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Voyager Recordings & Publications
VIVIAN & PHIL WILLIAMS
THE MUSIC TRADITIONS
Photo by Irene Young
Vivian and Phil Williams play the hoedowns, reels, waltzes, dance tunes, and songs that came to the Pacific Northwest with the pioneers over the Oregon Trail, and later immigrants. This dynamic, foot stomping music is played on acoustic instruments - fiddle, guitar, banjo and mandolin - as it was in the old days. It brings back the images of relaxing after a hard day on the Trail, the Saturday night dance in the Grange Hall, and the simple pleasures of having a good time playing music with friends and neighbors after the day's chores are done. This music is still a part of rural life in the Northwest, though it is mostly "underground." Vivian and Phil present a rare opportunity to hear the old time music of the Pacific Northwest played by people who grew up with it and are widely acclaimed as among its best performers.
"Vivian Williams has long been heralded as a master of Celtic, old-time and bluegrass styles. Williams is a prize winning fiddler with long experience of playing for dances around her native Seattle, and her playing has the lift and drive needed for good barn dancing." Sing Out Magazine
"Great West Coast fiddle and guitar duo." Disc Collector
"One can hear and feel the pure pleasures these musicians must receive from playing fine tunes well - taste, tone, technique, touch - abound." Bluegrass Unlimited
"Williams is one of the few fiddlers who is truly a master of both old-time and bluegrass styles, slipping seamlessly between the two idioms." Dirty Linen
"I have never heard a lady fiddler that could beat Vivian, and a lot of men fiddlers can't beat her." Bill Monroe
Listed in "50 Most Influential Musicians" in Seattle the past 100 years by Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, December, 2008. The Article.
"Your dedication to your craft has lent tremendous educational opportunities to public programs at the Washington State History Museum. It is due to your time and talents we are able to achieve our mission goals in public programs time and time again." Letter from Washington State Historical Museum
"I know I can speak for myself as well as the rest of the community when saying Tuesday's concert was amazing!! People left feeling more knowledgable and proud of our heritage here in the Northwest and in our little community of Gig Harbor. Thank you for sharing the stories and music that have made us who we are today." Letter from the City of Gig Harbor, Washngton.
Folk Alliance Region - West 2011Best in the West - Ambassador award for fifty years of promotion, performance, research, and fostering the creation of organizations promoting folk arts in the U.S. West.
Inducted into the National Old Time Fiddlers Contest Hall of Fame, Weiser, Idaho, June, 2013.
Inducted into the North American Old Time Fiddlers Hall of Fame, Osceola, New York, July, 2013.
Phil and Vivian are the 2014 recipients of the Association of King County Historical Organization's "Charles Payton Award for Heritage Advocacy."
Videos of Vivian and Phil Williams in performance on YouTube
Vivian and Phil Williams have been documenting and performing Northwest folk music since their teens in the 1950's. They learned the pioneer dances as kids. As they discovered the Northwest manifestations of music that came to the region from all over the world with the pioneers, along with the Northwest's unique style of old time fiddling, they expanded their concert repertoire and began recording regional artists on their Voyager Recordings label.
Vivian is well known in the U.S. and Canada for her fiddling ability. She performs regularly for old time dancing and is one of the leading old time and bluegrass fiddlers on the West Coast. She has won many fiddle contests in the U.S. and Canada, including: 1999 National Senior Champion (Weiser), seven times Washington State Senior Champion, three times Washington State fiddle champion, Western Open Senior Champion, three times National Ladies Champion, four times winner of the West Coast International in Canada, and she won the Smithsonian Fiddle Contest in Washington, D.C., among many. She has judged many contests, including the National Oldtime Fiddle Contest, Weiser, ID. Vivian has won these championships playing old time and pioneer dance tunes in old time dance style, rather than the "contest" style that prevails in more U.S. fiddle contests today.
Vivian plays primarily in the old time fiddle styles found among fiddlers in the Pacific Northwest, with an influence of older era bluegrass. She is known as one of the major historians of the pioneer dance music of the Far West, and, particularly, the Pacific Northwest. Vivian is a noted composer of fiddle tunes, and her tunes have been recorded by many prominent folk and bluegrass musicians. They have been published in folk, fiddle, and bluegrass periodicals, posted on the Internet, and have been used in documentary movies on Northwest history.
