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By Eliot Singer
How to Start Figuring Out What “Michigan Fiddle Style” Is
Eliot A. Singer
(Paper presented at a session of the Michigan Historical Society Meeting, 1988)
Author Note, January 2012:
This paper was given as the introduction to a session on Michigan fiddling at the 1988 annual meeting of the Michigan Historical Society. I have made a few editorial changes, but have not attempted to update the perspective or content, other than incorporating some examples from the draft of another paper written about the same time.
Panelists included Steve Williams of the Port Huron Museum, who had been studying fiddle and dance tradition in the Thumb, documented in his various “House Party” publications and recordings, and Paul Gifford, who had recently completed his article on the history of Michigan fiddling for A Michigan Folklife Reader and who had been interviewing and recording Michigan fiddlers and hammered dulcimer players since the 1970s. Les and Rosemary Raber also attended. Les was probably the strongest proponent of a distinct Michigan fiddle style (even more so than Frank Mattison, dean of Michigan fiddlers, at the time of his death, age 92, in 1986). Rosemary was historian for the Original Michigan Fiddlers Association and editor-in-chief of the 1986 OMFA book about its members.
I had conducted my own interviews and worked with about a dozen fiddlers between 1984 and 1987, first in the context of being the consulting folklorist for a Michigan Council of the Arts “Folk Artists in the Schools” program in Flint (Carmen-Ainsworth), then in preparation for some events preceding and culminating in the Michigan Sesquicentennial. Folk music is not my area of expertise, so what I brought to the research agenda was the systemic approach of an academic folklorist. That can be seen in this paper: I was more comfortable posing questions than trying to provide answers, although I think there is much in my interviews and field recordings that remains untapped and that, together with subsequent research, can strengthen or weaken what tentative conclusions I was willing to suggest. Given the brevity of these panels at meetings, the richness of quotes from interviews was necessarily absent.
Since our flurry of activity in the 1980s, more has been published on Michigan fiddlers, and more recordings are available, beyond the few self-produced cassettes of the time, notably the book of Les Raber’s tunes, Come Dance with Me, edited by Jim McKenney and Judy Raber, that includes my 1987 interview with Les and Varsal Fales, as well as the associated CDs. Also of relevance are Glenn Hendrix’s book of Beaver Island fiddler Patrick Bonner’s tunes, his Michigan Jamboree, and Laurie Sommers’ Beaver Island House Party. Jim Leary has long been documenting the music and dance traditions of the Western Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin, and there has been some other work on U.P. fiddlers, including Michael Loukinen’s Medicine Fiddle film.
Nonetheless, with renewed interest in Michigan fiddling, I thought it worth resurrecting this old paper and the questions I posed, which are still relevant. Of course, we all know there was not a single, clear-cut, “Michigan Fiddle Tradition,” even if the term is limited to the rural Michigan communities more or less occupied by descendants of settlers from Upstate New York, with newcomers assimilated into their way of life (Paul Gifford wrote about this history in “Fiddling and Instrumental Folk Music in Michigan”).
To a large extent what we were doing 25 years ago as researchers and performers of Old-time Michigan Fiddling, was trying to call attention to and gain respect for old-time Michigan fiddlers (and other musicians). It is certainly useful to think about what made Michigan fiddle and dance tradition distinct—compare and contrast is a key intellectual skill. But the Michigan Fiddle Style label was also a sales pitch.
Naturally, in fieldwork we tend to seek out the most knowledgeable and, in the case of storytelling or music or crafts, the most talented. But it is important to remember that Michigan Fiddle tradition, however we may define it, was participated in by thousands and thousands of people: performers, dancers, cooks, and helpers, alike. Not many fiddlers were as talented as the ones who have achieved some celebrity. This is why when we think of “ tradition,” we need to look at social context and standards not just at exemplary “tradition bearers,” their tunes, and their biographies.
To most of the public, in Michigan as elsewhere, fiddle music, and its associated accompaniment and dances, means that of the Southern Mountains. While a few other traditions—Cajun, French Canadian, Irish, to some extent Scandinavian, and, of course, the jazzed up Southern styles of bluegrass and Western Swing—have achieved recognition, country style—fast tempo, double stopping, shuffle bowed fiddling—has become so prominent it has eclipsed other regional styles, which now go unrecognized even in their home bases. Here in Michigan, organizers of festivals or historical recreations often call on bluegrass bands and Western square dancers to represent Michigan's past, and I have worked with music teachers who speak to their students unequivocally about how fiddle music comes from the west and the days of cowboys and covered wagons. Even Michigan's folk music clubs and festivals, which do present Irish, Cajun, and Quebecois fiddling, totally ignore any music native to Michigan. The same is true of all but a handful of Michigan's young fiddlers who vociferously pick-up old-time Appalachian, Irish, and even Scandinavian styles, oblivious to the traditional fiddlers around them.
