Appalachian Music in Southwestern Pennsylvania

The Bayard Collection and the Snappin’ Bug Project of Mark Tamsula and Richard Withers

by R. C. Withers

Pennsylvania may not come to mind when most people think of Appalachia, although it holds more square miles of Appalachian mountains than any other American state. Traditional music of the Pennsylvania highlands has been largely unrecognized in the canon of Appalachian old-time music compared to the tunes and songs of its southern neighbors. But Pennsylvanian mountain music was once abundant and merits inclusion.

Sadly, the last great generation of musicians raised in the old-time Pennsylvania tradition had largely passed away by the 1960’s. Until then, fiddlers, fifers and singers learned from their forebears in the region since early colonial times, each generation preserving the music’s essence while shaping and reshaping it subtly as the local culture evolved (Bayard, 1982). By the middle of the 20th century, however, few younger Pennsylvanians took interest in their local rural music, and, like some obscure language, it all but died out here (“People Just Don’t Whistle No More” (1971) WQED-TV ). Fortunately, a generous portion of the music of southwestern Pennsylvania was preserved through the monumental work of Penn State professor and folklorist, Samuel Preston Bayard.  Although much of it still lies dormant on pages of musical notation, the tunes and songs are ready to return to a living tradition.

Samuel Bayard was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1908. He came to know of the rich musical heritage in the highlands south of Pittsburgh during childhood visits to relatives in Greene County and began to write down songs he heard there as a teenager. Bayard later studied at Harvard under the renowned folklorist George Lyman Kittredge who was impressed with his body of Greene County ballads and encouraged him to continue collecting.  What began largely as an academic interest in local ballads and their British Isles origins quickly developed into a deep appreciation for the beauty and energy of both the songs and instrumental music of his region.

By 1928 Bayard began to travel throughout the counties of southwestern Pennsylvania, visiting fiddlers, fifers and singers and carefully transcribing their music for posterity.  Although he pursued a career as an English and Folklore professor at Penn State University, he and several collaborators continued to collect music until 1963. Among many scholarly articles on various aspects of folk music, he published two major volumes of traditional Pennsylvania instrumental music, Hill Country Tunes in 1944, and Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife in 1982.  He also served as president of the American Folklore Society from 1964 to 1965 and continues to be recognized as a pioneer among American folklorists, particularly for his work with the Pennsylvanian tradition (Zolten, 1997; Jackson, 1997).  Bayard’s interest in the music went beyond academics and aesthetics, however. From the beginning of his nearly 40 year collection project, he recognized the need to save a vulnerable musical heritage from gradual oblivion, seeking “to preserve something of what the older Pennsylvania tradition really consisted of … pre-radio, pre-tape, pre-TV” (Bayard, 1982, p.2).

Some of Bayard’s source musicians were already in their 70s and 80s at the time of his visits. They had learned the tunes and songs directly from previous generations born in mid-19th century Pennsylvania, who in turn inherited traditions from Northern Ireland, Scotland, northern England, and to a lesser extent, Germany (Bayard, 1944, pp. xx – xxi). The roots of these traditions had been transplanted here by their ancestors, and new songs, tunes and playing styles were grafted on and shaped over generations, adapting to rural Pennsylvania culture and flowering into a distinct regional strain of Appalachian music.

Folklorists were already active in other parts of Appalachia and other regions of the country, of course, when Bayard began collecting. In the nascent era of commercial recording in the 1920’s, Bayard and others foresaw the inevitable dissolution of local music as a homemade art form.  The commercial recording industry was soon to put traditional music increasingly into the hands of professional recording artists who standardized it according to nationally broadcasted styles at the cost of regional characteristics. But the music of Pennsylvania seemed particularly vulnerable; as folklorist Henry Shoemaker pointed out in 1919, Pennsylvania traditions were even then neglected among scholars busy collecting folklore and music in other Appalachian regions (Shoemaker, 1931 p.4).

Thus to rescue Appalachian music in Pennsylvania from obscurity and to preserve its integrity, Bayard committed himself to a labor-intensive mission of visiting local musicians and collecting their tunes and songs. In the early years of his project, roads in the hilly, heavily wooded southwestern counties of Pennsylvania were largely unpaved and often impassable at various times of the year, leaving narrow windows of time for visiting and collecting. The bulky recording equipment then available was out of the question for Bayard, who either hitched rides or traveled by foot. Fortunately he was gifted from an early age with the ability to quickly memorize melodies (with the aid of his fife), and rapidly transcribe them in musical notation. By the late 1940’s he began to travel by car and use recording equipment when possible, but he continued to write out the tunes as he heard them being played (Bayard, Radio interview, 1974).

