- Everyday Music by Alan Govenar
The musical diversity of Texas has long been touted, and rightly so. Few states can match the varied environment, distinct physical terrain, and multi-cultural population, all essential ingredients in creating a rich musical tapestry. With Everyday Music, Alan Govenar, Dallas-based author, folklorist, photographer and filmmaker, continues to document the vernacular melodies of the Lone Star State.
Everyday Music is an outgrowth of the radio series, Traditional Music in Texas, which Govenar researched and produced from 1984 to 1988 for National Public Radio station KERA in Dallas. For Govenar, traditional music is "the time-honored songs . . . passed on from one generation to another" (2). In putting the series together, he drove throughout the state searching for "performers whose music was rooted in their cultural background" (1). From Spanish-speaking Jews singing traditional Yiddish songs in McAllen to a Seminole-Kiowa gourd dance in Irving, Govenar taped both professional and amateur musicians with equal enthusiasm.
Of the radio series' thirty-nine episodes, which are listed in the appendix [End Page 204] to Everyday Music, more than half were recorded in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (thirteen), Houston (four), San Antonio (three), and Austin (three), a reflection of how Texas's musical mosaic has become increasingly defined in an urban setting. It is worth noting, however, that Govenar's travels missed a vast swath of territory: the Permian Basin and Concho Valley, the South Plains and Panhandle, and, except for stops in El Paso and Redford, the Trans-Pecos.
In 2009 Govenar began making return visits to eleven of his subjects. He found that some had died; in other instances, the music was dying too. Everyday Music, richly illustrated with the author's photographs, combines the earlier interviews with more recent conversations and observations. And while the book can be read as a self-contained document, it is also intended as a textbook or supplementary reader for use in the secondary school classroom in conjunction with an interactive website: www.every-daymusiconline.org.
One of Govenar's notable strengths is his ability to listen and allow the musicians to riff on their craft. For Dallas barrelhouse pianist Alex Moore, "The music is always here when I get ready. The piano kind of plays itself" (69). For Gustine fiddler Wes Westmoreland, "If everything is right, your fiddling is singing the song" (50). And for Beaumont bones player John Henry Nobles, "White [bones] and black [bones] have a different pitch . . . the black and white get along mighty fine when I put them together" (115).
Some of the music that Govenar spotlights, cowboy songs and country fiddling, for example, is alive and well, but other traditions are not as healthy. In the years since Govenar made his initial audio snapshots, the African American community has continued to turn its back on the blues; German oompah music is without mentors to teach a younger generation, and the conjunto accordion is in danger of being relegated to festival and museum status. In lamenting the lack of interest among young people in classical Cambodian instruments, Yani Rose Keo, who started a Cambodian dance company in Houston, is acutely aware of what is at stake: "You need your own music and your own culture . . . you have to know your root" (128).
So what is the fate of the musical tapestry of which Texas is so proud? Govenar notes early that "The life of a tradition depends on interaction and communication within the families and communities in which the music is performed . . . In some instances, musical traditions may be dormant among one generation and be revived in a new form by the next" (5). Because vernacular music is ever changing, it has to remain relevant to potential listeners or everyday music becomes yesterday's music. [End Page 205]