Of course the pervasive influence of the mass media—WGN Barn Dance, the Grand Ole Opry, Hee-Haw, Cowboy movies, etc.—has been the principle factor in the dominance of country style, but I would like to believe that scholarship, or rather lack there-of, has also played a significant role. Note, for instance, that Chris Goertzen's survey of "American Fiddle Tunes and the Historico-Geographic Method," which appeared in Ethnomusicology in the fall of 1985, stops just below the Michigan border. Earlier scholars, including those like Marion Thede, who attempted to survey beyond the Southern Mountains, also ignored Michigan. Even the recent spate of regional fiddle books and records (Ohio, Wisconsin, New England, Pennsylvania) has yet to reach into Michigan. [Note: since the time of writing, some Michigan fiddle-tune books have been published and CDs produced.]
This panel is intended to provide a preliminary format for considering what constitutes something the late Frank Mattison proudly called "Fiddlin' Michigan Style."
My main role, as an academically-trained folklorist but not a particularly good musician, is to raise what I see as some of the pertinent questions for delineating a regional style out of what is always a confusing range of variations. But, before going on, let me point out that there has already been some research on Michigan fiddlers, most of which, unfortunately, is yet to be publicly available. Paul Gifford, often together with Bill White, has been working for 15 years, both doing historical research and interviewing and recording Michigan fiddlers, some of whom have since passed away; he has recently finished an excellent survey paper on the history of Michigan fiddling. Steve Williams, and his associates at the Port Huron Museum, have interviewed numerous musicians from the Thumb, resulting in a small book and record entitled House Party. Bob Fleck and June Allison produced two brief documentary films, not easy to come by, featuring Michigan fiddlers. And the Original Michigan Fiddlers Association has recently published a book, edited by its historian, Rosemary Raber, containing brief biographies of many of its members. There are also a few little known but commercially available recordings of Michigan fiddlers, including a record and a brand new tape by Shades of Blue, a tape by Les Raber, and Frank Mattison's tape, "Fiddlin’ Michigan Style." Still, none of this has as yet had much of an impact on public or academic opinion, and it is my hope that in beginning to go beyond the particulars to make some generalizations about Michigan fiddle style—that is to try and sort through the many influences and variations to suggest what is distinct about Michigan fiddling—we may be able to bring recognition to the living treasure that is our fiddlers.
Context and Performance
Let us first consider questions about context for Michigan fiddler performance: where, when, and why fiddle music was and is made. Context, I believe, has an important role in shaping the nature of the music itself and techniques for playing. Tradition is about communities and the ever changing but somehow conservative standards they set for what is appropriate and good.
The key, as Les Raber puts it, is: Michigan fiddle music is dance music. This is not to suggest other regional styles have not been oriented toward dance; but I do believe that in Michigan (and probably other northern states) dance historically provided the only common context for fiddle performance.
What were the occasions for public fiddle performance in Michigan? Steve Williams has dealt with this question extensively in his writings on house parties and Paul Gifford discussed historical developments in the interplay between urban and rural areas, the use of large public dance halls and of smaller grange or Oddfellow's Halls, as well as house parties. What I think we need to know more about are some of the organizational circumstances of these occasions. Did many communities have regular dances or only occasional ones? Who sponsored public dances? Was admission charged and if so how much? Did organizers of public dances make a profit? Were they done for charity? How were fiddlers and other musicians paid? Who organized House Parties? Were they reciprocal or were particular households favorite places? Who was invited? Who was responsible for refreshments? What kind of refreshments? Eldon Field mentioned drinking in his interview by Steve, but my sense is this was frowned on, unlike beer-and-polka traditions.