Earning the trust of these older musicians could be painstaking. As he explained in a radio interview, often he would need to sit for several hours talking about “everything under the sun” with his sources until gaining their confidence that he wasn’t a revenuer or some other intrusive governmental official – the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790’s still casting a shadow in the area.  Typically, though, at some point his host would abruptly declare, “now about those old tunes you were asking after”. Once rapport was established he found the musicians as eager as he to preserve the tunes and songs for posterity. They would often work with him late into the night, taking pains to get the melodies and lyrics correct, just as they learned them from previous generations (Bayard, radio interview, 1974). Through Bayard’s labor and their generosity, they’ve left us an ancient and priceless cultural heirloom.

Bayard’s sources were scattered throughout several counties of southwestern Pennsylvania, but a few communities were noteworthy for their concentration of musical families and deep-rooted traditions. In Derry, Westmoreland County, Sarah Gray Armstrong and Henry W. Wingrove carried on the multi-generational musical traditions of their families, Sarah having learned tunes on the fiddle from her father and four uncles. Fifer Hiram Clinton Horner of Monessen, Westmoreland County, had been the “son, grandson and great-grandson” of fifers in the region likely extending the family musical tradition back into pre- Revolutionary War times. Greene County on the West Virginia border was home to many families of fiddlers, fifers and singers who contributed to Bayard’s collections,  among them the Morrises of Ruff Creek, Mundells of Pierceville, the Rogers of New Freeport , and George Strosnider, William Shape and Hiram White, all fiddlers from the Waynesburg area (Bayard, 1982, p. 594; Bayard, 1944, p.4). Dunbar, a small hill town in Fayette County some 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, was legendary for having “more than its share” of fiddlers, fifers and singers in the late 19th century and being home to several musical families. Among them, Bayard mentions the Lowrys, Hugheses, Martins, Devans, Smitleys, Provances, Yaughers, Bryners, Wingroves, Gilpins, McClains and Ahrenburgs, all from Dunbar or small villages nearby such as Peachen, Mount Braddock, Mount Independence, Shady Grove and others (Bayard, 1944, p.4).

Further north Bayard collected the music of the beautiful countryside around the little community of Rural Valley, Armstrong County, home of well-respected fiddlers such as Bert E. Stear, Curtis R. Cooper and Arthur J. Hogg.  “A. J.” Hogg and his brother Calvin were particularly well known in the area as fiddlers and sources of tunes. In 1921, the Butler Eagle reported on their double wedding in Wick, PA:

…the very noisy and enjoyable affair was arranged by the young folks to properly celebrate the marriage of two popular and highly esteemed young men … After a short honeymoon trip to Slippery Rock and back in the farm wagon hitched to the grocer’s truck, the bridal couples were at home to their friends with a fine lunch, after which the crowd danced to music furnished by the grooms who are violinists of talent.

From his generous store of tunes, Walter Neal, from Mayport, Armstrong County, left us with the sublimely titled “Running through the Rain to Keep Your Hair Dry”, and “Who Hit Nelly with the Stovepipe?”.

Few of Bayard’s sources were professional musicians and none made a living playing their traditional tunes and songs. Most of these men and women were from ordinary paths of life in this largely agricultural area. Many were farmers, some itinerant farm hands, such as fiddler and singer Sanford Hall and fiddler Wiley Jobes, who traveled through southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia, sharing their music as well as their labor.  Bayard mentions “frolics” in farm communities – gatherings among neighbors to bring in a harvest or complete some other seasonal tasks.  These events were important musically; songs were swapped even while the tasks at hand were in progress, and fiddle tunes were played and learned in the square dances that followed the work’s completion (Bayard, 1944, p. 88; Bayard, radio interview, 1974). Many of Bayard’s sources had also been coal miners, such as David P. Gilpin, noted for his fiddling skill despite having lost two fingers of his left hand in a mining accident, and Filmore “Pete” Provance, who could no longer play his fiddle after a mining accident, but sang and whistled tunes for Bayard to collect. Among several gunsmiths in the area, Irvine “Bub” Yaugher, Jr., a fiddler from Mount Independence, was born in the 1880’s and raised in “Yaugher Holler” where his family had settled generations before, farming, mining and hunting for their livelihoods (Bayard, 1944, pp. 5 -7).  Honored in the Dunbar community was the memory of gunsmith Sam Waggle, a fifer who had lost his leg in the American Civil War.  Having passed away before Bayard’s time, he none-the-less contributed to the collections through his influence on younger musicians, notably fiddler Pete Provance, who frequented Waggle’s gunsmith shop in Dunbar and learned many of his tunes:

Pete would beg him to play, and Waggle, highly flattered, would become excited and fussy. He would drop his stone-bowled, wooden stemmed pipe, spit fine, and say, “All right, now me boy – all right, now, you jest wait till I get me fife and me [wooden] leg. Damn, jest wait till I get me fife! – Damn, where’s me leg? Sally, where’s me leg? Damn, Sally, where in Hell is me fife?”… When fully equipped he would go out to the main street of Dunbar and there march up and down, playing continually until he had “blowed hisself clean out” (Bayard, 1944, p. 8).

