A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Save the NEA and NEH

Below is a letter from the Society for Ethnomusicology's President Anne K. Rasmussen and Executive Director Stephen Stuempfle. Funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities is absolutely essential to the existence and success of MTAP and MSU Museum programs. Please consider contacting your government representatives to tell them why you think the NEA and NEH are important.


Dear SEM Member,

SEM, like many other scholarly societies, is currently mobilizing its members in support of continued funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Though the Trump administration, on May 23, reiterated its call for the elimination of the NEA and NEH, there is potential for significant bipartisan support for both agencies in Congress.

Now is the time to contact your representative and senators and emphasize the importance of full funding for the NEA and NEH for FY 2018 and beyond. Though an email message is very helpful, a phone call, posted letter, or personal visit is even better.

You can find information on advocacy for the NEA on the Americans for the Arts’ 
Arts Mobilization page; and information on advocacy for the NEH on the National Humanities Alliance’s Resources page. In addition, the National Humanities Alliance provides advocacy information on other cultural agencies, such as IMLS, Title VI, and Fulbright-Hays. See also a recent letter from Pauline Yu, President of the American Council of Learned Societies.

Appeals for support for the NEA, NEH, and other agencies can be combined in a single communication. To contact your representative and senators, please visit the following websites:
U.S. House Contact Information
US. Senate Contact Information

Over the past several decades, ethnomusicologists have worked with many organizations that have received grants from the NEA, NEH, and other cultural agencies. Thank you for supporting continued federal funding for ethnomusicology and the arts and humanities as a whole!

Sincerely,

Anne K. Rasmussen
SEM President

Stephen Stuempfle
SEM Executive Director

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Fancy double, double-back brush up double-up ball slide and a basic..."


I hear them before I see them as I hustle out of the cold into the lobby of Collins Elementary School in Sterling Heights, Michigan: the calm, steady cueing of Shane Gruber's baritone accompanied by music and the shimmering sound of sixteen pairs of feet shod with jingling clogging shoes. I step into the bright cafetorium and am greeted by smiles and a hello from Shane as he continues to dance and cue the class. It's Thursday night and these dancers have gathered, as they always do September through May, to clog with Shane Gruber.

They call themselves the Shane Gang, a group of cloggers led by Shane Gruber who meet weekly on Wednesday and Thursday nights to dance, socialize, and share in movement and sound-making together. In 1998, Shane Gruber began leading the group, then called the Country Club Cloggers. Since then, the 'Gang has grown to a loose collective of over 50 dancers who participate in weekly class as well as performances and demonstrations in southeast Michigan. The night I visit the class, I count sixteen women and two men wearing a mix of black tap shoes with single taps, white shoes with double taps, and even tennis shoes with taps affixed to them. Gruber himself wears a two-tone pair of black and metallic sapphire oxford shoes with double taps (two plates of aluminum attached to enhance the percussive sound of his dancing). He also wears a wireless headset to cue the dances, which he selects from and iPad connected to a portable sound system.

Shane's clogging shoes, made by Carl's Clogging Supplies

To watch Shane dance is mesmeric. He moves with feet parallel, upper body relaxed, shifting weight with unobtrusive deftness as he articulates one and two sound rudiments in combination to form longer phrases of rhythm, punctuated by the sparkling timbre of his double-tapped shoes. Gruber's style uses gestural swings and kicks of his lower legs, his ankles never rising above his shins, to rhythmically inscribe lines of rhythm by contacting his shoes against the linoleum. He seems to float along the floor, looking so very, very at home while dancing.

Shane Gruber teaches clogging weekly in Sterling Heights, Michigan

In addition to his ease of movement and articulations, Gruber is also incredibly charming as he works. He seems to have a point of connection with every dancer in his class, calling each one by their first name and checking up on them playfully. It's lighthearted but there's an ethic of care in the way he facilitates this kind of community. Observing his warmth and generosity as a teacher, it's easy to understand why many dancers return to his Thursday night class every week, some for fifteen years. During my visit, I met dancers in their twenties who had been clogging with Shane weekly since they were twelve years old. These dancers execute steps like the "double-toe", "triple," and "scotty" next to other cloggers in their 80s. As I watched the class move through routine after routine, I was struck by the pervasive sense of enjoyment in the room. Several dancers never stopped smiling the entire evening, despite sweating through nearly ten 3-5 minute routines in the hour-long class I observed. They clogged to an eclectic variety of music including Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk," DNCE's "Cake By the Ocean," and a bluegrass version of the gospel number "I'll Fly Away". Gruber shares with me that because this style of clogging is considered a social dance form, it is often executed to contemporary music that exists in popular consciousness. The dance form’s adaptability to many styles of music belies its flexibility and resilience. "It's the kind of dance where you can dance to MC Hammer one routine and then Bill Monroe the next," Gruber says.

