Appalachian Old Time String Band honor culture, faith

UKirk students were treated to traditional old-time Appalachian music on Tuesday night in the Campus Christian Center.

The Appalachian Old Time String Band – which consists of Dennis Bills, Gray Crater and Dave Ball – played various tunes and discussed the history of the music and the influence that faith has had on its origins.

The music has strong roots from Ireland, Wales and England, three countries that contributed a wide variety of immigrants to West Virginia.

Bills discussed how people during the origin of this kind of music could not read or write, so they tried to remember the tunes that they heard. He said this had a strong influence on how the music is played today.

“Old guys couldn’t even read or write, but they could play the heck out of a fiddle,” Bills said. “This music wasn’t written down; it just traveled up the river and was sometimes renamed. They made the kind of music that made you want to dance, and they still do.”

Bills said new songs formed from previous ones because people had to try to remember the songs that they heard and couldn’t write anything down.

“These old time people would come in from all around to hear the music,” Bills said. “There were no recorders, people couldn’t write, so they tried to remember what they heard. They would go home, try to remember the name of the song and then play what they thought they heard. That would sometimes become a completely new tune, and that’s why most of these songs sound the same.

Ball touched on the history of how this music transitioned from the mountains and fields into the pews of churches.

“They came from the mountains, came from the fields, and transferred right into the church,” Ball said. “The pastor would do a call and response with the congregation. The song would begin with only one voice, with the group joining in later.”

Rev. Ellen Dawson, campus minister for Marshall UKirk, said she invited the band because she knew the musicians had a lot of knowledge to offer to the students.

“I invited them to come because I know Dennis, and I know he’s really passionate about sharing Appalachian music and culture with people,” Dawson said. “I also knew students would enjoy hearing the music and its history, especially the faith influences.”

Nancy Peyton can be contacted at [email protected].