A Florida Fiddler
The Life and Times of Richard Seaman
Publication Year: 2007
A musical life as glorious metaphor for Florida's cultural landscape.
This biography of 97-year-old Richard Seaman, who grew up in Kissimmee Park, Florida, relies on oral history and folklore research to define the place of musicianship and storytelling in the state's history from one artist's perspective. Gregory Hansen presents Seaman's assessment of Florida's changing cultural landscape through his tall tales, personal experience narratives, legends, fiddle tune repertory, and descriptions of daily life.
Seaman's childhood memories of fiddling performances and rural dances explain the role such gatherings played in building and maintaining social order within the community. As an adult, Seaman moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where he worked as a machinist and performed with his family band. The evolution of his musical repertory from the early 1920s through the 1950s provides a resource for reconstructing social life in the rural south and for understanding how changes in musical style reflect the state's increasingly urban social structure. Hansen includes a set of Seaman's fiddle tunes, transcribed for the benefit of performer and researcher alike. The thirty tall tales included in the volume constitute a representative sample of Florida’s oral tradition in the early years of the 20th century.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
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I am grateful to Bill Foshag for introducing me to folklife studies and old-time music. Bill is an old-time and bluegrass guitarist, and he also played his old-time tunes on his stereo for me while we were working to restore his old gristmill near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I was listening. Two teachers initiated me into playing the fiddle. Lasaunne Allen introduced me to the instrument during one of her winter stays in St. Augustine, and Wayne Martin taught me new techniques and provided...
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Slowly, carefully, the old man lifts his fiddle from the mantelpiece, gently cradling the instrument as he lays it on his couch. Opening up an old violin case, he takes out a well-worn bow and turns its screw, tightening the frog to make the horsehair taut. Pulling a block of rosin that was processed from a nearby turpentine camp five decades ago, he slides the amber chunk up and down the bow, giving it the ability to bite into the instrument’s strings. Picking up the fiddle once again, he tucks it under his...
Introduction: Fiddler's Stories
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The fiddler’s name is Richard Seaman. He was born in Kissimmee Park in 1904, and he began playing the fiddle by 1912. Richard is one of the relatively few Floridians who can lay claim to the title “native Floridian,” and he has spent most of his life living in what is geographically the largest city in the state, Jacksonville. We met that August night in 1988 when I was working as the folk arts coordinator for the Duval County Folk Arts in Education Project, a public sector folklore program sponsored by the Florida Department of State’s Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs and Duval...
Chapter 1. Arts Mania
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The Jacksonville Landing sits as an urban shopping park on the north bank of the St. Johns River. Developed by the Rouse Corporation as part of an urban renewal and economic development project in Jacksonville’s core city business district, The Landing is a semicircular shopping mall that features dozens of specialty shops, a few restaurants, a video arcade, and a food court on its second floor that provides workers in the city with a place to have a sandwich, salad, or a slice of pizza during their lunch...
Chapter 2. And the Merry Love the Fiddle
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Outside of Richard and Annie Seaman’s home in Jacksonville, the thermometer is climbing to the other side of one hundred degrees. I have spent the last couple of afternoons inside of their house in the Avondale section of the city where I have been completing hours of interviews with Richard. Near the close of the millennium, we are recording his memories of life in Florida in the second decade of the twentieth century. I have focused many of my questions on the place of the old-time square...
Chapter 3. Workshop
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When planning for the second annual First Coast Folklife Exploration, I had decided to spotlight fiddle traditions in northern Florida. Even though bluegrass and country music is popular throughout Jacksonville, many Jacksonville residents know little about old-time, bluegrass, and western swing fiddle traditions. I wanted the audience to appreciate the chance to listen to fiddlers who had rich and interesting experiences to...
Chapter 4. “Your Word Was Your Bond”: An Anthology of Tall Tales
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Richard explains that his surname comes from his great-grandfather, remembered in his family as “Captain Seamans.” Richard’s father, Lewis, was also a seafaring man. Living in southeastern Pennsylvania, Lewis Seaman sailed along the intracoastal waterways and off-shore waters of the eastern seaboard. 1 Following one of his excursions as a charter captain in the Chesapeake Bay, Lewis left his home community of Chester, Pennsylvania...
Chapter 5. Uncle Josie’s Farm
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Richard Seaman sets his tall tales in Kissimmee Park. His stories spin fantasies from the everyday history of his childhood in Osceola County. The truth of these tall tales provides listeners with plausible descriptions of daily life in rural central Florida. A sympathetic reading of his tales shows that his unpretentious style of storytelling resounds with truth. Richard forthrightly frames the tall tales as entertaining fictions, and the cultural commonplaces he alludes to vividly present Kissimmee Park as a place...
Chapter 6. Richard’s Fiddle [Includes Image Plates]
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Hearing a fiddle tune for the first time, a novice listener hears rhythmic bow strokes that make it easy to find the beat. But a blustery flurry of notes may force the novitiate to strain to recognize the tune’s melody. After initially marveling at hearing a virtuoso fiddler play, those who are unfamiliar with old-time fiddling tend to lose interest. Without knowing how to listen for each tune’s uniqueness, tyro listeners are apt to remark that all fiddle tunes sound the same and move to another stage at a folklife festival. ...
Chapter 7. Core Repertory
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When fiddlers gather together to play, they are likely to strike up a conversation about the tunes in their repertories. As their conversation transforms into a musical performance, comparisons of individual variations of tunes become a major point of shared interest. Fiddlers understand what Matthew Guntharp discovered when learning the fiddler’s ways: a fiddler’s tunes reflect the musician’s background, skill, and musical taste.1 Fiddlers create their own musical histories by learning and playing the...
Chapter 8. Folklife in Education
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After examining the thousand-year-old etymology of the word folklore, a researcher might regard the phrase “folklife in education” as an oxymoron. Jeffrey Mazo writes that the Anglo-Saxon term folclar was in circulation by the year 890.1 Meaning “knowledge held in common,” the term that gave us folklore is in contrast with the term boclar, which referred to “knowledge kept in books” or “doctrine.” Mazo points out that...
Chapter 9. A Florida Fiddler
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In the late 1980s, Richard Seaman picked up his fiddle from the mantelpiece and began playing once again. While working at Paschal and Shaw’s Hardware, he had met Jack Piccalo, a bluegrass banjo player and salesman in the hardware business. They found that they shared mutual interests in music, and Richard explains that Jack encouraged him to play his fiddle once again. Richard found that he could remember a few of the hoedowns...
Chapter 10. The Voice of a Fiddler
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The voice of the emcee is clear on the videotape of the 1992 Florida Folk Festival that Richard has recorded and sent to me.1 She is off-camera, but the video frame shows the amphitheater’s stage setup. Shading a brick floor, this wooden pavilion is the main stage at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. Since its inception in 1953, the festival has been held on the banks of the Suwannee River, and it is coordinated each...
Chapter 11. The Icing on the Cake
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On the first day that I interviewed Richard, he asked me to come early in the afternoon. We talked for an hour while the tape recorder was running, and we spent some time visiting after I packed away all of the recording equipment. He explained that he needed to make sure that he had time open later in the afternoon because he was going...
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It was my privilege to know Richard Seaman for over fifteen years. The story of Richard and Annie’s courtship is an important part of their life histories, and it provides the context for the “Annie Seaman Waltz.” This tune has been picked up by fiddlers throughout Florida, and musicians who knew Richard often tell the story when introducing the waltz. I feel that his musical life history is concluded with this story, but the historical record needs...
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Page Count: 254
Publication Year: 2007