Shane Gruber describes his dancing as influenced by line dancing. For him, clogging is a social dance that does not require a partner, springing from roots in Appalachia where West-African, Western European, and Native American dance traditions met and mixed. While other styles of clogging exist in competitive contexts or festival stages as part of the folk revival, Gruber's dancing is recreational, done to recorded music, and ergonomic. It's done to be shared, finding its meaning in the act of people dancing together, making rhythm recreationally. He identifies this style as especially prevalent in Southeast Michigan.

From West Bloomfield, Shane Gruber began clogging at age 16 in 1989 with Mo's Clogging Fever in Walled Lake, Michigan run by Maureen "Mo" Perko. He later danced with the Main Street Cloggers in Northville with Paula Trask-Heskett, the Toll Gate Cloggers and Six Gate Cloggers in Novi. As a student at Central Michigan University, Gruber studied choreography with former dance program coordinator, Yvette Crandall, and considers her one of his main influences. Today Gruber is in great demand as a teacher at national and international workshops. He participates in at least twelve of these events annually, usually over the course of a long weekend. Despite teaching at clogging workshops and conventions in Germany, Australia and all over the United States, Shane continues his Wednesday and Thursday night classes. Shane has taught in commercial dance studio settings but encountered resistance from the "tap, jazz, ballet" triad of strip mall dance studio culture. Gruber eventually began creating his own community outside of commercial dance studios in school gyms and community centers. For these weekly classes Gruber creates his own choreography as well as teaches the choreography of other dancers. During the class I observed, Gruber shared his own dances and also taught the choreography of Winfield, West Virginian Jeff Driggs and Atlanta dancer Andy Howard.


A license plate from one of the Shane Gang cloggers
Gruber uses a cue sheet to cue the cloggers through a routine

The abstract idea of “tradition” finds its footing when we think about the people who do it. When I ask Shane Gruber to tell me about his tradition, he marks his narrative by sharing stories of his clogging teachers and influences, and creating a family tree of Michigan clogging by tracing his hands through the air. "I'm from cloggers Duane and Berdella Root," he tells me, recounting his dance lineage from the groups that emerged from the Roots who taught in Hartland, Michigan. From this group came his first teacher Maureen "Mo" Perko in Walled Lake, as well as Mac and Louise McCreery's Corn Cobb Cloggers in Grand Ledge, Bob Warner's Thunder Floor Cloggers in Lake Odessa, Morton and Judy Rand's, Rainbow Cloggers, Loretta Ward's Flag City Cloggers from Davison, Ruth McClelland's Li'l Mac Cloggers from Ferndale, and the Country Note Cloggers, led by Roger & Linda Dzogola.

Teaching seems to be at the very heart of Gruber's role as a tradition-bearer. He especially loves working with new dancers to share the basic rudiments of his tradition. Gruber shares his enthusiasm for meeting a new class with me by exhorting fellow dance teachers: "Be happy to teach beginners, you don't know much excitement it is to look out into the group and think, 'in about 45 minutes I'm going to have these people doing basics and triples and doubles and they don't know it yet!!'"


An excerpted cue sheet from Shane Gruber's choreography to Cotton Eyed Joe

Integral to Gruber's teaching method, as well as the teaching of many clogging instructors, are cue sheets, a system of dance notation developed in clogging communities to share choreography. Shane tells me that this system allows for dancers from many geographies, both nationally and internationally, to dance together at clogging workshops without ever having met. At these events, cue sheets can be distributed in hard copy form or downloaded from the internet. At large clogging events, there are large evening social dances during which a caller will stand at the front of a large room and cue a series of dances. These events may last several hours.

Through sharing these cue sheets, participating in community demonstrations, national workshops, and weekly classes, Shane Gruber and the Shane Gang keep alive the unique Michigan style of social dance clogging.

For more information about Shane's teaching and workshop schedule, visit www.shanegangcloggers.com.




