Marlinton was humming last week with the sounds of old time tunes played by students and instructors at Allegheny Echoes. Guitarists strummed, banjoist plucked and fiddlers – well, fiddled.
The beginner and intermediate fiddle class taught by Danny Arthur, of Huntington, spent their days at the gazebo in Stillwell Park, perfecting old-time tunes, including “Old Gray Mare,” which they played at the student concert Thursday.
The class was unique because it had three students – T.D. Sparks, of Marlinton; Sarah Riley, of Hillsboro; and Joan Vance, of Lewisburg.
Each student was at a different level, but with the small class atmosphere, they were able to work together.
“I’ve probably been playing close to ten years because I started with my grandchildren,” Vance said. “I came so my granddaughter could come, and then I decided I might as well try it. I love to just come to class. I love to sit on my back porch and fiddle.”
Sparks, an upcoming seventh grader at Marlinton Middle School, began playing fiddle six years ago and has attended Allegheny Echoes five years in a row.
Riley comes from a musical family – three of her children also attend Allegheny Echoes – but she has only played for three years.
“All my kids were playing before I was playing,” she said. “I always thought I would learn how to play the fiddle. When I was little, my mom played the fiddle. This is her fiddle. I took guitar for a little bit until they started teaching fiddle tunes on the guitar and I was like, ‘this is ridiculous. I’m not going to learn fiddle tunes on the guitar, I’m getting the fiddle.’”
With 16 years of fiddle playing under his belt, Arthur began as a backup guitarist.
“If I wouldn’t have played guitar behind all these fiddlers for all these years, I don’t know if I could have started with raw fiddle,” he said. “It gave me the sense of the music to get in there and play with those songs. I’m totally in awe of someone who starts from scratch on a fiddle and dig it out in a traditional scene like that, then picks up the guitar along the way. That’s just talent.”
Arthur “migrated” to fiddle and said he had to give a lot of focus to the instrument in order to master it.
“I took two solid weeks, locked myself in the house and I made a bit of a little game out of playing,” he said. “If you don’t keep going it backslides on you all the time. I backslide. I slid for the past three years backwards. You just have to play the daggone thing a lot.”
According to Riley, Arthur was being modest about his abilities, but she agrees the fiddle is a hard instrument to learn.
“It takes a shocking amount of time to learn how to play fiddle,” she said. “I think there are so many people in Pocahontas County who have always thought about [coming to Allegheny Echoes]. Everybody that thinks about it should just do it, just try it. Most of the people who do that, they keep coming back over and over and over again. It’s not scary and all the instructors are super helpful and super nice.”
The instructors are also some of the best of the best in the country.
“We have some world class instructors up here,” Arthur said. “This year, Robert Hale [of Jolo], the bluegrass guitar player – he was in J.D. Crow’s band. These guys, they’re out there playing all the time. Charlie Walden – when Kenny Baker, one of the best fiddler players in the world couldn’t make it, they got Charlie and he went on the road with them.
“These aren’t just your average players,” he continued. “Chris [Stockwell, dobro player] went with Diamond Rio for three months out there. You’ve Jake [Krack], he really does have that wealth [of knowledge] for such a young guy. Then you’ve got Tim Bing, Mike Bing, Richard Hefner – they’re all super players.”
Allegheny Echoes is the place to go to learn old time and bluegrass music, but is also a place to make friends and have fun.
“The bottom line – the gist of Allegheny Echoes – besides saving the music and helping people, is having fun,” Arthur said. “That’s the last thing Mike said in orientation the other night. He said, ‘now, let’s just have a good, fun time this week,’ It’s about learning the music and having fun with it and sharing it.”
Classes offered at Allegheny Echoes also include guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, dobro, vocal and writing.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org