Monday, May 25, 2009

Memory Monday: Fiddles and My Family

There’s definitely a strong love of music on both sides of my family, but it is my mother’s side, the Moores, who go beyond appreciation to actually playing and making musical instruments. In their case, the musical instrument that seems to be “king” is the fiddle.

In an article in Volume II of Salt Port to Sirloin: The History of Baylor County from 1878 to Present, my Aunt Clarice Moore Howry wrote of her father, my Grandfather Kirby Runion Moore (pictured in the middle picture in the banner with my Grandmother Eula Floyd Moore): “One fond memory we have is when the family gathered on the front porch to rest and relax after our day’s work was done, and Father would play his fiddle. He played the good old tunes, hoe-downs, two-steps and waltzes.” When I started family research and found my great-grandparents Harlston Perrin Moore and Martha E. Lewis, I wondered which side of the family my grandfather learned to play the fiddle from, the Moores or the Lewises.

In my post on Aunt Joy, I wrote about my mother’s oldest brother, my Uncle Howard Lee Moore, a talented amateur violin maker, and how Howard and Joy would take me to old-time fiddling festivals. Uncle Howard always wished that he could play the way his father did, but his own talent was in crafting the violin itself. I remember when I lived with Uncle Howard and Aunt Joy there were always beautiful pieces of different kinds of wood in Uncle Howard’s workshop; the smell of the wood was wonderful. There would always be two or three fiddles hanging in the closet of the spare bedroom to let the varnish dry and age. In the family room there was a big trophy case with numerous trophies won at the national amateur violin-makers competition as well as a few fiddles that were still waiting to be sold. After varnishing, the colors of the violins varied from a deep rich brown to a stunning reddish-brown color to a brilliant “blond” wood color. Customers who came to buy violins included local bluegrass players as well as members of the local symphony orchestra. Howard and Joy even arranged for me to take violin lessons for a few months with one of the violinists in the symphony orchestra.

Later I learned that my mother’s youngest brother Neil Moore and his wife Ina played bluegrass, with Neil on the fiddle and Ina on the guitar; they are shown in the picture below. Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of Uncle Howard with one of his fiddles, but the fiddle Uncle Neil is holding was probably made by Uncle Howard.

When I moved out to Texas to live with my mother I was not able to continue violin lessons, but started oboe lessons there because our high school band needed an oboe. I never gained much proficiency on either instrument. However, my iPod is filled with many different types of string music: bluegrass, quintets for strings by Boccherini, Cajun, Cape Breton, and Quebecois fiddle music, various kinds of Celtic fiddle music, Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish fiddle music (including Hardanger fiddles and nyckelharpas), and Hungarian and Gypsy fiddle music (and hurdy-gurdies as well). I do not know whether we are born or bred to respond more strongly to certain sounds than to others, but I suspect there is something in the blood that makes us Moores love music made on stringed instruments beyond any other sound.


  1. I, too have music in my family, but that gene missed me completely! My brother currently plays in a band and my uncle toured with a known big band in the early 50's before he began medical school. All of his kids, my cousins, were musical. How wonderful to have that talent and the ability to actually hand craft the musical instruments, like your relative is also a special gift.

  2. I sure enjoyed your post, Greta! It's really special that your Uncle Howard was able to handcraft fiddles. My gosh, what a talent too. This was a good Monday Memory!

  3. My Moore family also has musical talent. Many of them sing and some play piano.

    I love stringed insruments and played the Viola in school.

  4. Thanks for your comments. Linda, do you have any recordings of your brother's or uncle's bands? My husband had a great uncle who was a somewhat famous pianist (Julius Koehl), but he died young. Apparently some of his performances have been captured in piano rolls! Becky, I think it is neat that your dad is a musician. Professor Dru - I know a couple of people who play the viola; we all consider it the "intellectual's" instrument (in a good way - you need brains to really "get" the instrument).

  5. I can relate to a love of stringed instruments. Though neither of my parents played an instrument, nor my grandparents either for that matter, I inherited a violin made locally by a friend and business partner of my grandfather's. It's nothing special and I'm sure it never won any awards, but it's special to me just because my grandfather bought it for his son to play. My dear uncle never really enjoyed playing and when I was a child expressing an interest he gave it to me. I took lessons and really struggled with it, never mastering it. But I kept the instrument and when my daughter came of an age to express an interest I gave it to her, along with lessons :-) She really took to it and played throughout middle school, high school, and in the university orchestra. How I loved to hear her play! We did buy her a new violin when her abilities surpassed the sound quality of that original violin but I still have that instrument. It now sits in my curio cabinet for all to admire.

    Thanks for sharing this story. It really brought back memories for me!

  6. Thank you, Jasia, especially for sharing the story of your violin. It's fascinating that memories involving music are often very strong ones ... kinda like memories involving food. It's also great when we can enjoy our kids' musical gifts. I always used to love the late afternoon hours when my daughters would be practicing their instruments (piano and harp).