Field Recorders' Collective seeks to preserve the music of the ages

Rick Barbero/THe Register-Herald Madoline Levy, left, and Bertram Levy, of Port Townsend Washington, playing fiddles during the App[alachian String Band Music Festival held at Camp Washington-Carver in Clifftop.

CLIFFTOP — If no one steps up to preserve our culture, it could be lost forever. That’s where the Field Recorders’ Collective comes in.

Stationed at a booth at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, Dave Hall and Ambrose Verdibello are selling CDs of artists that you’ve probably never heard of. These are ‘the old-time masters,’ though, as the duo put it.

“For people who aren’t familiar with field-recordings, it’s not a strict formal studio setting,” Volunteer Dave Hall said. “It could be someone sitting in his kitchen playing the fiddle.

“You could have someone sitting in the audience doing a recording. Jam sessions at festivals like this one are popular for field recordings. The sound quality is occasionally awful, but they’re still fun to listen to.”

The Field Recorders’ Collective has been around for decades, but it all started because of one man who loved music.

“Ray Alden was recording people in their homes, at community events and at concerts since the late 1960s,” FRC Board of Directors Member Ambrose Verdibello said. “Ray Alden amassed a huge collection of music. He was a school teacher and he would come down into North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.

“He didn’t just bring his field-recording equipment and barge into people’s homes. He developed personal relationships with people in order to do what he did. He himself was a musician. As he became known and liked, it opened doorways. Musicians can be somewhat mistrusting of someone who might ‘steal’ their music.”

Verdibello said Alden knew others were collecting old-time music, just like he was.

“Ray Alden teamed up with a man named Tim Brown who decided to put together a field recorder’s collective,” he said. “They decided their approach would be to look through their collections and edit them and produce CDs for sale to the public so the collections would be accessible by the public.

“The original families or their descendants are paid money out of money raised from the sales of the CDs that are produced. We pay out to the artists and the people who made the original recordings.”

For some, field recordings are about listening to good music. For others, it’s a way to learn a style that often dies with its pioneers.

“People want to learn a certain way of playing and they’ll seek out the early masters,” Verdibello said. “There’s no standard for any tune or any style, but it’s very educational, if you will.

“It’s inspiring even, from someone who learned the tune before the digital age and the age of recorded music. It was certainly before the age of the Internet.”

Verdibello said he’s heard hundreds, maybe thousands, of field recordings, but he has a favorite.

“I play the fiddle and I particularly like a couple of recordings that we did of a Tennessee fiddler by the name of Clyde Davenport,” he said. “We’ve got two volumes of his. I like volume two best. His DVD is very good. It’s funny and it’s great music.”

If you’d like to learn more about a method to preserve the music of your community or you’d like to pick up some field recordings, visit www.fieldrecorder.org.

You can also check out the FRC's booth at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival, which runs until Sunday evening.

— Email: cneff@register-herald.com; Follow on Twitter @RHCodyNeff

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