Nic Gareiss is a MTAP fieldworker, professional performer, and dance researcher living in Lansing, Michigan. He holds degrees in Music and Anthropology from Central Michigan University and a MA in Ethnochoreolgy from the University of Limerick. His 2017 fieldwork for MTAP focuses on dance, marginality, and the political salience of moving (and sounding) bodies.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

New Emergency Relief Guidelines for Folk and Traditional Artists from CERF+

courtesy the CERF+ website
The Craft Emergency Relief Fund+ has announced new guidelines for folk and traditional artists. Read more below:
For over 30 years, CERF+ has provided emergency relief to artists working in craft disciplines across the nation who have experienced a career-threatening emergency. In an effort to assist more artists working in craft disciplines whose work is rooted in and reflective of the cultural life of their community, CERF+ has developed guidelines that specifically address the needs of folk and traditional artists.

1. Folk and Traditional artists applying for CERF+ Emergency Relief under these alternate guidelines must have had a recent, serious emergency, but the eligibility guidelines don’t focus on a “career” or a “business.”

2. Applicants must document an ongoing history of handmade objects that embody the National Endowment for the Arts’ definition of folk and traditional arts by providing a statement about the artistic tradition they have practiced over the years. Photos of their artwork as well as completing our application are also required.

Please help us spread the word to raise awareness of this grant by forwarding this announcement to folk and traditional artists, arts agencies, program staff, organizations, funders and others.  The full guidelines and application are at https://cerfplus.org/craft-emergency-relief-fund.

CERF+ envisions a future where working artists thrive and have a safety net of resources and support to protect and sustain their livelihood, studio and art. CERF+ was started by artists for artists in the craft community as a grassroots mutual aid effort in 1985.  CERF+ has since emerged as the leading nonprofit organization that uniquely focuses on safeguarding artists’ livelihoods nationwide.

CERF+ is readiness, relief and resilience for studio artists, ensuring that they are as protected as the work they create. We provide resources + information, education + training, advocacy + research, emergency relief, emergency readiness + career protection tools.

For more information, contact:
Les Snow, Program Manager
les@cerfplus.org
802.229.2306
www.cerfplus.org
 If you are, or if someone you know is, a traditional artist in need of financial assist due to an emergent situation, consider applying for aid from CERF+.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Tribute to Alan Jabbour

Caption from the Library of Congress Blog: "Alan Jabbour, Head of the Archive of Folk Song (now Archive of Folk Culture) at the Library of Congress, reviewing sound recordings of folk music from the Archive’s collections, July 1972. Jabbour is pictured in the Library’s Recording Laboratory in the Library’s main building (now called the Thomas Jefferson Building). Photo by Carl Fleischhauer."
From Dr. C. Kurt Dewhurst:

Last month we lost a very special friend of folklife. Alan Jabbour, musician, scholar, teacher, cultural administrator, and advocate for folk culture on the local, state, national, and international level. He was a seminal figure in the fields of ethnomusicology and folklore—and his legacy will live in the collections he developed, the national programs he founded, and the many students, colleagues, and friends who were enriched by their time with Alan.

Alan Jabbour’s contributions in Michigan are worth noting and celebrating. Back in 1975, Alan served as the first Director of the Folk Arts Program (now known as the Folk and Traditional Arts Program) at the National Endowment for the Arts. He was not only the chief administrator, he also was the inspired force for the preservation, documentation, and presentation of American folk culture. Marsha MacDowell and I learned about this new NEA grant program and we had the idea of doing a survey documentation project of the folk arts of Michigan. We contacted Alan and shared our vision of what we hoped to do. He encouraged and advised us with warmth of a long-time friend. We crafted our first grant application and submitted it to the NEA. A few months later, we were thrilled to learn that we were being awarded a grant to conduct a year-long survey of Michigan folk artistic traditions. We embarked on a year of traveling across the state visiting museums, cultural festivals, local historical societies, MSU Extension Offices, and meeting with traditional artsists. This survey led to the first exhibition of Michigan folk arts that traveled across our state for the Michigan the national bicentennial. We learned later that this NEA grant was one the first folk art state survey grants given by the NEA (the other was in Georgia). In the years to follow, other states conducted similar surveys that helped set the stage for the establishment of state folk arts programs in virtually all states and some territories of the US.

