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 for an evening of Open Jam Sessions in order to share, learn, promote and preserve the tradition of Oldtime Music. Jam sessions are 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.
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.
JACKSON PLECTRAL SOCIETY
CONSTITUTION & BYLAWS Est. 1989:
The authority which governs the operation of a club is vested in the constitution adopted to fulfill the purposes of the club, to guide the conduct of the meetings, and to regulate the activities. Until constitutional provisions are canceled or amended, the stated procedures are considered club law.
Article I - Name
The name of this organization shall be The Jackson Area Plectral Society.
Article II - Purpose
The purpose of this club shall be to promote and preserve traditional oldtime string music prior to 1940.
Article III- Membership
Membership of this club is open to any individual, regardless of race, creed, or religion, who has a genuine interest in oldtime music and folk culture.
Article IV - Meetings
Meetings of this club shall be called at the discression of the Board of Directors.
Article V - Officers
Section 1: The officers of this club shall be President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.
Article VI - Board of Directors
The Board of Directors shall act on club business and approve expenditures.
Article VII- Amendments
An amendment to this constitution must be presented, voted on, and shall a majority vote of he Board to become effective. Bylaws are numbered and include any rules of the club and may be changed by a majority vote of the board.
Article VIII- Officers Duties
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 Board of Directors will appoint ongoing committees.
Article X - Charter Members
Charter members are honorary members of the Jackson Area Plectral Society from its inception through Dec. 31st, 1989.
PLECTRAL SOCIETY BYLAWS:
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 Board.
1. Members pledge their dedication to oldtime music by way of active participation in musical gatherings 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 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 Board of Directors.
4. Meeting time and place will be at the discression of the Board and be held at a designated location.
5. Members will maintain authentic oldtime music prior to 1940 with ensembles composed of any acoustic instrument which maintains the sanctity of traditional oldtime folk acoustic music.
ABSOLUTELY NO ELECTRIC INSTRUMENTS OF ANY KIND ARE PERMITTED!
6. Issues concerning club expenditures will be presented at Board Meetings and voted on with the majority ruling.
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 all gatherings to insure equal participation from all members.
9. Members are required a full reading and understanding of the Bylaws, initialed and signed by both pledging member and Board of Directors .
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.
Jackson Area Plectral Society PO Box 11853, Jackson, Tn. 38308 is a Federal Tax Exempt Organization under Internal Revenue Code 501C Employer ID#78-0178292
11. Honorary Members:
Honorary 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 honorary mention and status. Honorary 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.
12. 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.
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. https://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 interest - 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.
Oldtime is a Good Time
Check out some of our events below in our ongoing effort to preserve and promote Traditional Oldtime Music.
In our effort to keep traditional music and folk culture alive, our Barndance Program is the One & Only Barndance left in West Tennessee. Complete with a Caller and traditional string music everyone is involved. Oldtime String Music began with the community barndances of the late 1800's and early 1900's and we try to keep that tradition alive today. It's a great way to be fully immersed in oldtime culture.
Jam Sessions are a great way to learn traditional music and many of our members meet weekly at the IHOP here in Jackson for an impromptu Jam Session. The Round Circle concept is in form as everyone takes a turn on their favorite oldtime tune.
We do a number of events including tour groups that pass through our area looking for a taste of some Traditional Tennessee Music.
Gospel Music is certainly a huge part of oldtime music and we often provide traditional gospel music for revivals, homecomings, fall festivals, etc. at many area churches.