Texas-style fiddling has become the default style for competitive fiddlers across the country. KERA’s Stephen Becker reports on a documentary at VideoFest that explains this unique form of music.
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The first Texas-style fiddle recording was released in 1922. Since then, a lot of fiddling has been done in this state, none more than in Hallettsville, where the annual Texas State Championship Fiddlers’ Frolics takes place in the spring.
Filmmaker Jason Hammond, a Dallas native, was intrigued by the event.
HAMMOND: “This is an art form that is as old as our country is. … This music is really American heritage music.”
His film, The Devil’s Box, looks at the history of Texas-style fiddling as seen through the eyes of the state’s most talented competitors.
HAMMOND: “Texas-style is a style of fiddle playing that takes the original tune and preserves the melody while adding notes in front of and after the original melodic pacing of the tune. … It’s just kind of a fancy way to play the old tunes.”
Six-time Texas State champion fiddler Wes Wesmoreland breaks it down in the film.
Really, fiddling is a frame of mind. The Devil’s Box takes its title from the sinful nickname given to a violin when in the hands of a fiddler. So the distinction is in the ears of the listener. Or, as violinmaker Bryan Duckworth puts it in the film:
DUCKWORTH: “What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle? A violin has a case and a fiddle’s in a flour sack.”
The Devil’s Box plays tonight at 7 at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.