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The Kansas State Fiddling and Picking Championships 1981-1990:


by Mike Rundle

The Bishop Group, Junction City, 1898 from the Joseph J. Pennell Collection, Kansas Collection, University of Kansas LibrariesThis is by no means the end. As for the Kansas State Fiddling and Picking Championships we plan to continue for many years.

We also want to continue this backward look into Kansas history, culture and folklore. It is a curious past exemplified in a way by the photograph shown here taken by Junction City photographer Joseph J. Pennell. Many of you can imagine The Tom Bishop Group playing bluegrass music in its day. Many of you also know that Bluegrass music wasn't around in 1898. All too often "bluegrass" is mistakenly applied to any music played on one or more of the various stringed instruments--banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer--we enjoy during our contests.

Along with the Bishop Group, we learned of the Banjo and Mandolin Clubs at the University of Kansas (1891-1918) and the Junction City High School Mandolin Club. It is likely all of these groups played classical music. They may have a modern counterpart in the Lawrence Mandolin Orchestra (1973 to present).

Instrument making and repairs another path that deserves to be followed. All those mandolin clubs needed such services. It is interesting to note that Elaine VanDeventer, representing the four Lawrence banks who sponsored the 1990 Mountain Dulcimer Contest, mentioned her 91 year-old grandfather, Lawrence Urban, of Pfiefer, made dulcimers earlier in his life.

Jesse Lanning (1892-1987) was born near Burr Oak, in Jewell County, and made cornstalk fiddles as a child. He passed this skill on to his children. According to his daughter he made a fiddle from a cigar box as a teenager and repaired instruments during his adult life. At around 70 he began to make fiddles and continued to do so until his death at 95. Many of his instruments survive, and some are valued by owners who perform professionally.

Roscoe Lanning, 88 year-old nephew of Jesse Lanning, lives today in Atwood and is himself a fiddler. He shared accounts of music being played when neighbors got together in each other's homes and at the “Literary,” a weekly gathering held during the winter at the local schoolhouse. People eagerly entertained one another with instrumental music, singing, spoken pieces and occasional debates at those events. According to Roscoe, around 1915 there were also "fiddler contests" there in Rawlins County at the local movie theater. He said they were put on to draw a larger crowd to the movies.

If there is a reason behind these closing remarks, it might be to encourage you to develop a finer appreciation for the rich tapestry of folk music and dance as it exists today as well as in our past. And, we've enjoyed remembering stories from these ten years of KSF&PC so much we had to share them with you.

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