Thursday, October 30, 2008

Contest Results

We had another outstanding contest at L&B's on Saturday. There were a total of 45 contestants in 9 different divisions. It took us about 3 hours to get through all of the contestants, and The Chris Talley Trio also played for the first half hour to start everything off.

Many thanks to all the people who helped us out! First of all, L&B's donated -- FREE OF CHARGE -- the hall for the entire day. The Hall Family provided the stage background decorations and even put them up for us. Diane and Nikki decorated all of the tables. Verlan, Marilyn, Liz and Zane helped out at the doors. Andy folded all of the numbers that the contestants had to draw for playing order. Carla took care of the scorekeeping, and Igg and Bill did all of the judging. Terry & Denny provided the wood for the trophies from old cedar telephone poles. Earl spent hours cutting them out. There were many other behind the scenes helpers, and to all of you, THANK YOU!!!!

Here are the results:

Junior II Fiddle (12 & Under)
(Total of 14 contestants in this division!)
1st - Paige Johnson
2nd - Rosemary Hall
3rd - Amelia Eisenhauer
4th - Colton Dever
5th - Jodi Frey

Junior I Fiddle (13-17 Years)
1st - Rachel Neel
2nd - Charlie Hall
3rd - Jake Hammel
4th - Alex Skurat

Adult Beginner Fiddle
1st - Liz Durako
2nd - Dennis Huebner
3rd - Sylvia Mills

Open Fiddle (18 & Over)
1st - Brian Smyth
2nd - Chelsea Perkinson
3rd - Fred Pringle
4th - Tim Dever

Senior Fiddle (60 & Over)
1st - Andy Talley
2nd - John Bell
3rd - Ron Dailey
4th - John Barnett

Junior Banjo (15 & Under)
1st - Nikki Warnecke
2nd - Emily Hall
3rd - Luke Worthington
4th - Jeremy Morris
5th - Josh Dolan

Adult Beginner Banjo
1st - Larry Reuss
2nd - Bobby Napier
3rd - Jana Fett

Open Banjo (16 & over)
1st - Justin Robbins
2nd - Brian Smyth
3rd - Jake Hammel
4th - Terry Hill

Senior Banjo (60 & over)
1st - Verlan Vielweber
2nd - Larry Maxwell
3rd - John Bell

Thank You E-mail

I received this nice e-mail today regarding our October 2008 fiddle contest:

Hi Chris & the Bluegrass Shack!
Thanks so much for hosting the Fiddle & Banjo Contest last Saturday! Our son, Jeremy, participated in your banjo contest for the juniors. He loved it! We came across your web-site for this contest and Jeremy insisted on attending. Contests for this age division are far and few. We are pleased to know that you are carrying on the tradition to the younger generation.

Jeremy was so proud to wear his medal to school to show his teachers and friends. He is also very proud of the historic banjo trophy. He was asking questions about how they would make it on the way home. What a heirloom for him! Thanks to the person who worked so hard on cutting these out!

Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay for all of the divisions but thoroughly enjoyed the juniors.

Jeremy loves Bluegrass Music and wishes to attend next year if you host one......and as he says, "I want to stay for all of it."

Thanks so much!
Brian & Robin

Friday, October 24, 2008

Old Time Fiddle Playing

This is my dad, Andy Talley, playing Missouri old-time fiddle style. We recorded these right in the shop...and by the way, dad is 82 years old and still playing strong!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hey! My Bow Broke!

Proper bow care is crucial to having a long-lasting relationship with your fiddle bow. It is so easy to tap the tip on the floor or accidentally drop the bow. Bow tips are very fragile and can crack or break pretty easily. That is even true of carbon bows -- and sometimes more true of carbon bows than wood bows. Carbon bows usually have metal rods in them that end near the tip, so the bow is more likely to break at the tip than at any other place. Sometimes you won't even know that you damaged the bow because it doesn't break at the time you drop it. Maybe you have just weakened it and there are no noticeable cracks at the time. Kids sometimes play with bows like they are swords, or they may absent-mindedly tap the tip or end on the floor over and over again. Bows that break generally are not repaired. If the bow is expensive enough, then it may warrant a repair; however, they are never the same again!!! :o(

Saw Dust Everywhere!

Earl has been busy making all the trophies for this Saturday's contest. The fiddle & banjo trophies are made out of cedar this time. We owe a big thank-you to Denny and Terry for providing us with the cedar. The only good thing about cedar dust EVERYWHERE is that it smells really good!!!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Reminder: Fiddle & Banjo Contest This Saturday!

Just a reminder to everyone that our annual October Fiddle & Banjo Contest is this weekend. Hope to see you there. For more information, follow this link:

Advanced Instructional Jam

The advanced jam class is really doing great. We have been working on Red Haired Boy, Fox on the Run, Rocky Top, Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Old Joe Clark. We also played three tunes that no one in the class had played before and everyone had the opportunity to take breaks on these songs. It is meant to be just like a regular jam session without the pressure -- and with the ability to ask as many questions as you want afterwards! We are going to add Jerusalem Ridge, Salt Creek, and several more vocals to our reportoire soon. I am waiting for requests from the participants. Tonight's class included Verlan, Larry M., Larry R., Gary, Denny, Earl, Amelia, Christine, John, Emily, Rosemary, Kabbie, Charlie, and Nick. At the beginning of class, Rosemary, Larry R. and Charlie played for the class the tunes that they will be playing in the fiddle & banjo contest this weekend. Great job everyone!!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How to Play Turkey in the Straw on Banjo

Stacey e-mailed me over the weekend to ask a few questions about how to play Turkey in the Straw. I figured the best way to help him was to post a video showing how to do it. Now you can take advantage of this opportunity and learn it, too! Good luck!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Al's Dobro Debut

This is Al, my oldest student. Al is 76, and has only played dobro for 2 months. He spent his whole life in the military as a chaplain, and did not start to learn an instrument until recently. I am so proud of him! Here he is playing Wabash Cannonball.

