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JEFF ANDERSON: FIDDLING IN THE FAMILY TRADITION
My father's parents, Kristofer and Petra Anderson, immigrated to the USA around 1902. He was from Bergen, Norway and she was from around Napp in the Lofoten Islands. They settled outside the small town of Larson, North Dakota on a small farm. My Grandfather Anderson played the fiddle and the button accordion. He must have had many musical friends in Norway, because some of his friends would frequent their place on weekends for day and night jam sessions. My father, Palmer Anderson, liked to tell stories to us about all the things that happened when he was young. Some of the people that would come to their place were Ole Bull, a famous violinist of Norway; Torrenstein Skarning of Norway, at one time the world's best accordion player; Carl Matthiesen, accordion, of North Dakota; Johnny Holte, fiddle, from McGregor, North Dakota; Sigard Arnstain, button accordion, from around Noonan, North Dakota; and Carl Melcher, fiddle, from Wildrose, North Dakota. Carl Melcher was the father of my mother, Ruby Anderson. He was self-taught, taking up the fiddle as a boy.
In 1933, the Carl Melcher family moved to Washington state, settling in Waterville. Palmer Anderson came with the Melcher family at the time. There were 14 children in the family and 9 of them played instruments. Palmer Anderson and Ruby Melcher were married at Waterville in June of 1938. On Jan. 8, 1953, I was born into this musical family. My Dad would play tunes on the fiddle at home and played some on the button accordion too. My mother Ruby Anderson used to accompany Grandpa Melcher on the Hawaiian guitar at dances along with other members of the family. Grandma would play the pump organ or piano, whichever they had handy.
When I was around 5 or 6 years old, I began enjoying listening to Grandpa Melcher play tunes on the fiddle. I was 10 years old when he passed away. I didn't take up playing the fiddle until I was 16 years old. I had all these tunes in my head, I didn't know the names of half of them. I would go around humming these old tunes wherever I went. I remember one time I was sitting at my desk in the fourth grade humming Sailor's Hornpipe, and got in trouble for disturbing the class.
We attended a fiddle show at the Sterling Junior High School in East Wenatchee, the winter of 1968. I guess this is where I got the urge to try to play the fiddle. There was a 5-year-old boy standing on the stage playing like mad. I remember telling Dad, "Look at that, I wonder if I could learn to play the fiddle too." Dad said, "Well, we have two of them. Get one out and try it." So I did. Dad had one of Grandpa Melcher's fiddles, and that is the one I learned on. We had tapes of Mr. Melcher playing the fiddle, made when he was in his late 70's. I took these tapes and the fiddle and started in. I would listen to a tune and then try to find the notes on the fiddle. I had the fiddle cross tuned somehow. The funny part was I was playing tunes with only two fingers. Sliding them in some ungodly manner!
In 1969, when I was 16 years old, the Washington Old Time Fiddlers were playing at our Fair here in Waterville, and my parents and I went up to see them. I ended up playing Devil's Dream on stage with them. I played this tune with two fingers also. Well, they talked me into joining their organization. There was an 86-year-old fella in the Fiddlers, his name was Bill Spiecker. If I had any one person help me, I guess I would have to say it was him. He was always nagging me to get the other two fingers going and use them. I didn't think that made much difference, since I was getting the tune out. This went along pretty good until I started playing more complicated pieces. The skin would wear a hole in it and then there was pain. So finally after 3 or 4 years, I was forced into figuring out how to use all four fingers. I had already learned all my tunes over again, because of having the fiddle cross-tuned.
After learning these tunes over for the third time, I was well on my way to being able to play some pretty good pieces. When I was trying to learn a new tune, I would sit in my bedroom for hours at a time working on that fiddle. When I thought I had it right, I would come out and have my Mom try to chord it. If she couldn't get all the chords in where they went, she would tell me "Get back in there, something isn't right yet." So back into the bedroom I would go to try it again.
I remember one thing that I think helped me with my music, when I was around 6 or 7 years old, my Grandmother Melcher showed me a bunch of chords on the old pump organ. For some reason most of that stuck in my head. I'm not a piano player by any means, but I like to back up people on the piano if I know the tune.
