance accompaniment in the European countries where many of the immigrant population came from.

I've seen old 19th century American photographs of flute players posed with fiddle and banjo players; and concertina and clarinet among other instruments too. And there is no doubting that flutes would've been carried by imigrants from the British Isles and other European countries into those regions where indigenous American folk forms were influenced and evolving. The flute is one of the most easily portable instruments. The nature of immigrants music would likely have varied far more from isolated farmstead to isolated farmstead than we care to credit. The musicians dwelling in that vast patchwork of households initially had no reason or cause to conform to a general 'template'. They would've just played what they knew and had access to and the vast majority of those ordinary working folk left no record of that variety for posterity. That invisibility is the space which the subsequent evolution of a culture occupies and retrospectively and progressively 'filters out' difference erasing 'inconsistency' and instead overlaying and replacing it with it's own 'certainties' of identity and pattern. And to a certain extent those modern templates can themselves become cultural cliches.

And I hate to have to burst the bubble of the determinedly exclusive Scots-Irish focus of the discussion and remind that there was a strong English vernacular flute tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Bitter anti-English sentiment was a historical reality, for very justifiable reason among certain communities, but we should not let that prejudice or distort our understanding of fact or deny the full diversity of the cultural picture. By taking care in that respect we go a long way toward avoiding the inhibiting straight-jacket of cliche.


Last edited by mendipman on Mon Jan 28, 2019 7:13 pm, edited 12 times in total.

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