Alan continued to support our work in Michigan while he was at the NEA and then when he took on the challenging role as the founding Director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. From this new seat, he continued to find ways to work together and he proved to become a close personal friend in the following years. He visited the MSU Museum a number of times and also became an important advocate for our Michigan Traditional Arts Program including the Michigan Heritage Awards Program, the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, our exhibitions program, the development our Michigan Traditional Arts Archives, our growing folk art collection, and our annual festival programs.

During this past year, I had the opportunity, in my role as the Chair of the Board of Trustees for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, to introduce a special 40th anniversary program for the AFC in Washington, DC. The program was the first time that the Directors of the AFC were all together on a stage to discuss the remarkable contributions of the center to our nation. The conversation traced those early years of the center right up to the present day—and the future role of the center. While it was the tireless champion of such a center, Archie Green, who is properly credited with successfully lobbying for the creation of the center, it was Alan who with his wit, generosity, creativity, and leadership that enabled the center to thrive and eventually gain permanent federal authorization.

The world has lost a legendary figure who dedicated his life to giving voice to the creative expressions of people from diverse communities. We in Michigan are grateful to Alan for his nurturing support and counsel for our own folk and traditional arts programming-- based at the Michigan State University Museum. Clearly though we all have been enriched by his work and a life truly well-lived.

To learn more about Alan Jabbour’s life go to:
http://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2017/01/alan-jabbour-1942-2017/?loclr=eaftb

To learn more about the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress go to: https://www.loc.gov/folklife/

Dr. C. Kurt Dewhurst is Director Emeritus and Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage for the MSU Museum. He is also the Director of Arts and Cultural Initiatives and Senior Fellow for MSU University Outreach and Engagement. He co-directs the Great Lakes Folk Festival and is a Professor in the English Department of MSU.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Science of Dance, Art of Rhythm: A lesson in tap•ol•o•gy with Alfred Bruce Bradley

The following is a guest post from fieldworker Nic Gareiss. Photos and video provided by Nic Gareiss.


Alfred Bruce Bradley, tap dancer and founder of the Tapology Festival
"Repeat after me: when I listen, I learn." Standing in a room with Tapology Festival director Alfred Bruce Bradley, the sense of his mastery is palpable. In his weekly evening classes at Creative Expressions Dance Studio in Flint, Bradley demonstrates each step carefully, articulating rhythms expertly in a series of vocable sounds he scats to the room full of young dancers. "Ba-ba-boo, ba-da-da-ooh..." The students stand wide-eyed and attentive, and so do I. It's difficult not to in Bradley's presence.

"When I started there wasn't a scratch on this floor," he quips, "over the years I've worn them all down." Looking at the floor, it's as though one could see the ephemeral effect of the dance - an art form that usually finds its meaning in its disappearance - made visible in the flecked layers of finish, varnish, and bare wood excavated by steel taps attached to sounding feet. During his class we see a vestige of the bodily labor and artistry of Bradley and his legacy. If these floors are a testament to his love for American tap dance, it's clear that love runs deep indeed.

The floor at Flint's Creative Expressions Dance Studio, worn
and well-loved by Bradley and his students' tap dancing feet.
Bradley, a Flint native, came to tap dancing at age 32, later in life than most dancers, originally inspired to learn through his career in theater. Working first with Flint's McCree theater, he began learning to tap dance during a run of the hit Off Broadway musical “One Mo Time” at The Village Gate in Toronto, Ontario. Bradley later studied with Kevin Ramsey (a protege of Chuck Green and Henry LeTang) as well as the co-founder of the the Detroit-based tap legends The Sultans, Lloyd Storey, who danced with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. He performed widely, from New Orleans to Zürich, always bringing his new repertoire back to his students in Flint and eventually founding the Tapology Festival, which is now in its fifteenth year.
  
