Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Square dances let fiddler scratch out Depression pay

Three dances at the Smiths’ vacant house: $1.50 each. Brown’s, in Columbia, $2.65; McMickles’, $1.10 and $l.50; Daly’s, twice at $1.50; Barn dance in Dad’s new barn: no charge, but people dropped $2.80 in a can anyway. Chummy Turner played guitar, and I fiddled. A page in my record book lists the following: R. Brown, $2.65; Rice’s on Highway 40, $l.65. Clemens’ - beyond Midway - $3.25. Surprise birthday party ... etc.

Frances Grindstead, instructor, submitted my essay to the Atlantic Monthly Magazine’s contest for college students. Seventy-three college instructors submitted 247 essays in 1935 and ’36. My essay, "Fiddles," took second prize. I shared the first half last week; here is part two.


From the beginning, a violinist is taught to place his fingers firmly on the strings in the exact tone position. Even the beginning fiddler knows that the way to produce a good rolling tone is by sliding from a lower half-tone into the position of the ultimate note.

So inborn is the art of fiddling that it’s not easy to teach. I learned by following an Ozark fiddler as he played for dances in my home community. I sat by him for hours and then went home to practice.

Most fiddlers cannot wait for a convenient time to practice a new tune. When it first starts running through a fiddler’s head, he or she has to sit right down and work out the coordination of fingers and bow.

You have to take one piece and play it over and over until you are good at it before you stop. One fiddler I know will stop his car and get the fiddle out to play a new tune that has just been running through his head.

Every chance I got, I’d grab a fiddle at square dance intermissions or other dances or get a few pointers from the guitar pickers.

I discovered that fiddlers do not stop playing a square dance when they’re tired. They must go on until something breaks or until the dance ends - which seems to be almost never.

The climax of my fiddling came one night when I was visiting my cousins in Moscow Mills. I was scratching around on a fiddle during intermission. When the real fiddler came back and heard me, he said, "Say, you play one and let me dance with my gal!"

Before I realized what he was doing, I had agreed to play on a strange fiddle. I was sure I couldn’t last through a full square, but I’d been hoping for this chance since the first time I played "Little Brown Jug."

Six sets of dancers were arranged in the hayloft dance hall. The dance was begun, and I played "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" again and again until I thought I would turn into one!

A cramp crept up my right shoulder blade like a serpent, and my bow hand was so numb that I wondered if it was paralyzed. Just at the moment that I couldn’t go on, two fellows became entangled in a fight over a partner and all of the dancers - six sets! - stopped while the angry men were taken downstairs.

Rested, I could finish playing for the remaining sets!

From Oct. to April we played for nine dances, at $1.50 each for the young people west of Columbia who danced more than once a week in the vacant house owned by the Smith family. I hadn’t recorded the incident that ended this great dance.

Before I quit fiddling that night, a burly, unshaven man watched every move I made. He ventured to the "orchestra pit" and whispered, "Sister, you’ll never have to work for a living."

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