We do know that some fiddlers, such as Frank Mattison, earned a living from music (Frank both performed and taught lessons), but most were farmers or had other jobs. From my interviews, and others’ research, it appears, except for the occasional importation of a non-local band, musicians received little pay, although, especially during the Depression, such pay could be important as supplemental income. For house parties there was either no pay at all or, perhaps, a hat might be passed. In dance halls, admission was charged (much of it going for hall rental), and the musicians were paid something, but five dollars or so once a week was hardly a major source of cash. Even the radio fiddlers from the thirties and forties, with their one hour once a week shows, made very little. The best money seems to have been from performing at summer resorts or for private events for wealthy patrons. Chip Walker had a favorite story (transcribed in House Party, but I heard him tell it, too) about being paid $40 for playing at the Beaver Lake Hunting Club and his little daughter making $70 from tips thrown at her for step-dancing.
Were there public occasions other than dances for fiddle performance? The answer seems to be yes, but not extensively. For instance, during the 1930s and 40s there were a few WGN-type radio programs in Michigan. Russ Nelson played for stations in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Jackson, and Kalamazoo. Chip Walker’s radio show in Alpena came on after a religious program and had as its theme tune, "Devil's Dream," a private joke over which he was still chuckling in 1984. Chip also played on the radio in Flint during 1947-48. I should note that both Russ and Chip were influenced by Southern style radio programs and tend to play a flashier fiddle than the more dance-oriented fiddlers. [Unfortunately, all I have of Chip is a recording of him doing a school program, playing for and answering questions from 5th-graders, including a funny moment when he had to explain that during the Flint Sit-Down Strike they weren’t literally sitting down. Chip was the fiddler for the Fisher Strike Orchestra, and Steve Williams did record him about that and other topics.]
Henry Ford's famous fiddlers' contests also encouraged some show-off playing, but they were relatively short lived and did not spawn much in the way of imitation. In recent years, of course, there have been a growing number of fiddlers' jamborees—those sponsored by the OMFA and others—which have encouraged musicians who had not played for years to pick up their fiddles, but the influence the jamborees may have had on repertoire and style remains open for study. Concert fiddling in Michigan seems to have been quite rare. Currently, some of Michigan’s older fiddlers and other musicians play for dances at senior centers and the like and sometimes for local events, such as 4th of July parades. Until his passing, Frank Mattison and his accompanists played weekly at Trufant.
What was the extent of private fiddling and jamming in Michigan? We all have this image, probably a false one, of the Arkansas fiddler sawing away on his front porch when the Traveler comes by. Playing for oneself (not just practicing) or with a few fellow musicians for the pleasure of the music has potential to create styles where the playing becomes an end in itself. Dance music requires a precision, even monotony, inappropriate to a jam session. I believe, though I think we need more evidence both from Michigan and from the South, that although there was certainly some playing at home and with friends or family for pleasure, most Michigan fiddling was dance music not listening or jamming music, and I suspect that this is one major reason why Michigan style has not faired well in the realm of concerts, radio, and television. Of course, this didn’t mean Michigan fiddlers wouldn’t strut their stuff on occasion: Frank Mattison, after all, did record the “Orange Blossom Special” on his “Fiddlin’ Michigan Style” tape.
What were the typical configurations of instruments associated with dance fiddling? These configurations clearly changed over time and differed in different areas. Paul Gifford has examined this question historically in “Fiddling and Instrumental Folk Music in Michigan,” although there is still more information to be processed in our assorted interviews. Suffice it to say, Michigan fiddle dance orchestras were not like stereotypical Southern string bands. In the 20th Century piano (replacing pump organ and dulcimer) and, especially for round dances, even drums and brass (notably sax) became especially important. Also, tenor rather than 5-string banjo seems to have been preferred (Paul traces this switch), and I have heard fiddlers complain about banjo players trying to take over. The photo of the Fisher Strike Orchestra has a guitar, banjo, and accordion, with Chip on fiddle, although I haven’t heard much mention of accordion in “non-ethnic” rural areas.
How were fiddle players (and their orchestras) physically set up for dances? For instance, did fiddlers sit or stand? Were they elevated? Were acoustical considerations taken into account in choosing where to put the musicians in a room or hall? We know that many fiddlers also called their square dances. Did they sing and play at the same time?
Fiddlers as Members of the Community
By time we have gotten around the interviewing Michigan old-time fiddlers and other musicians, they have all become respected elders (at least as far as we can tell). But, I suppose thanks to my friendship with the mischievous Chip Walker, I wonder about the past. Chip’s father considered the violin the devil’s instrument and forbad him to play it, a legacy of the religious opposition to dance and especially the fiddle about which Paul has written. Of course, young musicians were always importing the latest scandalous dance and music fads, we can assume to the delight of unmarried teens and the consternation of their parents.
