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About this collection

Karl Byarski (1916-2016), a lifelong resident of Kinde, Huron County, Michigan, near the tip of the Thumb, was a fan of traditional music.  His Polish ancestors and neighbors settled there in the 1870s.  His mother's family were amateur fiddlers, and his family's parties and those of his neighbors featured both Polish music and dances and the square and round dances of the larger, multi-ethnic (but mostly of Canadian origin) community.  Karl bought his first tape recorder in 1952 and for the next ten years was especially active taping local old-time musicians, mainly fiddlers, partly for a half-hour local radio show, but also to hear and record different tunes.  Towards this end, he invited musicians over to his basement studio, and he taped parties, weddings, dances, mostly in Huron County, but occasionally further afield.  His collections documents over fifty fiddlers, taped over a period of thirty or more years.  This period saw the decline of both traditional square dancing and traditional Polish dancing in the Thumb, as well as the beginnings of accordion-based polka dances. Byarski's hobby included corresponding with other tape recording hobbyists, so his collection includes a small number of recordings from fiddlers' contests in Idaho, Texas, (1957) and Oklahoma (1971), as well as playing from Georgia and from Ontario.  Most of the collection, however, concentrates on Huron County.  The full collection consists of 206 reels and 33 cassettes, the details of which are described in the finding aid, which is the first item listed here.  This digital collection attempts to provide a portion of the collection, not exactly representative, but containing perhaps more of the older sorts of dance music played by these musicians.  In Michigan, as in other parts of the country, public square dances from about 1920 to 1970 were usually advertised as "old-time and modern," meaning they incorporated both "old-time" dances (square dances, waltz, schottische) and "modern" dances (fox trots and two-steps to Tin Pan Alley hits). Thus the musicians generally played a variety of music.  The ethnic Polish fiddlers all played square dance music in addition to the mostly triple-meter Polish tunes, and non-Polish fiddlers also played Polish obereks.  The corpus of tunes here thus represents older, pre-radio dance music common to Ontario and Quebec as well as the predominately American settled parts of Michigan in addition to the Polish dance music brought by Polish immigrants arriving after the Civil War.

 
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