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Marshall Preserves Old-Time Jams

“I fell in love with this banjo that came into an instrument shop that I worked at in Victoria, British Columbia,” says Erynn Marshall as she concludes her fellowship to study old-time music. “And I wanted to learn how to play it in its original style.”

Erynn Marshall

After listening to more than 400 hours of music, interviewing local musicians, and attending church services, Marshall feels like she has accomplished what she set out to do. Her concert with her playing partner Chris Coole (a claw hammer banjo specialist) on June 20 reflects much of what she soaked up while going through the chronological stages of eastern Kentucky old-time music.

Straight from Toronto, Ontario, Marshall came to Berea to study Kentucky old-time fiddle styles. And when her two-month fellowship was supposed to end on June 1, she cajoled Berea into twenty more days of research.

A composer, ethnomusicologist and author who has spent the past two months exploring Kentucky fiddle styles, tunings and song traditions at Berea College in the new Appalachian Music Fellowship program, Marshall has transcribed fiddle tunes by Hiram Stamper, J.P. Fraley, Stanford Kelly and others. She has interviewed members of the Stamper family and made a number of field recordings, which have given her the opportunity to meet many resident musicians and visit local traditional music gatherings in Rockcastle, Garrard, Knox, Pike, Knott and Rowan Counties as well as the Berea area.

Marshall and Coole share a love of old-time music that has put them on a long road together since meeting in 1998. Using fiddle, banjo, guitar and their voices they bring life to music from another era. The duo do not present any unnecessary showmanship but aim to capture the raw refinement that is present in the music to begin with - the subtleties and nuances that, when allowed to surface, stand on their own in making the music both powerful and in the moment, they say.

Marshall and Coole have performed at numerous venues, festivals and camps in both Canada and the United States. Marshall recently released her award-winning CD “Calico” which features the duo extensively. They also have appeared as guests on numerous other recordings. Both were featured in the roots music documentary “I’ll Fly Away Home” and perform together and separately in several groups around the Toronto, Canada area.

Marshall earned an M.A. in ethnomusicology from York University in Toronto. Her master’s thesis “Music in the Air Somewhere: The shifting Borders of West Virginia’s Fiddle and Song Traditions” was published in 2006 by the West Virginia University Press. For several years, she made frequent trips to learn Appalachian fiddling directly from older tradition bearers Melvin Wine, Lester McCumbers, Leland Hall, Art Stamper and others.

As her time at Berea draws to a close, Marshall says she will be leaving with fond memories and a deeper knowledge of immersing herself into Appalachia.

“It has been a very rewarding experience,” Marshall said. “I certainly will never forget it.”

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