EOL video review: European ...

 EOL video review

The JVC/Smithsonian Folkways
Video Anthology of Music and Dance of the Americas

2. European and Other Secular Music and Dance Traditions in the United States

Producer: The Victor Company of Japan, Ltd., Director:HIROAKI OHTA, Co-Producer: STEPHEN McARTHUR, Associate Producer: HIROSHI YOSHIDA, Executive Producers: KATSUMORI ICHIKAWA & YUJI ICHIHASHI. Video/color, 58:46 (this tape).

Editorial supervisor (books): TOMOAKI FUJI, Senior Editor: ANTHONY SEEGER, Editor (books): MARK GREENBERG.

Booklet notes (this volume) by LeeEllen Friedland, Mark Greenberg, Adrienne Kaeppler, and Cathy Ragland.

1995. Distributors: Multicultural Media, RR 3, Box 6655, Granger Road, Barre, Vermont 05641 USA, and Smithsonian Folkways, 955 L'Enfant Plaza, suite 7300, Washington DC 20560


Tape two of the JVC/Smithsonian series concentrates on the European influences on American music. As with the others in the set, a booklet is enclosed with the tape describing each piece individually, and indicating the type of music, artist, date and place of recording. The concise historical notes are accompanied by suggested sources for additional viewing, listening and reading, and a brief glossary of terms appears at the end of the booklet.

This tape is a collection of twenty-six different pieces of previously recorded film footage, each displaying a different artist or group, without any narration. For the most part, the quality of the footage is quite good, though it varies from one selection to the next.

The selections presented here offer many possibilities to the music educator. Since there is no narration, this tape is flexible enough to be used in any classroom situation from the elementary level to college to supplement listening assignments, readings and lectures. Students may enjoy seeing performances featuring instruments they may not see everyday, such as the hammered dulcimer, ukulele, and accordion.

Video 2-6
"Métis Dances"

160x120, 8 sec, 700K QuickTime

320x240, 20 sec, 5.2MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 83K JPG

Teachers can also use the video to show students how a particular dance looks when combined with music. Video clip 2-6 shows the Métis people of North Dakota in a series of three dances including a square dance, hook dance, and a broom dance. The three dances, all shown on one clip, also afford an excellent opportunity for contrast and comparison.

The video could serve as a springboard for discussion in courses in American history, geography or language, as well as in music classes. The material covered here represents various locales and traditions associated with rural America, and includes songs in French and Spanish. Several of the segments incorporate footage of the local area so that viewers may obtain a sense of the setting with which the music is associated.

Although the tape has been designed so that it does not require continuous viewing, it appears that some logic guides the presentation format, perhaps moving from areas exhibiting the greatest British influence to those shaped more by other immigrant cultures.

The selections begin in New England with some dancing and a ballad and continue through the Appalachians with fiddle tunes folk songs and string bands. The next stop is the west with Métis dancing, moving back to Kentucky with traditional dance tunes on hammered dulcimer. Continuing on south, the viewer encounters a few examples of string bands. Kentucky Bluegrass is the topic of the next few selections before we are introduced to dobro guitar and auto harp playing. The tape then takes two wide leaps, one to New York for Jewish wedding music, then to Hawaii for some chalangalang, or "backyard music."

We return to the south with several examples of Cajun and Creole music from Louisiana. The next few selections come from Texas, representing the Texas-Mexican conjunto, and honky-tonk ballad. The tape ends with Tito Puente, the most famous of the performers on the tape, playing salsa  in the South Bronx.


Video 2-1
"Pop Goes the Weasel"

160x120, 8 sec, 620K QuickTime

320x240, 22 sec, 5.6MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 89K JPG

The editors' emphasis on string instruments above all other instruments, is established with the first example. The video begins with one of the most common dance types, the contradance, performed to one of America's most well-known tunes, "Pop Goes the Weasel" (video 2-1). The performance recreates an old-time house party, a common form of rural community socialization. This is an enjoyable clip as it tours the house to show the guests dancing in every room, and even outside on the porch.

"Johnson's Old Grey Mule" (2-8) played by the Lucas and Harmon Brothers Band from South Carolina is bound to be an instant favorite with listeners. It is listed as a Southern country music novelty song, a genre that has been a staple of the Southern country music stage since the nineteenth century. This selection is performed in a 1940s radio show format. This type of humorous song imitates animal noises with the voice or instruments for comic effect.

Female performers are well represented on the tape. Lilly May Medford displays her clawhammer banjo style with her signature song "Banjo Pickin' Girl" (2-11). Clawhammer is a driving percussive style of banjo playing widely used throughout the South. She personalized this variation on a popular Southern song by reconstructing the verses to make it more suitable for a woman to sing. She is accompanied by Mike Seeger on mandolin and Alice Gerrard on guitar.


Video 2-17
"Backyard music"

160x120, 8 sec, 830K QuickTime

320x240, 19 sec, 4MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 26K JPG

Music and dance of America's ethnic minority groups are given less emphasis than Southern or Appalachian traditions. However, the tape invites the viewer to travel to the Catskill Mountains in New York for an example of klezmer music, a European Jewish dance tradition often found at weddings (2-16 ). The next selection (2-17) jumps to Hawai'i for a chalangalang, often played at lu'aus, informal gatherings of friends and family.
Video 2-19
"Fiddle sticks"

160x120, 8 sec, 690K QuickTime

320x240, 20 sec, 5.2MB QuickTime

Full-frame still, 90K JPG


The selections from the Louisiana area incorporate Cajun and Creole traditions, and represent a return to the predominant emphasis on rural string traditions. It seems the Cajun sections have been chosen for their contrasting approaches to fiddle playing. A particularly interesting example is selection 2-19 with its use of fiddle sticks, which are tapped on the strings of the fiddle to provide a rhythmic accompaniment by one player while the fiddle is being played by another.

The last selection, of New York City's Tito Puente and Latin salsa, hints at some of the diversity that deserves greater representation. This presentation of contemporary Latin dance music is the only example of urban music on the video.

Given only twenty-six examples, it would be impossible to cover every ethnic tradition that has developed in America. It should be noted, however, that compilers have narrowly focused on regional music styles found in various ethnic communities throughout the country. The pieces presented are not found in mainstream musical life, and they represent only a small portion of the music traditions available in North America. Among the noticeable omissions are the many Nordic-Germanic traditions of upper Midwest, and, as noted above, the compilers of the video focus almost exclusively on rural traditions.

For those traditions included, the examples stand out for the attention given to illustrating instrumental practice and for the enjoyable music content.

reviewed by Julie A. O'Herron

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