Phil performs on guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and bass, and plays just about anything with strings on it. He has developed a reputation as an outstanding backup player and as a player of fiddle tunes on the mandolin. Phil has published a collection of fiddle tunes for the mandolin under the title "The Mandolin Player's Pastime." Phil also repairs and makes stringed instruments, is a recording engineer with many album credits in folk and traditional music, and co-authored a major recording arts book released in late 1998 by Hal Leonard, publisher, entitled Professional Microphone Techniques. He has done extensive recording work to document fiddling in the Pacific Northwest and has been a consultant to the Smithsonian on traditional music in the region.
Vivian and Phil grew up dancing traditional pioneer and contemporary dances, and are noted dance musicians. They have put together several dance bands and have played many many dances over the past fifty or so years. They play nearly all styles of dance music, including square dances, contra dances, traditional family or "Grange" dances, and ballroom dances.
Phil & Vivian both have numerous record credits. They own and operate Voyager Recordings & Publications, which has released recordings of over 85 fiddlers and has developed the most extensive recorded archive of Northwest fiddle and old time music in the country. Vivian has collected and published three volumes of "Brand New Old Time Fiddle Tunes," containing 461 fiddle tunes written by contemporary fiddlers, mostly from the Pacific Northwest. As well as the only two manuscripts so far discovered and published that were actually played from by dance bands in the pioneer Pacific Northwest. Phil & Vivian helped found the Seattle Folklore Society, Northwest Folklife, and the Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association.
Vivian has a B.A. degree from Reed College, Portland, Oregon, in Northwest History, and an M.A. degree in Anthropology (specializing in Ethnomusicology) from the University of Washington, Seattle. Phil has a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Reed College, and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Washington Law School.
PERFORMANCES & SHOWS
Vivian and Phil present a variety of performances and shows from their extensive repertoire of old time music and will create a performance suitable to the venue, audience, performance situation, and desires of the promoter. They have an extensive repertoire of tunes from many fiddle traditions. Some examples of different performances and shows are:
Fiddle and Old time Music in the Pacific Northwest from the Lewis & Clark Expedition to the Present
The Pacific Northwest has a legacy of fiddle and dance tunes going back to the earliest days of exploration in the region. Vivian and Phil play the traditional music brought to the region by early explorers, pioneers, and later immigrants to the region. Each tune has a story about how it came to the region, the occasions where it was, and, in many cases, still is, played, and the people from whom they learned it.
Fiddling Down the Oregon Trail
Much of the fiddle and old time music found throughout the Pacific Northwest when Vivian and Phil were growing up, and now found mostly in rural areas and in gatherings of the Northwest Fiddle Associations, was brought to the region over the Oregon Trail. They have done considerable research into the dance music played on the Oregon Trail and in pioneer communities along the way as recorded in pioneer journals. They play this material both on modern instruments and instruments from Oregon Trail days, including fiddle, mid-1800's guitar, a gut strung fretless banjo that likely came over the Trail, jew's harp, and a mandolin from this era, interwoven with glimpses of how these tunes and dances helped ease a hard day of travel. The Williams presented this program for many years under the auspices of the 'Inquiring Mind" program of the Humanities Washington, various Arts Commissions, and many other presenters. Reviews and Comments about this Program
Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis & Clark Era
Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1805, and brought with them the first fiddlers heard in our home region of which we have any documentation. They were Pierre Cruzzate, from St. Louis, and George Gibson, originally from Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the tunes they played were not mentioned in the Expedition journals. Careful research and experience by them and by Dr. Howard Marshall, professor emeritus of the University of Missouri, revealed many tunes popular in the region where these fiddlers were from at the time of the Expedition. The program includes quotes from the journals and histories of the tunes, and brings out the importance of the fiddling and dancing in the relations of the Expedition with the Indians, something usually overlooked by most historians. Many of the journal quotes concerning this early cultural exchange, which have been left out of nearly all the abridged versions of the Expedition journals, have been uncovered by the Williams and illustrate the opinion of a historian writing in the 1930s that, without the "fiddle diplomacy," the Expedition well may not have succeeded. The Williams have presented this program many times during the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial under the auspices of Humanities Washington, Washington State Arts Commission, National Park Service Tent of Many Voices, Lewis & Clark Bicentennial associations, any many others. Reviews and Comments about this Program
Pioneer Dance Music of the Far West
The great migration to settle the Far West started in the 1840's, and ended around the early part of the 20th Century. The emigrants brought their music and dances with them. The community dance was a major social event and entertainment in the pioneer communities. The fiddle was the most popular and versatile dance instrument, although a wide variety of instruments was used . Rounding up musicians to play a dance often was a challenge. Usually there were very few musicians in the community, and they may all have come from different musical backgrounds and traditions. The tunes they brought with them came from different musical traditions, and had to be adapted so that everyone in the "band" could play them. As a consequence, dances in the Far West typically included many styles of tunes and dances from diverse national and regional traditions. This is the type of community dance they did here in the Puget Sound region as kids. They have done lots of research on the dance music and dances of the pioneer Far West, and present a program of this music, dance descriptions (and demonstrations, when they can get dancers), stories from accounts of Far West pioneer dances, and histories of many of the tunes. This covers an era of great development of popular dance in America, from the days of longways set dances (contra dances) and quadrilles (square dances), to the waltz, polka, schottische, mazurka, two-step, and the various "pattern" dances that they did as kids, but which now are considered "North American Folk Dances." They play tunes from pioneer dances of mining camps, farming settlements, and maritime communities in the Far West, using a variety of instruments commonly used for these dances. This program has been presented under the auspices of Humanities Washington, and by many historical societies, community organizations, schools, colleges, etc.