What was the attitude toward fiddle players and other musicians in their communities? My sense is that fiddling in a small town was not, historically, a way of acquiring status. That many fiddlers later settled down and became stalwarts of their communities seems to have been more in spite than because of their musicianship. It may be sampling error, but all of the fiddlers and musicians I am aware of came from farm or labor families not from local elites, Henry Ford notwithstanding.
What kind of performances were socially acceptable, and not? In some places, for example, house parties were okay but not dances held in public halls. Over time, what had been scandalous music and dance was replaced for condemnation by yet more disreputable music and dance. I took a wonderful photo of Rosemary Raber and Harley Sinclair dancing to Les playing at the state Capitol, but images of seniors, even ones who can cut a rug as well as Rosemary and Harley, distort the reality that old-time music and dance, as it evolved from generation to generation, was not old time at all. Frank Mattison played Vaudeville.
What were the ages at which fiddlers and other musicians were active? I was struck by one fiddler telling me how he had started performing at age nine because his uncles (then in their teens) wanted to dance with the girls instead of play. We know that many of the current older generation of fiddlers put down their bows for many years, not only abandoning playing for dances but even for their own enjoyment, before picking them up again after retirement from farming or other occupations. Was this simply a matter of being busy or the general falling into disuse of the tradition? Or was making music and dance considered a young person’s frivolity, not worth pursuing once the more serious task of raising a family began?
What were the criteria for excellence? Remember, for the most part performers were amateurs, often inexperienced, with little opportunity for rehearsal, playing at parties where there was considerable background noise. It wasn’t that dancers couldn't appreciate or recognize a good musician, or that certain fiddlers didn't have reputations that extended beyond their immediate community. But, most reputations didn't extend very far (to have played throughout a county seems to have been a great matter of pride), and excellence seems to have been measured, especially by the fiddlers themselves, in terms of the number of tunes known ("I could play the whole night without hardly repeating myself") rather than virtuosity. Some older fiddlers, by their own assessment of their early days, played in a way that was painful to the ears, though without amplification and with talk and dancing going on, as well as rhythmical accompaniment, it would have been less noticeable. The needs of dance precluded any show-off virtuosity. Rhythmic precision was highly valued. There was simply no possibility for fast pace, trick bowing, or improvisation when people were dancing.
I wonder how fellow fiddlers felt about those who participated and were successful in contests (or otherwise achieved celebrity status), but I wouldn’t be surprised if, rather than pride, small town values evidenced distaste for putting on airs. [In Paul Gifford’s article about Jep Bisbee in the Old Time Herald, he mentions that Stewart Carmichael thought Bisbee’s son the better fiddler: maybe, or maybe this was Stewart’s way of saying he thought Bisbee was overrated.] I can say most of the fiddlers I’ve talked to love to criticize others’ playing, and even more so back-up musicians.
Did most fiddlers and musicians come from musical families? The fiddlers and other musicians we’ve interviewed all seem to have learned from family members (some took lessons as well), though, with close-knit extended families, uncles, aunts, and grandparents may have been as important role models as parents, and the instruments favored (many learned to play several) may have had more to do with the needs of accompaniment than a straight teacher to student apprenticeship. Fiddlers were often accompanied by family members in dance performances, although certainly not exclusively.
Women were active in Michigan fiddle and dance tradition as pianists (and earlier pump-organists) and sometimes played sax or clarinet. I believe Lois Bettesworth, whose father came from Missouri and who plays both Missouri and Michigan styles (according to self-description), is the only active woman fiddler any of us has worked with (Steve has interviewed her on tape, and I know her well from school programs Shades of Blue has done with me). There are a couple of other women fiddlers with biographies in the OMFA book. I wonder, and this includes Lois, whether women fiddlers, even those whose fathers fiddled, were more likely than men to come to fiddling by way of violin lessons and high school orchestras.
I’m not going to talk much about fiddle tunes, because collecting tunes and looking at variations is what everybody interested in the fiddling knows to do, and at this point what is needed is to go through our field recordings and other materials systematically. Obviously, this is a mammoth task, and I am glad that Paul has begun to make at least some sense of it. [This task was later taken on by others, although there is much still to be done.] I will stick to asking questions.
What tunes are played in the Michigan repertoire (meaning for this purpose the “Michigan-style” repertoire)?
