Welcome to the start of our new blog series, in which we will feature American Music treasures. We will make selections from our NLS Music Collection, starting with letter A and go through the alphabet. We hope you enjoy our snapshots of American Music from A to Z in the NLS Music Collection!
The Arkansas Traveler is a well-known fiddle tune that is generally classified as Old Time and traditional American music. But it is much more than that; it is a narrated story that is accompanied by this tune, which in turn has inspired the below shown lithograph originally created by Arkansas artist Edward Payson Washbourne in 1856. It is also a song, and since 1987, the song The Arkansas Traveler is the official state historical song of the State of Arkansas, as documented in the Arkansas Code (Title 1, Chapter 4). Note: The State of Arkansas actually has four state songs: Two state songs, one state anthem and the above-mentioned official historical song.
The Arkansas Traveler’s two-part melody with its narrated story was composed around 1840 by Colonel Sanford (Sandy) C. Faulkner (1803-1874). The story is set in rural Arkansas in the early 19th century. A hillbilly-type, wise-cracking fiddler is sitting in front of his barn playing his fiddle, trying to remember the entire tune of what we know as The Arkansas Traveler. He keeps repeating only the first part of the tune:
Then a well-dressed city person on his horse comes along. He is the traveler from Arkansas. He tries to engage in a conversation with the rural fiddler by asking questions, foremost as to whether he could get food and lodging here (the answer is a quick “no”), how long he has lived there, why the fiddler doesn’t fix the roof of the barn, etc. Every time the Arkansas traveler asks a question, the fiddler gives only a short and brisk answer and concludes his answer playing his fiddle and repeating the first part of the musical tune.
The dialog goes on for a while, until the traveler asks the fiddler why he would not play the second part of the song. The fiddler then admits that he can’t remember how the second part goes. At that point, the traveler offers to play it for him, under the condition that he would get something to eat first. The excited fiddler then has his wife prepare a meal and they eat together. After the family dinner, the traveler takes the instrument and, to the delight of the fiddler, plays the second part of the tune for the fiddler:
At that point the fiddler starts to be genuinely more interested in the traveler by asking him questions to get to know him better. Hence, the music brings the two strangers together.
Since its creation, the story has been recounted in many forms. Thomas Wilson published a version of the story in the book “The Arkansas Traveller” in 1900. The work has been featured in minstrel shows, as vaudevilles, small theater productions, and in the 1932 Laurel and Hardy short film entitled “The Music Box,” as well as in animated cartoons since then. The tune has been utilized as American Old time Music, Fiddle Music, Bluegrass, Reel, children’s music and it has been accompanying country dances of various kinds.
Additionally, composers such as Charles Ives included this traditional fiddle tune in his “Country Band” march. Pete Seeger recorded a version of it on his 1954 album “Frontier Ballad.”
Would you like to learn to play The Arkansas Traveler? Or learn more about the Arkansas Traveler? Check out the materials available in the NLS Music Collection listed below and contact us to find out more. If you are new to BARD, or if you need some assistance, you may like to consult this link: Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) and BARD Access. To borrow hard copies of braille music or talking books on digital cartridge, please call us at 1-800-424-8567 (choose option 2), or e-mail us at [email protected].
If you feel like exploring more resources available about the Arkansas Traveler and Arkansas folklife, be sure to check out the Research Guide American Folklife Center Collections: Arkansas and other Library of Congress Resources.
–Center for Cassette Studies. Songs of the New World. Wide and varied look at the music and songs of the New World, including Thomas Paine’s “The Death of General Wolf,” songs and dances of the Argentine gauchos, and the country fiddle tune “The Arkansas Traveler.” (DBM00323)
–Homespun Videos. Clawhammer Banjo. 1 & 2, Reportoire & Technique. (DBM03636)
–Homespun Tapes. Flatpicking Fiddle Tunes, taught by Dan Crary. (DBM02191)
–Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (1970s). Clark Kessinger, fiddle Clark Kessinger, with Gene Meade, guitar and Gene Parker, banjo; read by John Lescault. (DBM03670)
Braille: The Arkansas Traveler
—The American Fiddler Old-Time, Bluegrass, Cajun and Texas Style Fiddle Tunes of the USA for violin. (BRM37047)
–Everybody’s Favorite Violin Solos. With piano accompaniment. (BRM12907)
–Froseth, James O. Tunes for Developing Technique. French Horn Solos, Supplementary Book 2. (BRM35769)
–Sokolow, Fred and Bob Applebaum. Fretboard Roadmaps Mandolin. The Essential Patterns that all the Pros Know and Use. (BRM36826)
–The Joy of Organ Music. Easy arrangements by Nelson Varon. (BRM29211)
–For Piano Solo. (BRM10156)
–Thompson, John. The Fourth Grade Book. Modern Course for the Piano (1947). (BRM00486)
–For Piano Duet. In: Lyke, James. Ensemble Music for Group Piano. (BRM24585)
–Two Pianos Are Fun. Selected Two Piano Arrangements. Compiled, edited and arranged by David Hirschberg. (BRM36239)
Wind Instruments in B-Flat
—Legit Fake Book. B flat book, no. 1. A Dance Book for Small Combos. (BRM22705)