Meredith McIntosh: interview + tunes

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Old Time Music came to me after I had not played any music for several years. 

My mother taught piano and music in the elementary school and my dad played sax in college and the community band. Records played in our house as long as I can remember. My hands-on relationship with music started the summer after first grade when my mother sat me down at the piano to begin lessons with her. Fast forward until the rebellious teenager emerged and I was passed to a different teacher to save the family from ensuing squabbles. For social benefits, I started flute lessons and joined the school band in 7th grade. I continued on the prescriptive road as a music major (flute major, piano minor) headed for a B.S. in music education at the same college my mother attended. Yes, of course, I did my best: practicing 4-5 hours/day, joining the chamber orchestra for opera performances and some musicals and enjoying ensemble playing. But when I headed into two semesters of student teaching, I couldn’t ignore what I knew all along: this kind of setting for music wasn’t for me. Testing and grading students on a curriculum prescribed by educators and school boards didn’t support and encourage the kids who really knew music. On the contrary, it rewarded those who could answer test questions correctly. I managed to take one job interview for a public school position and was relieved not to receive an offer.

After college I moved from Pennsylvania to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I gave piano and flute lessons, worked in a retail store at a mall selling pianos and organs, wrote instrument parts for composers (this was the old days of staff paper and ink) and jotted the first line of hymns on index cards to create a musical filing system for the Moravian Music Library at Old Salem. At some point I just couldn’t do any of it anymore, and for years I didn’t play or think much about music.

One hot summer day I went to Kentucky with a friend who was playing in a chamber orchestra concert. After the concert we went to an old rickety house and I heard Old Time Music for the first time. I don’t remember much except that a woman was playing the piano and one of the tunes was Old Joe Clark. Though the old house, dimly lit room and people playing and dancing were intriguing, the music didn’t catch me. It wasn’t until I moved to Asheville that I started going to dances and heard Trevor and Travis Stuart among others playing “that music” from the Kentucky night cameo. Soon after, I bought a fiddle and started playing music again.

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Old Time Music offered me music not to rehearse but to play, in an informal setting with friends. It also offered a bridge to new friendships. I could play as much or little as I wanted. I could listen and pick up the tunes and bowing. I could go visit some old timers and they’d show me a thing or two. I could take lessons from Bruce Green or go to the Augusta Heritage Center for a fiddle class with Judy Hyman. This way of learning––by listening and spending time with people who play––suited me. The music became internalized in a way I had not experienced before.

Don’t get me wrong. I love written music old and new (what an odd broad thing to say). The fantastic process of a composer capturing internal sounds and somehow translating them into a 3rd dimension on  paper is amazing to me. I also appreciate the time and dedication the players spend in order for the composer’s creation to be heard. Music got skewed for the little girl sitting at the piano. She was wanting to make up something or play straight through a piece without stopping, but was inevitably interrupted by her mother’s voice wafting in from the kitchen, “Honey, it’s a B-flat”. These days, when someone calls out from the next room, it’s “Hey, what was that tune y’all just played?” 

Video editing: Rachel Krause

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