Bradley's own choreography echoes the dance steps from the great African-American tradition of tap dancers: Henry LeTang, Chuck Green, John Bubbles, Bill Robinson, yet is uniquely his own. Between time spent touring and working with his mentors, he continued to live in Flint and was thereby largely self-taught. "I learned things and then would create rhythms on my own," he shared. He has also developed his own pedagogy. During class Bradley invites his students to demonstrate newly-acquired material on their own upon a 3x3 foot square platform at the front of the classroom. Each student is given an opportunity. During their time on the board, their classmates and Bradley bestow undivided attention. He shared that the board's purpose is not only to check the retention of repertoire but also to demonstrate the benefits of hard work, build leadership, and confidence. "You can teach math and science through this form, you can teach language, and how to memorize and build self-esteem."
Bradley illustrates a step in one of his weekly classes at Creative Expressions Dance Studio in Flint
From left to right: Bradley's Capezio K360 tap shoes, Bradley demonstrating steps for students, Bradley's teaching board
As founder and director of the Tapology Festival, Bradley has a chance to bring his mentors and luminaries of tap dance to his home city. During our conversation he stressed the importance of tap dance in Flint. "It does a lot to bring cultural identity. Tap dance has been embraced across the world by all kinds of people: black, white, it doesn't make a difference. When you can bring kids together - I have kids coming down from Bloomfield Hills, and they dance with kids on welfare - they develop friendships. They learn together. They perform together and have a great experience. Those friendships are going to travel with them the rest of their lives. They are going to bring a new awareness, a new brotherhood...You're developing community through this dance. Because you're teaching the history, they are learning appreciation for an African-American influenced dance form...Through this dance form there's a merging and a bringing-together of people from various social, economic, religious, cultural backgrounds."

For more information on Alfred Bruce Bradley and the 15th annual Tapology Festival held in Flint, visit www.tapology.org.

Tap dancer Alfred Bruce Bradley demonstrates scatting rhythms 
during a conversation with MTAP fieldworker Nic Gareiss



Nic Gareiss is a MTAP fieldworker, professional performer, and dance researcher living in Lansing, Michigan. He holds degrees in Music and Anthropology from Central Michigan University and a MA in Ethnochoreolgy from the University of Limerick. His 2017 fieldwork for MTAP focuses on dance, marginality, and the political salience of moving (and sounding) bodies.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Homage to Karl Byarski, 1916-2016

Karl Byarski with his recording equipment in the basement of his home in Kinde, Michigan

Dave Langdon, a fiddler, fiddle music researcher, and Michigan Folklore Society president, wrote the following words to commemorate Karl Byarski, who sadly passed away on December 22, 2016.

Karl Byarski (August 5, 1916 – December 22, 2016) passed away at his home in Kinde, MI on Thursday, December 22, 2016. Karl had been honored by the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the MSU Museum in 2014 with the Michigan Heritage Award for his collecting and documentation activities in Huron County, MI and the rest of the Thumb area. Here is a link to his obituary.

Karl purchased a reel to reel tape recorder from Montgomery Ward in about 1952. This recorder was a one speed 1 7/8 inches per second recorder. He liked fiddle music, so he recorded people playing the fiddle. He liked Polish music, so he recorded people playing Polish music. He liked the sounds of nature, so he would wake up at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning and set up his tape recorder to record nature sounds. He was a religious man, having been raised Roman Catholic and attending St. Mary of Czestochowa church in nearby Dwight Township for most of his life, so he recorded special services and the choir of the church (and other churches) and parties at the church hall. He loved his family, so he recorded many family activities both at home and other locations. He liked to record things so he borrowed records from friends and recorded them on tape.

Phil Miller (Karl's uncle from Kinde, MI), Karl Byarski, William Reehl (fiddler from Bad Axe, MI), Ernie Patterson with fiddle (Filion, MI) at former State Senator Sam Pangborn's home in Bad Axe, MI circa 1958. From L to R.

Karl exchanged tapes with several other people who did recording, both in the U.S. and in other countries. Someone would send Karl a tape and he was supposed to listen to it and then record his message and his recordings over the original message and send it back to the person who sent the tape. But Karl would keep these tapes as he kept almost all of the recordings he made.

Karl converted most of the basement of the family home into an amateur recording studio. At the time he started recording, the idea that a person could hear music they had just created was something of a novelty in Huron County, Michigan. People would come over to his house either by invitation or having heard about his recording and be recorded. Many weekend parties took place in that basement and many recordings were made there. Karl also often took his recorder with him to the homes of people who played music and recorded them at their home. He went to other churches in the area and recorded church services and parties at church halls. He recorded some fiddlers’ jamborees. He recorded an outdoor fiddling contest in nearby Ubly, MI in 1965. For a time he had a radio program called the Hometowners on local Bad Axe radio station WLEW where he played recordings he had collected and sometimes had musicians play live at the studio. He recorded the Barney Schubring Show on radio station WLEW and other radio programs as well. He would call friends and record the telephone conversation. He took his recorder with him on vacation and made recordings at some of the places the family visited.