The exchange of tunes between fifer and fiddler illustrated here was not uncommon in southwestern Pennsylvania, and the involvement of fifers in Bayard’s work may be unique among Appalachian traditional music collections. The fife tradition is relatively obscure nowadays, but fife and drum corps were once common throughout the country and necessary for the military to regulate troop movement. The fife also had a peaceful, celebratory role in Pennsylvania communities however, and fifers got together to enjoy and swap tunes in casual home gatherings:

Formerly, just as Pennsylvania was thronged with fiddlers, so likewise she abounded in local fife-and-drum ensembles … Once in great demand, the fifers and drummers played on every conceivable occasion of local interest (Bayard, 1982, p. 4).

Such occasions included patriotic holidays, but also funerals and even wedding day “serenades … where newlyweds were welcomed back home with a hellish din of fife-and-drum, bells, gunshots, beaten metal tubs [and] firecrackers.” (Bayard, 1982, p. 507). Bayard notes that highly individualized fifing styles and tune settings were the order of the day. When asked how they kept the melody together while marching with all that variation, Greene County fifer Marion Yoders explained, “Well, Sam, when they was all a-blowin’ their innards out, and the drums backin’ ’em up, it wouldn’t have made that much difference.” (Bayard, 1982, p. 4.).

Given pitch differences and the different functions fiddles and fifes served, it is unlikely that they were often played together. Repertoires of fifers and fiddlers greatly overlapped, however, and several of Bayard’s sources played both instruments. Larger dances made use of guitar, banjo, dulcimer and even the occasional accordion, cello, tin whistle or zither (Bayard, 1944, p. xiii; Bayard,1982, p. 595). Thus the music of the region was functional and versatile, characterized on any given occasion not by the instrument it came from, but by the purpose it was put to – the kind of movement it accompanied and marshaled, be it dancing or marching – or, in the case of songs, working on the farm or just sitting in the parlor to listen.

Since Bayard’s time, however, the music has been mostly idle and silent on the written pages of his collections. With the passing of Bayard’s sources – the last generation in this musical lineage – the living stem of historical tunes and songs rooted both here and in ancestral lands overseas has been almost fully truncated. Since publication, some prominent musicians (e.g., James Bryan and John Hartford), have recorded the occasional fiddle tune from Bayard. Until recently, however, as far as we know, sets of these tunes have seldom if ever been performed, recorded or otherwise played together to represent Southwestern Pennsylvania as a distinct Appalachian musical region.

The Snappin’ Bug Recording Project:

Though we both were raised in rural Pennsylvania, Mark and I grew up unaware of its rich musical heritage and first came to Appalachian old-time music through the better known tunes found south of the Mason-Dixon line (which happens to be Pennsylvania’s southern border).  We met up in Pittsburgh and played together for some time before our friend George Balderose (founder of Pittsburgh folk music society, Calliope) introduced us to the Bayard collection a few years after publication of Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife. Since then, we’ve made five albums of tunes and songs from the Bayard collections.

Adaptation of old time music from texts has posed some challenges. Initially we combed through the text looking for tunes that jump easily off the page and into jam sessions. However, by the time we released our first recording “Up in the Batten House” in 2011, we came to find tunes that initially held little interest for us when first played mechanically from the written notation eventually grew in character and drive with repeated playing, like an old fiddle from the attic finding its former warmth and resonance the more it’s taken out and played.

We haven’t always strictly adhered to Bayard’s written notation – sometimes we’ve drifted from it unintentionally, only to discover what’s happened after later reviewing the original source. Other times our adaptations have been more deliberate stylistic choices. It could be argued that a literal performance of the musical text would be the most faithful kind of representation, in some sense –   Bayard took pains to capture each tune exactly as he heard it, rhythmically and melodically, even to the extent of noting non-standard intonations as any particular musician played slightly sharp or flat on some notes, whether by design or accident. As he observed, however, seldom did any player perform a tune exactly the same way twice. He found variations in melody, rhythm, and even tune titles over time by players who insisted that they hadn’t changed a thing since his previous visit (Bayard, 1982, p. 256; Bayard, radio interview 1974).  Most would agree, I believe, that such variation is natural to the old time tradition. Unlike classical music, Appalachian old time and other traditional music is best retained in the slowly drifting, re-creative human memory, with musical notation serving as an aid to its preservation rather than an authority over it. In this frame of mind, we’ve found ourselves generally learning the tunes initially as written, but sometimes adapting them, respectfully and conservatively we hope, to fit with our own individual style and ability, and for the contexts in which we perform them, be it a jam session, dance or concert.

