The Jackson Area Plectral Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Oldtime String Music. In keeping with the oral tradition of our music, we meet each week on Thursday night in the Casey Jones Village for an evening of Open Jam Sessions in order to share, learn, promote and preserve the tradition of Oldtime Music. Their are a number of jam sessions that take place each week throughout the Village and open to anyone with an interest in preserving Oldtime String Music. We invite you to bring your fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, or any instrument that maintains the sanctity of Oldtime Music and join us as we celebrate the tradition of Oldtime String Music.
Some of you may not be entirely familiar with old-time music and the concept of an old-time jam, so this part is for you!What is Old-Time Music by Dr. Josh Turknett:
If you ask ten different old-time musicians to define old-time music, you’re liable to get ten different answers. Definitions range from narrow to broad, the borders are fuzzy, and its meaning has shifted over time. What follows is my own definition of old-time music. It is admittedly an oversimplification, and what I describe might more aptly referred to as Southern Old-Time Music, though to many the two terms are synonymous.
In its broadest sense, old-time music is the music folks in America played in their homes prior to recorded music and the radio. Back then, a lot more folks played music. They didn’t play for fame and fortune, because radio was what made such a thing possible. This was before the world of music had been rigidly divided into the “performers” and the “listeners”, the “talented” and the “ordinary”. Before we’d lost sight of the fact that we’re all born to make music. Back then, people played music simply because they loved it.
They most commonly learned from other family members who played, and so the music was passed from one generation to the next. For many years, the primary instruments available in people’s homes were the fiddle and banjo, and it is arguably this unique union of instruments, this synthesis of European (the violin) and African (the banjo) sounds and styles which led to something completely new, and uniquely American. This interplay occurred in many places throughout the country, but perhaps most significantly (and well documented) in the southern Appalachian region. As such, some also refer to this as “Mountain Music”.
The guitar was added to the mix around the turn of the 20th century. Of course, folks also made music with just about anything else they could coax a pleasing sound from (washboards, bones, spoons, washtubs, saws, their bodies, etc.).
Much of this music was played for dances in the form of “fiddle tunes”. And in fact the combination of the fiddle playing the melodic lead and the banjo providing rhythmic accompaniment is considered by many to be the quintessential form of old-time music. These dance tunes now form the bulk of the old-time jam repertoire, though as discussed represent just one part of the “old-time music” spectrum.
The Fiddle and Banjo:
Oldtime Music is also a story about the fiddle and the banjo. . . .
The fiddle was brought to the states from Europe. Naturally, the European settlers initially played tunes from the “old world” on their fiddles. These were tunes with lovely and ornate melodies. Tunes that were composed to delight the ear. This was pretty, sometimes haunting music, passed down through generations. Some of this was dance music, but melody was always paramount, not to be sacrificed for rhythm.
The banjo was brought to the states from Africa, initially carried on slave ships. In its original incarnation it was in the form of a hollowed out gourd with an animal skin stretched over the top, strung with various materials. The most common style of play involved striking the strings downward with the back of the nail of the index or middle finger, creating a rhythmic, percussive effect. Its music was for dancing and tapping feet. Rhythm was paramount, not to be sacrificed for melody.
Eventually, fiddle met banjo. They sounded great together. In fact, it seemed as though they were made for each other. But there was a problem. The tunes they knew were quite different. Fiddle thought banjo’s tunes needed more melody. Banjo thought fiddle’s tunes needed a more driving rhythm. But the sound of them together was sooo nice. Surely they could find a way to make it work.
They did find a way, of course. And in doing so created a type of music nobody had heard before – a perfect union of rhythm and melody that was greater than the sum of its parts. A fresh and new type of music that today is now ironically referred to as “Old Time”. A style that embodied the very best of what American culture could be. A style that was the direct ancestor of bluegrass music, a more commercialized form of old-time.
Europe and Africa. Melody and rhythm. Fiddle and banjo.
An old-time jam is, naturally, a place where folks get together to play old-time music. As mentioned above, “fiddle tunes” form the bulk of the old time jam repertoire, but songs may be played at some jams as well. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of potential tunes in that repertoire. This varies to some extent by region, but there are several dozen “standards” which will be known anywhere. Banjos, fiddles, and guitars comprise the primary instruments, but don’t be surprised to find someone playing the bass, washboard, spoon, bones, jug, etc. You’re bound to find people of all ages, walks of life, and ability levels. The atmosphere will almost always be welcoming.