I first met Karl on Friday, July 13, 2012, just before he turned 96 years old. I had borrowed a cassette from a man from Deckerville that turned out to have been made by Karl and I had spent about the two weeks prior trying to find out who had made the borrowed tape and whether there were other tapes. After doing several internet searches and contacting people via email and depending on the help of total strangers, I had been told that Karl had “quite a few tapes” and lived in Kinde and I was given a contact phone number. I called the number and a woman (who turned out to be Karl’s daughter) answered the phone. After giving me the third degree about why I wanted to talk with her father, she put Karl on the phone with me. We talked for a few minutes about his collection of recordings and then Karl gave me his email address and asked me to send him an email, “then I’ll have your email address. I’ll send you some stuff” he said. So I gave him my email address and the next morning as I was sitting at my computer, working, I received an email from Karl with an attached .mp3 file of Ford and Florence Stein playing music. Ford on the violin, Florence on the piano, about 45 minutes worth of music. About 15 minutes later, I received another email with more music from someone else and then 15 minutes later, a third email with more music again from Ford and Florence Stein. I decided that I needed to get up to see Karl as soon as possible, that evening I drove to Huron County and stayed with some friends from Lansing at their cottage near Oak Beach. The next day I went to see Karl at his home for the first time. I met his daughter, Linda and his wife, Margaret as well. We sat at the kitchen table and I talked with them about the collecting work that I was doing and Karl told me a little bit about the recordings he had made and how he got started recording. After a while, Karl asked me if I wanted to see his recordings. I said that I did and his daughter and I helped him go down to the basement where the recordings were kept. As I neared the bottom of the stairs, I saw a handmade wooden cassette storage unit that was full of cassettes. There were 6 rows and 10 columns of cubbyholes. Later I learned that each cubbyhole held about 15 cassettes (900 cassettes). When I turned around, I saw several shelves against the wall full of reel to reel tapes. As I looked around the basement, I saw several other cabinets with cardboard boxes holding cassettes and another smaller cassette storage unit on the wall in another room. I could not believe the number of tapes that Karl had.


Cassette holder (top) and shelves with reel-to-reels (bottom) filled with Karl's recordings.
 
I spent more than 100 hours interviewing Karl Byarski at his home in Kinde during the time we were documenting and indexing his recordings. One of the biggest problems I had was getting Karl to talk about himself. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was always willing to talk with me about his recordings. We would sit at his kitchen table with the recorder going and I would bring several tapes up from the basement and number them and then I would give the tapes to Karl and he would talk about them. Especially with the reel to reel tapes when he took the tape in his hands and looked at the notes he had written on the back cover, it seemed like he would be transported in time back to when he had recorded that tape. Through the interviews I had with Karl, I became much more familiar with Huron County, a place I had hardly visited prior to meeting Karl. And in working to contact families of the people Karl recorded, I met many people from this part of Michigan. Almost without exception, they have been willing to share their time and recordings, pictures and information with me. I have discovered what a fine place Karl had lived in for so many years. One of the first times I visited Karl, he asked me to play some tunes for him and virtually every time I went to his house, I had to play a few tunes for him before I left. He and his family were always very generous with their time and hospitality. I came to feel like a member of the Byarski family. During these last several months as Karl’s health has declined and he was in hospice care at his home, I tried to visit him at his home and play some tunes on my fiddle for him. He always seemed to appreciate hearing and talking about these tunes. It will seem very strange to me now to go to the Thumb and not stop at his house and talk and play tunes for him. But as Karl himself had done over the years, I have preserved the memory of many of our conversations and visits by recording them. These will be a reminder of Karl's love and devotion for music, nature, friends, and family.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Introducing Two New MTAP Fieldworkers

The Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP) was founded by the mission of preserving, documenting, and presenting traditional arts and folklife in Michigan. Fieldwork undertaken by MTAP staff is an integral step in staying true to our mission. We document through interviews with artists, observation of events, and collecting objects; the fieldwork data and reports are then deposited in the MTAP Research Collections which preserves the traditions documented; fieldworkers write books, articles, and blog posts and create multimedia resources like radio shows and YouTube videos to present the research to the general public. This, of course, is a simplification of all fieldwork-related activities at MTAP, but the pursuit of knowledge about traditional arts, folklife, and everyday culture in Michigan is foundational to MTAP.