Dance Tunes of the Alaska Gold Rush
The Alaska Gold Rush started in July, 1897, when the steamship Portland docked in Seattle with news of the gold strike in the Klondike and a load of gold to prove it. People flocked to Seattle from around the world to catch a boat to Alaska and make their way to the Yukon. Soon the population of Dawson and the mining camps in the region exploded. One of the principal entertainments of the miners was dancing in the many saloons and dance halls. This program presents the music they danced to, the type of dances done, and quotes about music and dance from journals and accounts from the gold rush. The influx of wealth and people due to the Alaska gold rush greatly enhanced the development of arts and entertainments in Seattle, including the start of the Seattle Symphony and major theater and vaudeville chains. The tunes are performed by champion fiddler Vivian Williams, accompanied by her husband Phil on guitar, banjo, and mandolin. This is a chance for the family to experience the “hidden history” of the gold rush, as music and dance generally are not presented by historians. The Williams, as historians of the dance music of the pioneer West, as well as contemporary old time dance musicians, are uniquely able to make this music and the gold rush come alive.
Tunes from the Peter Beemer and Haynes Family Manuscripts
Vivian has published the only two manuscripts actually played from by a dance band for community
dances in the pioneer Pacific Northwest. the Peter Beemer Manuscript containing 124 tunes,
was hand written in the 1860s in the mining camp of Warren's Diggins', Idaho, by Peter Beemer, who
collected the tunes by having folks in the camp play, whistle, or sing their favorite dance tunes,
which he transcribed. The band, which consisted of flute, two fiddles, banjo, and button accordion,
played dances on Saturday nights in the saloon owned by one of the fiddlers. This manuscript somehow
survived for over 140 years, and was known to only a few people, until its existence became known
to Vivian. This manuscript is now owned by Boise State University as a major work in their "Western Historical
Papers" collection. The Haynes Family Manuscript was discovered by the Williams in the hands
of a the fifth generation descendant from the families who started making it in the 1960s. It was started
by three families who came out over the Oregon Trail in the late 1840s and early 1850s, settled on Chehalem
Mountain south of Portland, Oregon, and used the manuscript to play dances in the Willamette Valley.
The sophistication and variety of the tunes in these manuscripts surprised music historians, who,
before their publication, could only speculate as to the tunes actually played for dancing in the
pioneer West. The Williams present a cross section of the tunes from these manuscripts on violin
and guitar, and talk about the history of the manuscripts, tunes, and the dances for which they
North American Fiddle Traditions
There are many different traditions and styles found in North American fiddling,
including Canadian, Southern, Northern, New England, Celtic, Scottish, Irish,
Scandinavian, old time and contemporary dance music, Cajun, "bluegrass," "Missouri,"
"Texas," and "Northwest," just to name a few. The Williams play examples of
all these styles and can illustrate and explain them.
Square, Contra, Old Time Ballroom, and Old time Couple Dancing
Vivian & Phil can arrange a participatory square, contra, old time ball, and/or old time couple dance at any level, beginner to expert, with the assistance of one of the many callers and dance instructors with whom they work. They are experienced in arranging dances as a special event at parties, wedding receptions, picnics, community events, and the like. They can bring along whatever size and type of band the occasion requires.
SELECTED APPEARANCES - Here is a very small sampling of venues at which the Williams have performed.
National Folk Festival, Washington DC
Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington DC
A Prairie Home Companion radio program (NPR)
National Park Service Tent of Many Voices in connection with the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial
Lewis & Clark Bicentennial National Convention
Oregon - California Trail Association National Convention
Arts in the Parks program of the Washington State Park Service and Arts Commission
Historical fiddling programs Fiddling Down the Oregon Trail and Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis & Clark Era, Pioneer Dance Tunes of the Far West, Dance Tunes of the Alaska Gold Rush, and Tunes from the Peter Beemer and Haynes Family manuscripts have been presented at over 150 towns in the Pacific Northwest, under auspices of Humanities Washington, the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington State Libraries, historical societies and association, schools and colleges, and many other organizations.