Thanks to Carl Rahkonen, musical archivist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, we gained access to the field recordings Bayard made in later years and learned some tunes directly from them. Mark even adopted the choppy bowing of many of the source musicians for some of these tunes as we perform them. We haven’t tried to imitate closely any of the old player’s styles, however, choosing instead to play them with the musical approach we’ve learned and developed over the years, figuring it’s better to do what we know than to copy someone’s playing out of context.

We feature fiddle and banjo in most of our work, a common pairing in past generations here, although fiddles and fifes dominated the region. We’re often fortunate to be joined by guitarist Dave Krysty, who visited and learned tunes directly from some of Bayard’s sources while they were able to play, particularly fiddlers Jim Bryner and Jonah Hughes of Dunbar, Pennsylvania.  Here and there I play the harmonica, and sometimes use fife, and simple-system marching and concert flutes to present something of the regional fifing tradition. These instruments are featured on our fourth recording “The Snowy Hill”, which also draws heavily on the Ulster legacy of Southwestern Pennsylvania, well represented in Bayard’s work. A departure from our more typical old-time Appalachian sound, we’re joined on this album by Irish-style guitarist, Kathy Fallon, who brings out beautifully the Irish ancestral features of this particular sample of tunes.

Bayard’s extensive collection of songs and ballads from this region has yet to be published, and much could be written about this body of work on its own. We’ve collaborated with accomplished singer Ellen Gozion, who studied the archives at Penn State and found several gems among them that she recorded with us on two of our albums.

We’ve found great satisfaction helping to bring to life this music from our home region, and feel deep gratitude toward the man and his collaborators who rescued so much of it from oblivion. I wish we had gotten to meet Bayard, and to learn tunes directly from some of his venerable source musicians: Sarah Armstrong of Westmoreland County and her uncle Laney, Harry “Tink” Queer from Ligonier, A.J. Hogg of Rural Valley, the legendary Dunbar fiddlers and so many others.  They kept their centuries old Pennsylvanian tradition alive long enough for Bayard to store their tunes away, carefully and lovingly, ready at any time for a revival, which we’d like to think, is now underway.

Richard Withers (five-string banjo, harmonica, flutes and fifes) and Mark Tamsula (fiddle, guitar) have played and recorded Old-Time music together in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since 1985. Together they have recorded six albums of old-time music, mostly from the Bayard collections, but all rooted in Southwestern Pennsylvania and South Central Pennsylvania. More about them can be found on their website, Their recordings are available there for purchase and download. 


1Other areas of Pennsylvania once had rich old-time musical traditions, not explored by Bayard. The late Jehile Kirkhuff, for example was noted for his repertoire of fiddle tunes from the northeastern part of the state, and fiddler Bill Gipe and others were recorded in the 1970s by Tracy Schwartz in my home area of York County, south central Pennsylvania.

2Phil R. Jack, Thomas J. Hoge, and Jacob A. Evanson all collected tunes and contributed to Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife. (Bayard, 1982)

3Todd Clewell of Dallastown, Pennsylvania, made a notable contribution toward this end with the album “Sarah Armstrong’s Tunes” (Happy Dog Records, 2005), selections of tunes Bayard collected from Westmoreland County fiddler Sarah Gray Armstrong. More information is available on his website about this fine recording project:

4Bayard’s field recordings are now accessible on-line through Penn State University.

5Dave’s videos of his jams with these fiddlers are available at


American Archive of Public Broadcasting. (2010). “People Just Don’t Whistle No More”. People, Places, Things, Now  (1971) WQED-TV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, D.C.

Bayard, S. P., Ed. (1982). Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife: Instrumental Folk Tunes in Pennsylvania. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Bayard, S. P. (1944). Hill Country Tunes: Instrumental Folk Music of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: American Folklore Society.

Bayard, S. P. (1974). “A Little Bit of History: an interview with Samuel Bayard” conducted by G. Allen Marburger, WDFM Radio, Penn State University.

Jackson, B. (1997).“Obituary: Samuel Preston Bayard (1908 – 1997), An Appreciation”.  Journal of American Folklore. 100 (438 (Autumn 1997)).

Shoemaker, Henry (1931). Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: N. F. McGirr

Zolten, J. (1997). “In Memoriam: Samuel Bayard”. Sing Out! (May).