What is their distribution, locally and historically?
What are their sources? We know there are the tunes from before and after the turn of the [20th] century that originally came from old dance books, even if subsequently passed around by ear. There are the common tunes that have a nation-wide distribution. There are composed tunes, some of which have become shared, with or without attribution, others of which have remained in individual repertoires. And, there are popular music tunes (e.g. "Bill Bailey") that have been adapted for dance tradition.
Are there uniquely Michigan variations for national tunes?
Are there distinctive ways in which Michigan fiddlers adapt tunes?
I want to make an appeal for paying particular attention to the adaptation of popular tunes and their place in individual repertoires and performances, because I hear a lot of that, from some fiddlers more than I hear old tunes (even if I press them). How to document this in fiddle tune collections and recordings may prove challenging since we are looking at pervasive copyright infringement, but these tunes must be given their due in understanding what, in fact, fiddlers played. It would also be valuable, though perhaps too late, to invoke the anthropological concept of “native classification”: do the fiddlers themselves identify tunes from different sources as such or is this just something that matters to researchers? I’m not sure what to make of a fiddler who when asked for a Michigan waltz says he doesn’t know one then proceeds to play “The Tennessee Waltz,” which is probably the waltz I hear most often from Michigan fiddlers.
What rhythms are preferred by Michigan fiddlers? Southern style relies heavily on tunes in 2/4 and 4/4 time and, along with a few waltzes and modal tunes, on breakdowns and hornpipes. Michigan fiddlers seem to use jigs and reels (6/8 and 4/4 times), plus a few hornpipes, as well as playing waltzes, two-steps, schottisches, and, more recently polkas. Again, precise rhythm is crucial, as exemplified by something like the "Rye Waltz" that requires a change of tempo.
What was the relationship between tunes and dances? For instance, Les Raber and Varsal Fales talk about a square dance having first, second, and third changes, and usually playing jigs for the first two and a reel for the third. My sense is round dances just used a single tune, although a second dance of the same type might follow a first (e.g., two schottisches in a row). I’m curious about adapting the same tune to different rhythms for different dances, perhaps more with pop than old tunes.
What melodic structures are used for tunes? The two-part structure (called "course and smooth" in the South, though I haven't heard a Michigan fiddler use the terms) does seem standard. But there are more subtle aspects of tune construction that could be considered. Are there regularities in preferred distance between notes (3rds, 5ths, etc.)? How do the first and second parts relate to each other? Do first and second parts disconnect and attach to different tunes or are they standard for all fiddlers?
To what extend do fiddlers use openings and tags? Paul makes an excellent point that French-Canadian or Southern fiddling, with solo dances like jigs or clogs, can afford elaborate tags in a way precise square and round dance fiddling cannot.
How were tunes and dances distributed during an evening? What we’re talking about is a playlist and, in fact, the extent to which performers had planned playlists or made one up as they went along is itself an interesting question.
Again, if we want to understand Michigan fiddle tradition, not just be tune collectors, we need to figure out a typical fiddler’s repertoire, undoubtedly much smaller than that of the few masters, and what a typical playlist was, also undoubtedly more limited than for the few who could play all evening without repetition.
Bowing and Fingering Techniques
The essence of a fiddle style lies in how the instrument is played. Characteristic sound depends on how the bow is used, which strings notes are played on, tunings, double stopping, etc. The well-known Southern style relies very heavily on droning (sometimes using special tunings), shuffle bowing, sliding, and fast tempo. I would suggest that Michigan fiddling is much closer to that of classical violin—indeed some traditional fiddlers in the state seem to prefer the term violin to fiddle.
How is the violin held by Michigan fiddlers? Many Appalachian fiddlers hold their instruments either low on their shoulders or even in the crook of their arm. Classical violinists hold theirs firmly, but not too tightly, under their necks, between the side of the chin and the top of the shoulder. The Appalachian method makes it much more possible to sing while playing; the classical method, which keeps the violin in place without use of the hand, enables all kinds of pyrotechnic movements with the finger hand; the loose grip on the strings also allows for greater vibrato. All the Michigan-style fiddlers I've seen hold the instrument under the chin (though I have not seen those who play and call dances at the same time). Close inspection of exactly how this is done is needed. Chip Walker complains that most fiddlers (including me) look at their fingers as they are playing, and to do this the fiddle must be kept under the front of the chin rather than the side, in which case the violin is not firmly in place and must be gripped with the hand; this has definite consequences for the sound. About whether this is tradition or just lack of confidence or skill, I can only speak for myself.