I’m excited to welcome to some new members of our fieldwork team for 2016-2017. MTAP has contracted two fieldworkers, Nic Gareiss and Dave Langdon, who have some excellent areas of research planned. Both Nic and Dave are performers, practitioners, and scholars of traditional dance and music. They are deeply committed to their communities of practice and research, and care about reciprocity when undertaking fieldwork.

I wanted to introduce Nic and Dave to Great Folks blog readers because they will be writing blog posts on their fieldwork. Without further ado…


Nic Gareiss

Nic Gareiss is a professional performer, teacher, and dance researcher living in Lansing, Michigan. His interests include vernacular dance traditions from many locations, especially Appalachia, Quebec, and the Irish diaspora. Nic holds a degree in Anthropology from Central Michigan University and a MA in Ethnochoreology from the University of Limerick. He has written on the intersections of dancing bodies, gender, sexuality and nationhood. Gareiss' MA thesis based upon his ethnographic work with LGTBQ competitive Irish step dancers was the first piece of scholarship to query the experience of sexual minorities within traditional Irish dance. Other publications include “An Buachaillín Bán: Reflections on One Queer’s Performance within Traditional Irish Music & Dance” in The Meanings and Makings of Queer Dance edited by Clare Croft on Oxford University Press (June 2017) and “The Lion, The Witch, and the Closet: Heteronormative institutional research and the queering of ‘Traditions’” co-written with Aileen Dillane in Queering the Field: Sounding Out Ethnomusicology, edited by William Cheng and Gregory Barz on Oxford University Press (forthcoming). Gareiss’ present research seeks to illuminate issues of national identity, gender, and sexual orientation via ethnography and embodied practice. As a performer, Gareiss has concertized in fourteen countries and continues to tour and teach internationally, working with dance communities and presenting solo percussive dance choreography.

Michigan sustains many remarkably rich traditional dance communities throughout our state. Within these diverse communities bodies become sites of cultural practice as dancers create, transmit, theorize, and engage their heritage through their physical selves. Because of dance's corporeality, moving bodies often become politicized when the communities in which they exist are marginalized. However, dance remain a powerful and transcendent means by which tradition-bearers maintain their cultures, subvert subjugation, and both imagine and enact brighter futures. Nic's research focus lies at the intersections of traditional dance and marginality; in the ways that intangible cultural dance heritage is sustained in communities that are subject to systematic oppression due to race, indignity, national origin, disability, gender, and sexuality. Through the Michigan Traditional Arts Program, Nic hopes to bring both attention and resources to dancers in our state that may be experiencing this kind of marginalization. Whether it takes the form of African-American vogueing in Detroit, Yemeni dance in Dearborn, Appalachia clogging in Bellaire, or Indian Kathak in Midland, Nic is looking forward to helping connect Michigan State Museum to Michigan's vibrant jiving, bouncing, shuffling, gesturing tradition-bearers.


Dave Langdon

Dave Langdon is a left-handed fiddler and collector of traditional Michigan music and dance materials and recordings. He is originally from Owosso, MI, and has played the fiddle since 1977 and has been collecting since 2011. He is a long time member of East Lansing’s Pretty Shaky String Band (an old time jam open to the public) and has played upright bass with the Lansing based Scarlet Runner String Band for over 25 years. Dave worked with Karl Byarski of Kinde, MI for many months to index and organize Karl’s extensive collection of recordings of Thumb area musicians and fiddlers. He also nominated Karl for a Michigan Heritage Award, which was awarded to Karl in 2014. In recent years, Dave reinvigorated the Michigan Folklore Society (MFS) as its president. One of the goals of the MFS is to make traditional music and dance (especially fiddle music) more accessible to the public via the internet. Now retired, Dave worked as an information systems professional and manager after graduating with a B.S. in Computer Science and later earning a M.S. in Computer Science both from Michigan State University.

Dave will be looking into hammer dulcimer music in Michigan. Michigan is one of the major states for hammer dulcimer playing and is also the home of the Original Dulcimer Players Club (ODPC) Funfest held at the Osceola County Fairgrounds in Evart, MI, each year. There are several dulcimer clubs and also music jams attended by hammer dulcimer players and others. Dave will be attending several of these jams and documenting the music and musicians at these club meetings and jams. This might include making audio recordings, doing interviews, taking photos, making video, etc. The end result will be a written report of activities and findings.


