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Belated Quarterly Report: Moving on from "Three Forks of Reedy"

Considering my goal was to learn four more Ward Jarvis tunes this year, a quarterly update on my progress seems like a good idea. However, if that were the case, this post should have appeared a month ago. Apologies for the tardiness of something you didn't know was coming. I'll strive to do better next time.

For this Second Year of Ward Jarvis, I started with "Three Forks of Reedy," which was a holdover from last year's overzealous attempt to learn six tunes. I actually started working on it in November, but got stuck. Since then I've noodled with how I play it several times. I think I've finally gotten close, but feel like I'm still missing something.

In the attempt to figure out my shortcoming, I consulted The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes. "Three Forks of Reedy" is not included, but I had read on the Fiddle Hangout that Jarvis' tune had come from Ed Haley's "Three Forks of Sandy," which is in the book. Upon comparing the two, however, I couldn't find any similarity whatsoever.

As this was the first Jarvis tune that I've had to rely solely on audio recordings to figure out, I was worried that I didn't hear the resemblance between the two "Three Forks" tunes because my playing was just that far off.

But when I play along with Jarvis' recording, it doesn't sound that far off. I feel like I'm missing a note or a bowing nuance here and there. Maybe it's time I just chalk it up to the "folk process" and realize that this is just how I play the tune right now. It doesn't mean I have to be done tweaking.

I'm comfortable enough with my playing of "Three Forks of Reedy" to move on to the next tune on my list, which is another G tune, "Leather Britches." This tune was among those I've identified as part of the common repertoire of Ohio fiddlers, as are the final two tunes on this year's to-learn list, "Forked Deer" and "Grey Eagle."

My first official attempts to play "Leather Britches" were on April 7, though I began listening intently to Jarvis' version of this tune the week or so prior. My source recording is the Field Recorders' Collective release of Ward Jarvis, from the collection of Jeff Goehring (FRC402).

This is another tune that isn't in the Milliner-Koken book, at least not by Jarvis. Instead, it has versions of "Leather Britches" by Earl Johnson, Doc Roberts, Jim Bowles and Boyd Asher.

To my ear, Jarvis' playing is similar in part to the Roberts and Bowles versions. Because I can't sight-read standard notation, I transcribed both versions into a rudimentary tablature to get a general idea of the fingering before I really dig into how Jarvis played it. So far, I'm hopeful this tune will be easier to learn than "Three Forks of Reedy."

[Photo note: As the captions format on Blogger look bad, I'll just give you that information down here. Pictured is Ward Jarvis (left) with Jeff Goehring at Jarvis' house in Athens County, Ohio. Jarvis was one of Goehring's early influences. Photo courtesy of Kerry Blech.]

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