Saturday, January 14, 2012

Music Traditions in the Ozarks

by Teresa Powell Coltrin
I love music. Music lives in my soul and often determines my mindset for the day. I must admit, my music preferences are eclectic. I listen to everything from classical to country from rock to hymns. I love Reggae and Christian contemporary. I like it all—nearly.  Right now, two of my favorite artists are Adele and Francesca Battistelli.  
When I was a child, this country girl had a desire to play an instrument and more than one, if I could. I started teaching myself to play the guitar around the age of 16 and learned to play a little snare drum at school.  I still can’t read music.
Because I enjoy music, it was important to me that my children learn to play an instrument. I don’t know if I gave them a choice or not. (I may have bullied them into playing an instrument.) My son played the guitar and the alto saxophone. My daughter played the flute and the tenor saxophone. THEY learned to read music.
My family gatherings weren't laced with musical performances, but all around my rural culture families and community focused on music. The Ozarks tradition, like many cultures, has its assortment of music to enjoy and to pass on to their children.  During my childhood, music brought people together in many ways in our community.
Growing up, my parents played Country Music on their stereo and radio. I remember the soulful sound of Hank Williams and many others. When I hit high school, I thought the music my parents listened to would kill my very soul.  It’s very typical of a teenager to disagree with their parents’ choice of music. I mean, how could they like Country {Western} Music (that was the label then) over 70’s Rock? But, Country Music is now on my list of favorites, too.
Community Gatherings
Often people got together on a Friday or Saturday evenings to play their instruments, sing, dance or just listen.  For the non-players, this was a way to socialize and be entertained.  Admission was nominal or free and there was always food available.  For the musicians, it was a venue in which to show their talent by playing their instruments and/or singing to express their love of music. People still get together in this area to play their banjos, guitars, and sing. Even today, our local musicians will often put on concerts to raise money for good causes.
I was no stranger to going to church. My mama made sure of that. And, I grew up following my grandma to church revivals. I don’t’ know why I frequently went with her, since it’s hard for me to sit still for long periods of time, but I did. I’m not sure there is anything more beautiful than church hymns. Hymns are imprinted on my brain.  I may have trouble remembering names, but I’ll always remember the words and music to Amazing Grace.
Churches also had their monthly “singings”.  Once a month, communities would come together in a church and take turns singing. This would go on for hours. The adults would show their love for the music by clapping their hands to the rhythm or singing along.
The Ozarks Traditions
Ozarks Traditions- Our Heritage is a web site dedicated to music of the past in our area. One area that interested me was Shape Note Singing where “four-shape and seven-shape notation systems were used by people in social settings, in “singing schools,” and in church congregations(Ozarks Traditions-Our Heritage, 2010).
Recently, OPTV (PBS) aired a show Ozarks Musical Traditions that talked about preserving music traditions of the Ozarks.  In the past, people didn’t just play instruments and sing; it was a part of who they were and how they were recognized.  Music tradition often outlines a culture. You can watch it here.

Music has always been a part of me. As a teenager, I sang in a group of girls at “church singings”. When I learned the guitar, for a couple of years, I was in a rock band. As an adult, I’ve sang many solos in church and with my children. One man in my church compared the tone of my voice to my maternal grandfather. He died when I was six months old, but his musical voice and love for singing might be living through me. I feel honored.
I’ve only known one person who didn’t like music. But, for the rest of the world, music is a huge part of the culture we live in.  

Our music traditions might just be the tempo that drives our journey.

Images: My guitar.