- June, 2007)
With the starting point of a 1928 collection
of words to fifteen
play-party games from two rural Kentucky counties, Deborah
divided her time between research in
Berea's archives and field work that included sixty three
interviews with surviving play-party participants who
might remember the tunes, words, and movements that constituted
the games. The result was her being able to largely reconstruct
the games as they had been played. Deborah is sharing
her findings through her school-based artist-in-residence
teaching in eastern Kentucky and in other parts of the
state, lesson plans for use by other public school teachers,
and dance workshop events such as Berea's Christmas Country
Dance School. Wider dissemination of her research will be achieved through a website display and perhaps a book-length print publication.
Fellowship Activities Summary
Play-parties were common entertainment in
rural areas from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Usually neighbors gathered
in a home to sing songs and perform movements. Although they looked like dances,
they were considered games, as dancing was regarded as morally questionable.
Often teens and young adults played the games under the supervision of adults.
In some communities, entire families played the games together.
The focus of this Berea Appalachian Music Fellowship project conducted during
May and June 2007 is a list of words to fifteen play-party songs from Graves
Carlisle Counties collected in 1928 by then University of Kentucky student
Slayden W. Douthitt. They were subsequently published in 1930 with brief commentary
by Douthitt in the limited circulation University of Kentucky publication for
student writers entitled Letters.
The main goal
of the project was to identify tunes to the songs in Douthitt's collection
and document the movements that accompanied them when they were played as play-party
games in the late 1920s. Through a combination of archival research in Berea
and field interviews in the two counties with persons who remembered attending
play-parties, reconstruction of the games as they had been played was largely
From a total of seventeen possible tunes (two songs indicated
tune changes), interviewees were able to identify sixteen tunes as those performed.
Of the fifteen songs listed in the collection, specific movements were recalled
for ten games, with a total of twenty-six versions documented. In addition,
interviewees described another twenty-five versions of movements which were
general, that is, used for most or all games they played, not linked to any
Research to date suggests that the Douthitt collection of
words to play-party songs may well be the only such collection in publication
from the Carlisle - Graves County area of Kentucky. The ongoing outcome of
my Berea Music Fellowship project is disseminating the reconstructed play-party
games through school-based artist-in-residence teaching in eastern and other
parts of Kentucky, lesson plans for use by other public school teachers, and
dance workshop events such as Berea's Christmas Country Dance School. Also
in the works is the possibility of expanding this research into a book-length
publication for teachers that would include lesson plans for teaching the games,
connection to rural western Kentucky, and stories from informants.
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