People usually sit in a circle at a jam. They take turns calling out a tune to play, and then the playing begins (the tune is either started by whomever called it out, or a fiddler who knows it). At most old-time jams players don’t take “breaks” (i.e. – instrument solos) as is the case typically at a bluegrass jam. Rather, everyone plays in unison. The tune will usually be repeated multiple times so that everyone can get into a nice groove, and to help those unfamiliar with it learn it. Since most banjo and fiddle players re-tune to get into different keys, jams will typically stay in one key for a while.
Go here for a few of my favorite old-time related links around the web.
Ruth Ungar understands that a lot of people can’t tell the difference between old-time music and other forms of music. Anytime they see a group with a fiddle and banjo, they call it a bluegrass or country band. It’s like older people who think all hip-hop or punk rock sounds the same, she says; it’s like people from the city who think all trees are the same.
But once you start paying attention, you learn the difference between oaks and maples, between gangsta rap and backpack rap, between bluegrass and old-time. And the more you know, the more pleasure you can pull from the forest or from the music.
Ungar should know. She’s the daughter of Jay Ungar, the legendary old-time fiddler and composer of the PBS standard “Ashokan Farewell,” and she was co-founder of The Mammals, one of the new-wave old-time bands formed by twentysomethings at the turn of the century. Those groups — which include such success stories as the Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show and Uncle Earl — were often started by punk-rockers who traded in their electric instruments for fiddles and banjos. They embraced old-time more than bluegrass, because the older style seemed an easier transition from what they were already doing.
“Bluegrass is faster and tighter,” she says. “Everyone takes a turn being the lead or the supporting role. It’s about virtuosity, and that’s cool. In old-time, it’s more that everyone’s playing at once and the parts fit together; there’s not as much soloing. It’s not as flashy. Bluegrass banjo can sound so macho to me. Clawhammer banjo is so much more sensitive and subtle. Even if you don’t know what clawhammer banjo is, you feel that something different is going on; it sounds real twinkly.
“You don’t prepare for old-time the way you prepare for other music. You take a sip from the jar, begin to play and maybe in half an hour it starts to sound good. We’re doing this to please ourselves and each other and if you like it, come sit next to us. It’s not about, ‘Let me show you all the things I can do.’”
Many definitions have been offered for old-time music, so let’s offer one more: It’s the acoustic, community-based music of pre-World War II Americans in the rural South, based on the folk traditions brought here from the British Isles, France and West Africa.
President: Presides at all meetings; appoints all committees, unless otherwise provided by the bylaws; keeps order; makes parlimentary decisions; votes as any other member; leaves the chair to debate.
Vice President: Presides and performs duties of president when the president dies or resigns. May be chairman of important committees, or act as an aide to the president upon his request.
Secretary: Records the business of all meetings of the club; keeps minutes; acts as custodian of all the records and papers; keeps accurate list of members; sends notices of special meetings.
Treasurer: Is custodian of all funds; receives, disburses and records all funds, fees, and dues; gives itemized report of receipts and expenditures at business meetings; issues membership cards; gives itemized report at annual or other meetings.
Article IX - Committees
The effectiveness of this club will depend upon the degree to which committees work together to fulfill their assigned responsibilities. There will be two types of committees: standing committees - which will be ongoing committees; and special committees which will be appointed from time to time to perform certain specific duties for special events, etc. The Executive Committee is to appoint ongoing committees.
Article X - Charter Members
Charter members are those who became members of the Jackson Area Plectral Society from its inception through Dec. 31st, 1989.
The Bylaws are numbered below and include the rules of this club such as time and place of meetings, dues, etc. The purpose of these bylaws is to insure participation from all members and to provide continuity for the club. Bylaws may be changed by a majority vote of the club.
1. Members pledge their dedication to oldtime music by way of active participation in weekly Pick-In's, monthly meetings, festivals, or any other event promoted by this club for the benefit of oldtime music and folk culture.
2. Members must strive to encourage participation of everyone, be they novice or pro.
3. Members will pay an annual membership fee of $20 per family, which will entitle them to admission at meetings, voting rights on all issues, and a year?s subscription to the Jackson Area Plectral Society Newsletter. Family includes dependent children. The $20 membership fee applies regardless of age of the member. The entire membership fee is due in January for that year.
Honorary membership may be bestowed at the discretion of the Executive Committee.
AMDD: NOV. 2008: The membership voted to increase the annual dues from $20 to $25 in November 2008.
AMDD: NOV. 2011: Membership voted to revert back to $20 effective November, 2011.
4. Meeting time and place will be 6:30pm each Thursday night at the Casey Jones Village Old Country Store, weather permitting, and a business meeting shall be held on the second Thursday of each month at a designated location.