I used to watch Grandpa Melcher whenever I had a chance. I remember what he used to do with the bow. It seemed like it was floating in his hand, like his hand was hovering over the bow or something. It is hard to explain. In the beginning, I was somewhat confused in the way he held it. He had been gone for 6 years before I started to play so some things he did were quite fuzzy. I got ahold of some pictures of him playing, I studied those pictures and studied those pictures, I think I accidentally figured out how he did it. There have been many old time Norwegian fiddlers ask me where I learned the Hardanger bowing. I didn't know there was a name for what I was doing. As close as I can figure out about my bowing is it seems to hang on my thumb. The fingers have very little control over the bow. I have at times thrown the bow right out of my hand. It just takes off. If anyone is watching when this happens, there is always a big uproar.
Most of the tunes I have learned are from memory. I have never had any formal musical training. I have been working a little lately on learning to read the notes, it is slow going, but still fun. I have been playing the fiddle for just over 30 years now and I have found it fun to pick up each time I open the box. Some people have told me I play the real old time Shetland Islands style, partly because of the way I hold the fiddle on my chest and turn it while playing to allow the bow easier access to the strings. All I know is that is how it was played in the family and I guess I do it that way because I am trying to carry on the family fiddle tradition.
Jeff Anderson, November 1999
1. Peter Kiefer's Vals A tune my grandfather played for dances in North Dakota.
2. Wake Up Susan This is the old time version which I learned from Harold Hubbard at a campout at Arlington.
3. Clarence Raymo's Waltz We don't know the name of this tune. My grandfather taught it to Clarence Raymo in North Dakota in the early 1920's.
4. Murray River Jig I learned this tune from Sheila Wright of Spokane.
5. The Little Norwegian Boy's Fiddle Vals (Jeff Anderson) My own composition, dedicated to the memory of my Dad, Palmer R. Anderson. Dad really enjoyed listening to this tune.
6. Fiddlers to the Fore This is a Scottish march. I learned it while sitting in my chair watching TV, listening to the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra.
7. From Frisco to Cape Cod I learned this tune from an old recording of my Grandfather Carl Melcher, playing in North Dakota in 1952.
8. Reinlendar Etter Ringnessen A traditional Norwegian tune that was played in the family.
9. Olaf Hanson's Vals or Turalleri I learned this tune at a Hardanger Fiddle Association convention in Wilmar, Minnesota in 1987.
10. Old French Reel A New England reel played by many people in the Pacific Northwest.
11. Per the Blacksmith's Vals I heard the Clover Blossom Scandinavian folk dance band play this tune.
12. Miss McLeod's Reel Another tune that was played in the family.
13. Midsommer Vals I learned this from an old record that one of my uncles had.
14. Sailor's Hornpipe This is a tune that was played in my family for many years. As a child I enjoyed watching my uncle Nick dance it.
15. Mini Vals Fra Norge This tune is played in the Lofoten Islands. Another tune played by the Clover Blossom band.
16. Gärdebylåten A Scandinavian walking tune.
17. Solvik's Minnen I learned this from a recording of Berniece Lundin of Spokane.
18. Petronella Lucy Reuter played this on her cello at an Arlington, Washington campout I attended.
19. Skunk Lake Waltz Another tune learned in Minnesota.
20. The Iron Man (J.S. Skinner) I learned this Scottish strathspey from an old recording.
21. Saturday Waltz This was another tune played by Carl Melcher. I have always enjoyed playing this tune and watching people dance it.
22. Little Burnt Potato (Colin Boyd) I learned this jig from an old record I have.
23. Styrman's Vals or Pilot's Vals I learned this tune from Irene Anderson of Okanogan, Washington. She always had a twinkle in her eye when she played this on her small piano accordion. That Norwegian lady was inspiring to listen to.
24. The Lindbergh Waltz This was one of my Dad's favorites waltzes. I learned it from a recording of my Grandfather, Carl Melcher.
Guitar: Stuart Williams. Piano: Sandy Bradley. Bass: Nancy Katz. Dobro: Ruby Anderson. Mandolin and tenor banjo: Phil Williams.
Producers: Stuart Williams, Vivian Williams. Recording engineer: Phil Williams.
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