My grandmother studied the piano and her sister studied the violin. My grandmother could play piano, autoharp, guitar, harmonica, and spoons. She spent many years dressing and performing skits and music as Minnie-Pearl from the show Hee-Haw. Even on her death bed she said, “Howdeee! Sure is nice to be here!”, just as Minnie would say! My grandmother gave music to her whole big family. I began playing guitar and then eventually taught myself banjo. I didn’t have parents who played nor did I have neighbors who did. I never really met a banjoist or fiddler until I was about 15 years old. I was privy to campfires and the Eastern panhandle bluegrass group Patent Pending. That really added to my interest in traditional music. I have wondered through many styles of music and in my twenties became a regular at a real Speak Easy in Jefferson County. This group of musicians has gone on to individually do great things with music, most notably Chance McCoy who now plays with Old Crow Medicine Show. I moved to Monroe County in my late twenties and heard Dave Bing play fiddle for the first time. Well, when I heard this I was instantly taken. In some weird way it was familiar to me and that intrigue led me to seeking Dave out and spending time with him for many years. This is where I really got what I needed to learn to fiddle. I received scholarships to attend classes at the Augusta Heritage Center. Since all of this I have performed with several groups; as the fiddler for the Hell For Certain Stringband, whose name comes from a stream in the cranberry back country of Pocahontas County, as well as appearing with the Allegheny Hellbenders on fiddle, banjo, guitar, and bass (whatever was needed, when it was needed). I had a lot of fun doing square dances with the Hellbenders. I have received contest ribbons from the Vandalia Gathering and other contests in WVa and VA. I have appeared musically on network (Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot episode filmed here in Gbr. County)and cable tv (PBS’ This American Land), as well as in the locally filmed movie “Child of God”. In the same movie, Hell For Certain contributed five traditional tunes to the soundtrack with the help of Charlie Hatcher (Bass) and Corey Lee McQuade (Dobro).I am a registered instructor with the Monroe Arts alliance and have taught and offered fiddle classes for adults at Carnegie Hall as well as fiddle, banjo, and mandolin at Carnegie Kids College for the past few years. Of course, the whole time having my own studio in Greenbrier Co, Ox in the Mud Studio.
About the studio and our ideas:
Ox in the Mud Studio was formed in 2013. The curious name is the title of a fiddle tune I learned from a recording of one of my favorite musicians and local legend Jimmy Costa. It also comically represents at times what learning music can make you feel like!
I offer private lessons for fiddle, claw hammer banjo, guitar, and sometimes mandolin. For a monthly tuition students receive one, thirty minute class every week (evening classes.)
I teach privately at my home and at the Greenbrier Episcopal School. Gretchen and Birch Graves and the entire staff at GES are very accommodating and I greatly appreciate what they have done for me and their appreciation for music and art in the community.
I have never advertised. This sounds like its not the brightest idea, but we have a great little secret and fortunately for me, by sheer coincidence we end up meeting and teaching some of the area’s finest families in my opinion. I’ve always been amazed at how that has come about.
In class we sit “knee to knee” and explore traditional music in the traditional way. We study and learn music much like one would learn speech. You will catch me talking about the ‘language of music’ often. This is an idea that comes from John Harford (changed to Hartford) of Missouri who actually performed several times in Ronceverte. We take small musical phrases and build them into bigger ones. We then try to play them like we would speak or breathe or walk: uniformly, evenly, non-erratically, etc.!!! In class we rely on our memory and our hearing to learn and perform. This all comes without the use of written music.
As far as the language of music is concerned, I want my students to be able to “say” what they choose. I am not a purist when it comes to traditional music; I take privileges and try to personalize the tunes. Improvising is something we strive to do while maintaining the respect of the tune and its cultural DNA. The reason we love the musicians we do, is partly because they don’t sound like anyone else. It is good to imitate as you learn but I insist that students strive to personalize. (With current technology, I am not on a mission to preserve these old tunes. There are many people who have done this already and of course the internet is now a great archive. I think we dont need to worry about these ideas so much anymore.)
We want to fill the students ‘toolbox’ with as much as possible in order for them to musically do what they want when approaching their study and instrument. Learning an instrument can be a great example of how to approach and learn many things in life, especially for young people. There are many ways and many schools for music, and this is simply ours.
The area has many great learning opportunities for traditional music like Allegheny Echoes or the Augusta Heritage Center on the Campus of D&E. We suggest that our students while studying year round at Ox in th Mud try one of these well-established and much enjoyed outlets to further their music studies. Ox in the Mud hopes to simply be another outlet that provides an opportunity to learn traditional music.
Everywhere in the world traditional music is or was ultimately born of community I think, and that is something that separates it from many forms of music. This adds to its uniqueness and is what often insures its continuation and renewal/revival. I also think unfortunately we tend to see this revival of all things traditional when ‘times are tough’ for common people.
OX IN THE MUD STUDIO
EXPLORING TRADITIONAL MUSIC
Dennis Ott – Instructor