* AMDD, JUNE 2013: An amendment was passed June 13th, 2013 to move meetings to quarterly and be held inside the Railroad Museum.
5. Members will maintain authentic oldtime music with ensembles composed of one or more of the following instruments:
Any other acoustic instrument maybe added which maintains the sanctity of traditional folk acoustic music.
ABSOLUTELY NO ELECTRIC INSTRUMENTS OF ANY KIND ARE PERMITTED!
6. Issues concerning club expenditures will be presented at the monthly meetings and voted on with the majority ruling. The Executive Committee will have the authority on expenditures of funds between meetings if need arises.
7. Members will always strive to maintain a fraternal order of fellowship by encouraging participation from one and all, seeking to maintain the interest of all concerned.
8. Members will encourage the Round Circle format at weekly and monthly meetings to insure equal participation from all members.
9. Visitors are welcome at the weekly meetings at the Old Country Store. However, after a visitor has attended twice, he/she will be invited and encouraged to become a member, as the weekly sessions are the official function of the Jackson Area Plectral Society.
10. Members are responsible for helping to ensure that our Club Purpose (See Constitution - Article II) is maintained at the weekly meetings by informing visitors in their group about the traditional nature of our music and discouraging the playing or singing of other types of music.
11. AMDD: SEPT. 2006: An amendment to the bylaws was passed in September 2006. It states the following:
Anyone who serves on the nominating committee to select new officers, or anyone who is elected to office, should have attended at least six of the last twelve business meetings.
12. Membership dues will be pro-rated for members joining after the first of the year.
Jackson Area Plectral Society
PO Box 11853, Jackson, Tn. 38308
is a Federal Tax Exempt Organization under Internal Revenue Code 501C
AMDD to the Bylaws - Feburary 2012:13. Honary Members:
Honary Members will be defined from this point on as any member, or nonmember who has made a significant contribution to the Jackson Area Plectral Society that has been deemed worthy of honary mention and status. Honary members, as the name implies, are those who have been honored for their outstanding contribution to the club. They do not have any authority or priviledge to vote on any issues concerning club functions. Their is no age restriction for an honorary member.14. Lifetime Members:
Lifetime members are those members of the club who like Honorary Members have made a significant contribution to the club, but do maintain the right to vote on issues concerning club function. A Lifetime Member must be a current member of the club and be at least 70 years of age.15. Club Badges:
Club badges will be issued to members beginning in March 2012 upon payment of annual membership dues. Members are encouraged to proudly wear their membership badges to all Plectral Society functions. The membership badge will serve as a means of identifying and welcoming all members of the club to the fraternal order of the Plectral Society, as well as serving as a ticket for a drink, or coffee in the Ice Cream Parlor each Thursday night.
Samples of Oldtime Music:
Still having trouble understanding what Oldtime Music is. . . here are some excellent resources.
One of the best sites to learn Oldtime Music and you can even play along, is the Oldtime Jam Website. Dr. Josh Turknet has put together an excellent website complete with hundreds of Oldtime tunes you can play along with, see the chord progression, and even pick your own accompaniment. http://www.oldtimejam.com/wordpress/
Also our own Oldtime Hour Page right here on our own website has hundreds of oldtime tunes complete with tabs and video samples of each tune. http://jacksonareaplectralsociety.webs.com/oldtime-hour
The Fiddle Hangout, and it's offspring (Banjo Hangout, Guitar Hangout, Mandolin Hangout) all are excellent sources of Oldtime Music. http://www.fiddlehangout.com/
We are fortunate now to be living in the technological age and a wealth of information is readily available via the internet. Simply Googling "oldtime music" will bring up a number of possibilities and the same holds true for YouTube.
Happy Oldtime Hunting,
The Plectral Society began in the mid 80's with this small band of misfits and one common bond - a love and passion for oldtime string music. Over the years the Plectral Society has grown into an organization known throughout the midsouth for its preservation and promotion of Oldtime String Music. The club holds a state and federal tax-exempt charter, provides funds for scholarships, promotes workshops and festivals throughout the area, and boasts a membership nearing 200 oldtime string musicians. The Plectral Society meets every Thursday night in the Casey Jones Village for open jam sessions. Come join us sometime as we carry on the tradition that is Oldtime String Music.
2010 Club Officers
President: John Few
Secretary: Sandra Crim
Treasurer: Joe Bone
Vice President: Coley Graves
Oldtime Barndance @ Chickasaw
June 23, July 14, & Aug. 18
Aug. 4-7th Appalachain String Band Festival, Clifftop, WVA