How do Michigan fiddlers hold their bows? Many Southern fiddlers choke up on the bow, coming up about two inches or more from the frog. This allows them to play many fast, short strokes, typical with shuffle bowing. Holding the bow at the grip gives more length for slower, deliberate bowing. I have noticed some Michigan fiddlers up on the bow, but I don't think it's as high up as Southern fiddlers. There are, of course, more subtle aspects of how the bow is held (lazy technique, such as mine, has dire consequences for quality of sound), but it is worth trying to discover whether differences are individual or reflect some regional pattern.
What kind of fingerings do Michigan fiddlers use? Again, of course, there is much individual variation, including level of skill, but some differences may be regional. Is there a pattern for use of fingering positions (not just as limited by skill)? One way classical violinists produce the kind of rich sounds they do is by playing many of the higher notes in second, third or fourth position on the lower strings (that is by moving their hand up higher on the neck); they also can reach notes higher than high B on the E string by using higher positions. Most Southern style fiddlers make little use of second, third, or fourth position, and when they do it is almost entirely to reach high notes on the E string, and then for brief periods. While I am, as yet, far from sure, I believe some Michigan style fiddlers make considerably greater use of higher fingering positions, including on lower strings.
Another question is to what extent slides are used. In Southern style fiddling, frequently a finger is slid up from a lower note to the next highest one (this is especially useful for train sounds). At this point, I believe this technique is used relatively infrequently among Michigan fiddlers, although sliding can be heard in moving from first to higher positions. Another issue is the use of fourth finger (pinkie) rather than an open string (absolutely necessary for vibrato). Again, I think most skillful Michigan fiddlers use their fourth fingers on the lower strings, which leads to a gentle, less squeaky sound. Finally, to what extent do Michigan fiddlers use vibrato? As yet, I suspect this involves individual choice (some fiddlers love it) more than regional variation; there is considerable variation among Southern fiddlers, at least on the slow tunes.
Are there characteristic bowing techniques in Michigan? I don't think so, at least not anything like shuffle bowing or the quick cross-bowing (with fingers staying in place) one finds with Irish and French-Canadian reels. However, this topic needs much further research.
To what extent is double-stopping (or double strings) used? Clearly double-stopping or extensive droning is far less important to a Michigan sound than in the South, although, perhaps due to Southern influence, I believe it is more frequent than for Irish, Scandinavian, or French Canadian fiddling. Its use varies between fiddlers—Frank Mattison frowned on it—but even when used it seems to be for effect on single notes, not as an extensive drone.
How much do Michigan fiddlers use slurs? The slur, playing two or even three notes with a single bow stoke, is commonly used in many fiddling traditions, and occasionally in classical violin. It is, for instance, very important in maintaining the rhythm for shuffle bowing. Michigan fiddlers certainly do make use of this technique, but again, I think it is used with much less frequency than elsewhere, perhaps in keeping with the precision necessary to dance music, which is easier to maintain with regular and consistent bowing. Lois Bettesworth calls slurring lazy.
Do Michigan fiddlers make use of special tunings? Many Appalachian fiddlers use cross keys or discord tunings (e.g. raising the G string to A or G string to A and D string to E), especially to enhance the droning effect. I believe Michigan fiddlers rarely, if ever, use this technique, in keeping with the minimization of droning in general.
What keys and modes are characteristic to Michigan? Southern fiddlers commonly play in D, A and G major keys, including for waltzes, but also have a great love for what are called "modal" (double tonic) tunes, which have a very melancholic feel. I haven't noticed modal tunes in Michigan, though minor keys, especially for waltzes, seem more common, and, while the keys of D, G, and perhaps A are most common, a wide variety of keys, including those in flats or sharps, are used. Again, more research is needed, but I am not musical enough to figure this out from my interview recordings unless my informants are kind enough to tell me. Of course, during performances, fiddlers tell accompanists what key.
Naturally, I've gone on too long (so what else is new?), but I do think that in order to seriously define Michigan's native fiddle tradition, it is important to start by raising all the pertinent questions. This should help us both in knowing what to ask in interviews (though some of the technical questions are hard for the fiddlers to answer directly) and to guide us in analyzing the music. Please help us by raising any further questions I have neglected. And I hope that the other discussants will be able to a better job providing answers than I have.