University of Missouri Press 9780826219947. Includes CD with 39 tunes, 398 pp., $29.95. (Univ. Of Missouri Press, 2910 LeMone Blvd., Columbia, MO 65201, press.umsystem.edu.)
It’s rare for a work to combine—as this one does—academic rigor, multi disciplinary comprehensiveness, and compelling writing. To put it simply, it succeeds by taking the reader on a long, satisfying journey.
When this book first hit my desk (and at 398 pages in hardback, it hit it with a thud), I groaned: an esoteric subject (a history of old-time fiddling in Missouri) by an academician (the author is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and former director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center). But as I started reading, that feeling quickly turned to interest and pleasure.
Covering over 200 years of Missouri fiddle history from the French villages on the Mississippi River to the coming of jazz, and even up to the life of the great old-time fiddler Pearl Sivetts, the book is a broad, expansive river of a work that explores many streams of influence. Howard Wight Marshall has included stories of individual fiddlers, American themes such as Westward Migration, and the rural and urban influences of the British Isles, African-American traditions, and Tin Pan Alley.
The writing alone is worth the price of the book, but it also includes photos, illustrations, transcriptions, and a wonderful CD with 39 fiddle tunes recorded between 1955 and 2012. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in fiddle tunes, old-time and bluegrass music, or Western American history.CVS