I wrote about ten days ago that I had finally found a real Old Time Fiddle teacher. Yesterday was my first lesson with her.
If you didn’t read my other post, her name is Betty Druckenmiller, and she is an accomplished fiddler who didn’t begin to learn the fiddle herself until she was 40 years old.
Betty began playing fiddle as a direct result of hearing J.P. Fraley play “Margaret’s Waltz” on the Augusta stage one summer evening. In following years, she worked with Dave Bing, Bill Hicks, James Bryan and Mike Bryant. Luckily enough, she also spent two master class weeks with West Virginia fiddler Wilson Douglas before his passing in 1999. Betty has especially enjoyed learning unusual older tunes and those with great stories which may or may not be true. She enjoys playing for farmers’ markets and dances, as well as songs from the Carter Family.
With her family band, The Druckenmillers, she has recorded six CDs: The Road Home, ‘Til the Clouds Roll By, Harvest Time, Morning Star, Bound to Change and Back Home. The Druckenmiller family has shared the stage with Beausoleil, Byron Berline, Bill Hicks, Jones & Leva, Brad Leftwich, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer. Venues include the stage at Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia, Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.
Betty is a rock solid old-time fiddler. While Betty can teach beginning violinists with written notation, she strongly prefers to play and teach in the aural tradition of the Appalachian mountains. In that tradition, she plays tunes for and with her students and records lessons as her primary teaching methods. Betty emphasizes listening to traditional string band music of the past – especially styles that combine fiddle and clawhammer banjo. She employs and teaches older tunings characteristic of the old-time style.
Tom and Betty, with Norm Williams, Paula Taylor and Mike Andrews, are founders of the Maidencreek Old-time Music Festival, held in July every year in a lovely picnic grove in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It’s a hands-on learning and teaching event, one day only, with concerts, crafts and a great community of old-time musicians and fans in attendance.
So with that all said, how would I not be nervous with a stomach full of butterflies, anticipating my first lesson with Betty? I didn’t know what to expect, and a 60+ mile drive to Meadowood Music, where Betty teaches every other Saturday, gave me plenty of time to wonder.
Upon meeting Betty, all nervousness disappeared. I wasn’t even self-conscious playing in front of her learning a new song, well, until I started making mistakes! LOL
We must have spoken with each other almost the first half of the session, introducing ourselves and our “history”, me explaining what I was looking to learn and wanted in a fiddle teacher, and Betty explaining how she teaches the fiddle.
For the second half of the lesson, she taught me how to play Angelina Baker (a.k.a. Angeline the Baker), a simple tune with only six notes – three on the A string and three on the E string. This song was written by Stephen Foster in 1850 and is a tune about a slave who falls in love with another slave, Angelina, but is heartbroken when she is sold. Betty had me close my eyes and listen to each part and then had me play along with her slowly. At the end of the lesson, she recorded each part calling out the notes as she played them, so I would have the recording at home to practice. We actually ran about ten minutes over my hour.
I am so glad I waited and did not settle on a teacher. Betty is exactly the type of teacher I was looking for, and I anticipate, over time, I will greatly benefit from her expertise, not only as a teacher, but a friend as well.
In a few days, after some more practice, I will post my version of Angelina Baker in the My Progress section.