Larry Plays Rocky Top!

This is Larry doing a great job on a bluegrass favorite! Larry's only been playing about 3 years and is doing a super job!

Addicted to Guitar

Okay. This is so funny I had to share it. Here is an e-mail I got this morning from Sylvia:

Dave had shoulder surgery to repair a torn ligament and is not allowed to take off the arm sling or move his upper arm away from his body. He has been having withdrawals from his guitar and I recently caught him attempting to practice blackberry blossom with this improvised but largely ineffective method of holding his guitar!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Interesting Label

I always tell people that the least important feature of a violin or fiddle is the label that is inside. So many times, these labels are not original or have been altered in some way. This was done years ago not so much to make a fiddle look more valuable, but in some cases to make it look less valuable. For instance, when the Jewish people were persecuted by Germany, they would hide their fiddles and often change the labels to make them look less valuable. After WWII, the Germans weren't thought of very highly, so some people changed the German labels to make the instruments look like they came from somewhere else. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for labels to be changed or forged on auction sites to make the instruments appear to be more valuable than they actually are. In fact, I have even seen just the labels for sale! I ran across this label inside a fiddle I was working on and thought it would be a great example to show here. Notice how the Made in Germany label has been stamped over.

Bow Repair

I haven't posted any repair pictures lately. Believe me, I've been busy doing them, but just haven't had the time to post any pictures lately. Here is a bow rewrap. Kind of interesting, but not that technical. I order the silver bow wrap on a spool and hold it between my legs when I'm wrapping. It keeps the wire tight. I usually wrap over about 1/2" to start with so that it stays tight and together. I solder the end where the leather grip goes. Here are a few pictures.

Chris Talley Trio at Eckert's in Belleville

Just wanted to let everyone know that The Chris Talley Trio will be playing at the Eckert's Orchard in Belleville, IL on Saturday, October 18, from 1:00-5:00 p.m. Last time they had us out in the "back 40" where the kid's area is. Several people told us they waited for a while and then either left or finally asked where we were, so I wanted to make sure that you we will be there unless it rains us out!

Interpretation & Correctness -- And I Stand Corrected

I've been having an interesting conversation with S.B. regarding the chord structure of Jerusalem Ridge. In particular, we have been discussing the chords of the 3rd section of the song. I had learned it without any runs and have been playing it Am, Dm, E, Am. Not having heard (or maybe it was that I didn't pay close enough attention to) the original recording of Kenny Baker and Bill Monroe, I assumed that the C chord was part of a run; however, I don't believe that's the case anymore. More importantly, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss interpretation of bluegrass music. (You can view the original comments here.)

Most of my students know by now that I encourage individuality and improvisation. I don't need to (and don't want to) have 50, 100, 200 or more students leaving here sounding just like me. We have talked many times during lessons about how words, chords, and melodies get changed over the years, and in different parts of the United States. I just haven't discussed that here in the blog before.

My view of improvisation is that it has to meet certain criteria. In particular, you have to stay within the chord structure of the song. Now this can be hard when there are different versions of the song floating around. How do you know which one is "correct"? And does it matter? Secondly, the melody must be played (or sung) in such a way that the song is recognizable. If you are going to stray very far from the melody, it is important to state the melody the first time around before straying. Thirdly, your rhythm has to be correct. If it's not, it can affect the first two points that I made in the very least.

I'm going to address the first point I made, since that is what this post is really about. There are times when I know about different versions and chord structures of songs. I try to point that out. I also try to have students "follow the leader" when they are in jam sessions. In other words, even if you learned it one way, play it the way the leader is playing it, if reasonable and possible. (That doesn't mean that if the leader has no rhythm that you copy that!) If you know the leader is playing something non-standard, you will have to decide yourself if and how you would say something later on...

So does it matter if you play the song one way and someone else plays it another? Yes and no. It matters if the integrity of the song is at stake. Imagine that you wrote a song and someone else starting playing or singing it and used some different chords in it. It wouldn't sound the same. Although it might be flattering that someone liked your song well enough to play it, it could be very disheartening if lots of others started copying this different chord structure. Worse yet, what if they used that person's version as the "correct" version? Wouldn't you be a better judge of that since you wrote the song?

What if you like your version better than the original version? I guess this is up for discussion, but at the very least, you should be aware of this difference. Especially if you are going to teach it to other people.

How do you know which version is "correct"? By going back to the original. That might sound simple, but it can sometimes be tough because so many people have recorded the songs over the years. You can look for copyrights on websites like, or you can listen to musicians who generally represent the "standard," like Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs.

I love bluegrass music and I hope to pass this love along to many others. In the process, I hope to encourage individuality and interpretation without compromising the traditional bluegrass that is our heritage and backbone.