Washington State Historical Museum
Washington State Capitol Museum
National Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
American Folklore Society Annual Convention
River Folk radio program (NPR)
Peter Britt Festival, Jacksonville, OR
Bumbershoot Arts Festival, Seattle WA
Northwest Folklife Festival, Seattle, WA
Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Vancouver BC
National Oldtime Fiddle Contest, Weiser, ID
Featured performers for "Fiddle Week", Red Bluff, California, in connection with the Western Open Fiddle Contest
Many State, County, and Regional Fairs in the Pacific Northwest
Most major universities and colleges in the Pacific Northwest
Many major Western bluegrass festivals
Many local radio broadcasts
Movie "Christmas Mountain" with Slim Pickens
MUSIC CAMP AND WORKSHOP INSTRUCTORS
Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Pt. Townsend, WA
Washington Old Time Fiddle Association Annual Workshop, Kittitas, WA
Wallowa Valley Arts Association Fiddle Camp, Wallowa, OR
Montana Fiddle Camp, Monarch, MT
British Columbia Bluegrass Camp, Shuswap Lake, B.C.
American Banjo Camp, Ft. Flagler, WA
National Old Time Fiddle Contest, Weiser, ID
Folklife in the Schools Program, Washington State
One of the finest fiddlers of the Northwest. Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin
Vivian Williams is one of the most prolific and talented of todays fiddle tune writers. Phil Williams guitar back-up is excellent. Old Time Herald
Threads of old-time, folk, bluegrass - and other types of music that cannot be categorized - run through Vivian & Phil. Acoustic Musician Magazine
Vivian is well-known among bluegrass musicians, Texas-style players, and Contra dancers for her sure sense of melody and timing, full tone, clarity and feeling. Phil Williams solid guitar provides the steady underpinning that allows Vivian to stretch out Victory Review
Vivians playing reflects a keen understanding of the traditions in which her tunes are set, and her warm, vibrant delivery of waltzes and airs succeeds at bringing to mind another composer/violinist named Fritz Kreisler. Meanwhile, Phil Williams, her husband and musical collaborator of many years, deserves equally high praise for his solid and sensitive guitar accompaniment. Heritage Music Review
Vivian demonstrates that acoustic music is a gateway to friendships and community. Its a way of learning about society and interrelations. And, above all, it can lead to great contentment and joy. We thank Vivian for serving as a model, not only as the best lady fiddler that Bill Monroe every heard, but also as a woman who has made conscious choices that led to personal satisfaction. Women in Bluegrass
Vivian Williams original fiddle tunes are an important addition to the repertory. Folk & World Music Review
"Vivian and Phil WIlliams have taken their love relationship with the music of the Oregon Trail and forged works that mesh masterful musicianship, thorough engineering, and a firm sense of history." The Old-Time Herald
Thank you very much for your performance at Central for the Douglas Honors College last Tuesday. It was a perfect mid-winter show for all of us here in Ellensburg. We liked the costumes and your generous sharing of your instruments at the end of the show. But more than anything else, we enjoyed the warm and friendly tone and style of the performance combined with your musical expertise and historical accuracy. Weve had enthusiastic messages from the university and the community; I was especially delighted with the number of people from off campus who ventured out. (Virginia Mack, Interim Director, The Williams O. Douglas Honors College, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA)
Philip and Vivian Williams did a wonderful job of presenting the topic Fiddling Down the Oregon Trail. They grabbed the audiences attention with music and then launched into some background information, taking alternating turns speaking about the history of music along the Oregon Trail. They did this in a very natural flowing way. Both the pace and tone of their presentation gave the listeners the experience of what it would have been like around the campfire at night, after a long day on the Trail. It was a magical evening with just the right amount of history and the sharing of tunes performed on a diverse set of musical instruments to impart to the audience a sense of well-being and wonderment. (Inquiring Mind, Washington Commission for the Humanities, evaluation)
Surprise after surprise . . . That really was the essence of last weeks excellent program, Fiddling Down the Oregon Trail, featuring the tunes and the history associated with fiddle music moving westward with the pioneers. Vivian and Phil Williams have the gift of making it seem like only yesterday. (Frank Jacobson, Latah Co. Eagle, Moscow, ID)
Home Page: www.VoyagerRecords.com
Carrying on the Pioneer Music Traditions of the Pacific Northwest