Skip to main content

The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes

On Feb. 25, a new resource for old-time enthusiasts was released. The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes, transcribed and annotated by Clare Milliner and Walt Koken, is an 888-page book that contains 1,404 tunes in musical engravings, arranged alphabetically.

The book also includes a main index of the tunes arranged by title, with references to source recordings and cross references to similar tunes and title; a tuning index arranged by fiddle tunings; a key index; and an artist index arranged by fiddler, showing the tunes included by that artist.

Additionally, the book features an artist profiles section with brief biographies of the 347 fiddlers and bands represented in the collection. A majority of the fiddlers were born before 1900. Finally, a comments section contains further information about the tunes and fiddlers.

The Milliner-Koken Collection is oversize format and cloth hardbound, which lies flat for easy reading. The book is $90 and available at, (Note: the link redirects to another website for purchasing).

The foundation of the book began in the 1980s when Milliner started playing old-time fiddle. She began transcribing tunes as a way of learning and remembering the music. Milliner and Koken started applying for grants to the National Endowment for the Arts and other foundations in 2003, and Koken began transcribing Milliner's handwritten tunes onto computer software.

Ultimately, their efforts to receive grant funding were futile, Koken told me. However, the result of the project will be of interest to many people because of its vast tune transcriptions, biographical information, and discography of recordings included. "One doesn't have to read music to appreciate it," he says.

Musicians' Little Helper
Old-time musicians will find The Milliner-Koken Collection especially useful because of how the tunes are indexed.

"If one were planning on playing a dance or gig, one could easily look up groups of titles by the same key or tuning, an invaluable resource for bands," Koken says. "It also has accurately transcribed versions for anyone interested."

The book includes a 10-page introduction where the authors explain how the collection came about, their general outlook on old-time music, their method of notation and how it affects fiddle tuning, where recordings can be found, and other points of interest. "This is a hard-bound music/reference book which will be invaluable to anyone interested in traditional American music," Koken adds.

Getting the Word Out 
Milliner and Koken will spend the next year promoting their new book. They are scheduled to conduct a TV interview on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, and they have also taken out ads in select magazines, including library publications, as they feel libraries are an ideal place for this book.

"We plan on having a 'book party' at the Mount Airy (N.C.) Fiddlers Convention, June 3-4, and we have a booth at the Clifftop, W.Va., fest (Appalachian String Band Festival) the first week of August," Koken says. "We haven't scheduled Oprah yet."

Koken emphasizes his appreciation for those who helped with The Milliner-Koken Collection. "The old-time community is a large and growing bunch of folks who in my experience are all open and sharing people, and many have contributed time, materials, and money to this project," he says. "We've tried to thank them all in the pages of the book."

About the Authors
Koken and Milliner have collaborated before. They are both members of the Orpheus Supertones, along with Kellie Allen and Pete Peterson. They also released a recording of banjo-fiddle duets, called "Just Tunes," recorded in 2001 and 2003.

Here, Koken and Milliner play twin fiddles with the Orpheus Supertones at the 2009 Appalachian String Band Festival (aka Clifftop), playing "Redbird":

Koken was also a member of the influential Highwoods String Band in the 1970s, along with Mac Benford, Bob Potts, Doug Dorschug, and Jennifer Cleland. Koken also has released a number of solo albums, available at Mudthumper Music.


Popular posts from this blog

Master and Apprentice: Banjo Builder Workshop in Historic Peninsula, Ohio

The 191-year-old Peninsula, Ohio, provided the backdrop to a parade of pedestrians making their way from station to station across the bucolic village for Music on the Porches on Saturday.

Inside the close confines of Bronson Church, founded in 1835, a master and apprentice presented a free workshop on the art of instrument building. That master being the renowned banjo builder and artist Doug Unger and his former apprentice Mark Ward.

Unger and Ward began the workshop by playing several old-time tunes, discussing their work and the music, and taking questions from the audience. Unger then invited the spectators to step up to the front to see the instruments.

Highwoods Documentary Not a Lost Cause After All

So, once upon a time, I tried to drum up support for a crowdfunded documentary project about the Highwoods Stringband. I donated money to help out, and more than a year later I provided an update on the slow progress. Last I heard, there was some old footage of the Highwoods they were trying to acquire. It's been three and a half years now that I first heard about the project, and I still haven't received my DVD.

I figured that's the risk you take with these crowdfunded, Kickstarter-type projects. I had all but given up the documentary as a lost cause. Until today. If I managed to convince any of you to help fund the project, I felt it my duty to pass along this update directly from Highwoods mainstay Walt Koken.
"After several delays and setbacks, we, the members of the Highwoods Stringband and Mudthumper Music have procured the vintage footage and photos in cooperation with the original producers and put them into the hands of another videographer, Larry Edelman, in …

2016 Year in Review / 2017 Look Ahead

Well, it's been a minute, hasn't it? The last year has been difficult on many fronts. Playing music was no exclusion. The amount of time I spent playing banjo and fiddle suffered the most. I didn't blog much either, which you already knew. But it wasn't all bad. Here's a look back at last year and a look ahead to my goals for the year ahead.

2016 Notes
I have now been playing banjo for eight years and fiddle for four years. My focus remains on the fiddle, as I try to learn general technique and tunes. Time spent playing banjo was mostly to keep up with a handful of tunes I like most.

Playing Time: Due to increased work travel and other factors, my playing time was dramatically reduced in 2016. As mentioned before, I log my practice time in the quest to reach that fabled 10,000-hour mark. This last year was my lowest (by far) amount of time spent on banjo and second lowest time on fiddle.

New Tunes: Despite my reduced playing time, I worked through two fiddle instruct…