SHSU professor plays fiddle in acoustic band
Director of honors collge plays in an accoustic band on the side
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012 23:02
The members of the No Foolin' String Band are gathered together in the parlor at the Wynne Home in downtown Huntsville, retuning their instruments and strumming chords on their banjos and mandolins and violins. It's a few hours before their performance tonight, but right now, it's time to jam.
This ‘jam time' is what, Sam Houston State University associate English professor and director of the Honors College Gene Young says, is at the core of why he and his band play historic, traditional "oldtime" tunes.
Young has played folk guitar since high school and fiddle for many years. He and his wife, Marynell, who plays fiddle and banjo, have played in bands in every town they've lived in. His two daughters also play fiddle.
Young currently plays fiddle in the No Foolin' String Band, a group that plays traditional acoustic music at a variety of venues and events in Huntsville and around Texas. He is also a part of the Sam Houston Friends Traditional Music band, which ranges from 5 to ten players.
The No Foolin' String Band will play March 3-4 at the Texas Independence Day Celebration at Washington on the Brazos, the Texas Folk Life Festival in San Antonio and at the General Sam Houston Folk Festival at the Memorial Museum this spring.
The band plays traditional oldtime tunes for several hours, dressed in costume for special historical events, such as the Sam Houston Folk Festival, the Texas Independence Day Celebration or when they play dances for reenactment events, such as the Liendo Civil War Re-enactment. Like the music they play, their costumes area period dress typical of the 1850s and 1860s.
"People will gawk at us and stand around to listen," Young said. "It's great fun. It's not just about playing the music – one part is playing it well, but another big part is authenticating it."
Young has an extensive background in music, starting with playing at coffeehouses in the 1960s folk music era in Austin and other towns in Texas and the Southwest and later playing the fiddle.
"My wife's grandfathers and father all played the fiddle," Young said. "I would go out to her house and we'd play fiddle and guitar on the porch. When we moved to Tennessee, we formed our first band, and then of course, we discovered we were in the middle of all this great music in east Tennessee. We went to a place called Cade's Cove in the Smoky Mountains, where they had an old fiddler's reunion. That's where it really started. I got really interested in the old guys and the old tunes and the history of it."
Among those who have shared in the historical and musical experience, Professor of Communications Studies Rick Bello, Ph.D., said that the band is a lot of fun to hear and watch.
"The band plays off one another really well and some of their tunes are really ‘foot-stompin,'" Bello said. "I am always impressed with their ability with their instruments. It's a great experience to see them in Huntsville."
In his role as a professor of English at SHSU, Young said that while he doesn't often bring fiddle music to his 20th Century American Literature classes, the poetry of traditional music is integral in many aspects of literature. He also teaches a Texas Crossroads class and a folklore class, and this semester, an honors seminar on the culture of American music. In these, he talks about the music of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and how music intersects with other aspects of culture.
"You can't study the literary environment separate from the musical environment," Young said. "When I am teaching my students how to teach poetry, I always want them to understand that everyone is hardwired with a love of rhythm and interesting wordplay, but the school system seems to beat that out of them. Music is a way to reengage students with poetry."
And as for his students' reaction to his "fiddlin',"he says "it's a curiosity, like seeing your professor at HEB on the weekend."
"It was a lot funnier than I expected," sophomore Sara Reagan said, a student of Young's who attended a performance at the Wynne Home last weekend. "They were talking with each other and to us about the music and joking. It was more of a discussion, and that was a cool experience. And then at the end, the Wynne Home was serving chicken and dumplings for dinner, which was awesome. I had never seen the band before, but it wasn't what I expected at all."
But Young also jokes that it's hard not to know he plays the fiddle after talking with him for 20 minutes.
"I could talk for hours about the music," Young said. "I love it."
For Young and the rest of his band, it's the love of the experience that spurs them on.
"The music itself will carry you, as I'll sit at home for a few hours and practice and play around," Young said. "I know 600 tunes and I'm still working on my to-learn list. But the real joy of it is when we just sit down and play in a group. We will drive 3 days to West Virginia to go to Clifftop, a music festival that players like me flock to. One night we got into a jam session at 11 p.m. and it didn't break up until 5:30 a.m. It's the love of the music in that communal atmosphere where anyone of any level can sit down and jam together. We love that. It keeps us coming back."