I look forward to hearing about the work Nic and Dave produce and I know you will too! Got any tips for traditional artists we should interview or topics we should document? You can send them to msum.mtap@gmail.com.

Thanks to Nic and Dave for providing biographies and summaries of their research plans.


Molly McBride coordinates contract fieldworkers and undertakes her own fieldwork on traditional music and other various topics for MTAP. She is currently learning to knit. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

#FolkloreThursday: Updates from MTAP

Hi Folks,

It’s been a busy time here at the Michigan Traditional Arts Program and regretfully we weren’t able to keep our Great Folks readers up to date with so many ongoings. But today on #FolkloreThursday, I’d love to fill you in on some exciting things that MTAP staff have undertaken and interesting news flashes from around Michigan.

In mid-September, MTAP Coordinator and MSU Museum Folk Arts Curator Dr. Marsha MacDowell was a key organizer for a Folk and Traditional Arts Preconference at the National State Arts Agencies Assembly that happened in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This was a gathering of folk arts program coordinators from across the US that focused on significant and emerging issues these programs are facing: racism and xenophobia, and arts and aging.

In late September, a meet-up for advocates of Michigan fiddle music took place at the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (MSU). This was organized by MTAP in collaboration with the Michigan Folklore Society. It was a successful preliminary meeting that gathered musicians, community organizers, and scholars to discuss what issues are pertinent to the vitality of fiddling in Michigan. We hope to continue these meetings and build networks of communication amongst advocates.
Notes from the September Meet-Up

The MTAP team is working on a new website! It will be more user-friendly and have a host of great resources about traditional arts and everyday culture in Michigan. Keep your eyes out for the debut of our new website in the coming months.

2015 Michigan Heritage Award Ceremony

**We are soliciting applications to the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program and nominations for the Michigan Heritage Awards. The deadline to apply to both programs is December 1st. Please feel free to contact us with any questions. We look forward to reading your application or nomination!**

MTAP is excited to announce that we have some new fieldworkers on board for 2017. Our research will focus on vernacular dance forms, hammered dulcimer playing and building, fiddle music, instrument building, and some aspects of material culture related to water. Glimpses of fieldwork will be featured on this blog, the MSU Museum Instagram, the MTAP Facebook, and MTAP Youtube.

From around the MSU Museum:
  • Dr. Laurie Sommers won the 2016 Dorothy Howard Prize for lesson plans on Michigan’s Folksong Legacy she created for the Association for Culture Equity. The Dorothy Howard Prize is awarded by the American Folklore Society Folklore and Education Section and recognizes work that effectively encourages K-12 educators or students to use or study folklore and folkloristic approaches in all educational environments. Congrats to Laurie!
  • A new exhibition of quilts, “The Unbuntutu Legacy of Love and Action,” was debuted this month in South Africa. For more info on key MSU Museum organizers and partners check out this press release.
  • Curator Aleia Brown was selected to be in the 2016 YWCA Rising Star Leadership Program. The program is focused on preparing interested Rising Stars as equity leaders and supports younger women in pursuit of excellence in their careers. Congrats Aleia!

From around Michigan:

Keep your eyes out for new blog posts updated on Thursdays for #FolkloreThursday. Here's a neat clip about bones player Percy Danforth who was from Ann Arbor, Michigan to take us out on:



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Resource for Teachers on Michigan’s Heritage


Attention teachers, students, scholars of Michigan history and music—

As we are all gearing up for another school year, we here at MTAP wanted to share a new resource available on Michigan’s musical heritage. Folklorist and Ethnomusicologist Dr. Laurie Sommers created 10 lesson plans through the Association for Cultural Equity that follow Alan Lomax’s 1938 fieldwork trip through Michigan. Each lesson uses field recordings from a specific area to explore the history and culture of that area, the music tradition heard, and music theory. The lesson plans are designed so students have a hands-on approach to learning history through music. Though the lessons were made with students in grades first through seventh in mind, students of all ages will enjoy these. 

Hear Dr. Sommers speak more in depth about the lesson plans:



The lessons came about due to collaboration between the Association for Cultural Equity,  the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, the Michigan TraditionalArts Program of the Michigan State University Museum, and the Center for the Study of UpperMidwestern Cultures, University of Wisconsin.