The Old-Time Herald Volume 14, Number 3

Feature

Mac Traynham, Banjo Builder and Musician: “It’s always been about the party.”
By Malcolm Smith

Birthplace of Country Music Museum
Jenny and Mac Traynham. Photo: Jim Kacsmarik

The wind was constant and strong on top of Buffalo Mountain, which looms high above the farms and villages of Floyd County, Virginia. According to Mac Traynham, it’s that way most of the time. He had guided a group of banjo players attending a three-day class at his Willis, Virginia, home and shop to the top of this peak to learn. “See that red tail over there hunting for food?” Mac asks. “Look at the rhythm in his moves. That might be where that tune ‘Hawks and Eagles’ comes from.” The five students who came locally from Virginia, but also from Idaho, New Hampshire, and even Britain, gawked in awe at the vistas below them.

Mac directed the students’ gazes to the valleys below. “See, over there, way over, that’s the mountains of the Grayson Highlands area which is just beyond where Wade Ward lived. And over there is where the Round Peak sound started. Right down over yonder you can see the area and terrain that Uncle Norm Edmonds came from. And then there’s the Galax area, over there where the famous fiddlers’ convention is held…”

Mac doesn’t just want his banjo students to learn the tunes; he wants them to understand the context of the music and the nature of the lives of the people who passed it down. “To really feel this music, to really know it, “ he says, “I believe it helps to understand the history of the local people and the areas where the older styles of old-time mountain music come from.”

 


 

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