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Karl Byarski - Michigan fiddle and dance recordings

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Karl Byarski collection

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Karl Byarski - Michigan fiddle and dance recordings


Paul Gifford is a researcher and musician with a particular focus on tradition Michigan fiddling. He writes:
I put up a large collection of home recordings of fiddling made by Karl Byarski, of Kinde, Michigan, mostly in the 1950s. Almost all relates to the Thumb of Michigan. It includes a fair amount recorded live at dances, including some individual changes and at least one full set. It includes an interview with someone who played the bass viol at dances in the late 1890s. There are about 260 tunes, including a fair amount of Polish-American fiddling. For the square dance calling, use the search term "Square dancing."
The collection includes fiddle tunes recorded in the 1950s in Byarski's home, as well as live recordings at square dances. "In Michigan, as in other parts of the country, public square dances from about 1920 to 1970 were usually advertised as "old-time and modern," meaning they incorporated both "old-time" dances (square dances, waltz, schottische) and "modern" dances (fox trots and two-steps to Tin Pan Alley hits). Thus the musicians generally played a variety of music."

This link takes you to the Byarski collection. Another link provides valuable information about another Michigan musician: "George R. Pariseau (1868-1949) was the Thumb’s leading dance fiddler in his day."

Of particular interest are two items:
• An 8-minute audio file recorded in 1958 in Bad Axe, MI, with caller Bill Walker. This is a "full set" of three dances, each with a different tune and figures.
• Similarly, a 13-minute audio file recorded in 1953 in Lexington, MI, with caller Frank Lerash, also a full set.

The finding aid for the collection has detailed notes on the fiddle and dance traditions of this region. Here's an excerpt:

"Square dances (quadrilles) were arranged similarly to square dances in other parts of the northern United States. The crowd formed into sets of four couples. Each kept his partner through three figures, or “changes,” as they were generally known, with a pause between each change. The complexity of the call increased with each change. The first change was an easy-going figure, usually danced to a tune in 6/8 time. The second change was a little more involved, danced to either a 6/8 or a 2/4 tune. The third and last change was called the breakdown and was danced to a tune in 2/4. After about 1920, public dances were usually advertised as “old-time and modern” (or “modern and old-time”). This meant that the dances included both the “old-time” dances such as square dances, schottische, waltz, and circle two-step, in addition to “modern” dances (mainly fox trots), accompanied by Tin Pan Alley hits mostly from the 1920s. Typically three changes of a square dance would be followed by several fox trots, with a waltz or schottische, before another set of square dances began."



Digital Archives, University of Michigan - Flint


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Item Relations

This Item is related to Item: Michigan Fiddle Style
This Item is related to Item: Medicine Fiddle
This Item is related to Item: Henry Ford Shakes a Wicked Hoof - Literary Digest, 1925
This Item is related to Item: Reviving Old Time Dances (article, Detroit, 1926)
This Item is related to Item: Henry Ford’s Dance Revival and Fiddle Contests:
Myth and Reality