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2019 Vandalia Award

Posted by Brooklynbanjoboy on Tuesday, May 21, 2019

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I see that Dwight Diller will receive the Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor, at the Vandalia Gathering on 24 May 2019.


To me, this decision to confer the honor on Dwight validates the decision so many of his students, including myself, made to sticking with his way of teaching old time banjo. 


It is an award that shows how staying focused on his unique way of conveying his thoughts on the music of the "Old People" has paid off.


Dwight made music accessible for me and legitimized my desire to want music. 


He enabled me to break the code, and to do so in a way that was possible given my own personal constraints, my own limited capabilities. 


He made it so that I could listen to something, find the center of gravity of the music, and figure out a way to get to it on my banjo. 


I could not learn in the classes taught by others.  I could not keep dozen tunes taught in most banjo classes in my crowded brain. 


I could not haul along a tape recorder, and study repertoire taught at classes.  I couldn’t do that.  I could not follow a teacher’s fingers, figure out the notes. 


But Dwight found a way to get me to a point where I could make a music that fit nicely with my life. 


And because of those workshops I found a way to quietly, slowly, surely figure out the core of a music, the anatomy of a tune, and get done what I needed to in order to have music in my life. 


Dwight uses the phrase “the tunes are not the music” to focus attention on what he is trying to impart in his classes.


My sense is that to Dwight, music is the rhythm and the inspiration, the internal feeling transmitted in playing, and perhaps the integral “cultural message,” combined. 


But “playing music” to Dwight does not entail having a massive arsenal of individual songs or tune versions. 


Quantity is not important.  Quality is, and a carefully played tune, a version mastered technically and integrated into one’s life – so it resonates with every fiber and clings to thoughts, insinuates its way into your quiet thinking moments – that approach gave me hope that I could find room somewhere in my life for this old music. 


That’s why when Dwight asks me to listen to something, to think on something, to try playing with a relaxed hand, to bring some of the snap and tension left over from parts of my life – that’s why I try. 


And that's why, in my way of thinking, this Vandalia Award validates the way students like me became devoted to the unique, perhaps eccentric, certainly singular way Dwight had of trying to teach us enough about the old music that we could situate all this in our lives and find the formula that worked for us. 


Glad to see you get this award, Dwight - it stands as a measure of how durable the lessons you taught really were. 



2 comments on “2019 Vandalia Award”

dbrooks Says:
Wednesday, May 22, 2019 @4:14:55 AM

A very thoughtful, persuasive post, Lew. I admit that I hadgenerally viewed Dwight's teaching style as rigid and devoid of fun or delight. Your fine book about Dwight's life and music provided me with valuable information and context to draw a more complete picture. Your post here helps me see the personal value and help you got - and continue to receive - from Dwight's teaching approach. Well done.

Brooklynbanjoboy Says:
Friday, May 24, 2019 @6:08:42 AM

Thanks, David. The award ceremony is today. I talked to Dwight about two days ago, and reminded him that he always said sometimes one needs to put the banjo down for a while and just listen - listening is learning. That was the starting point, for me, when after rotator cuff surgery, it became clear I would not be shouldering a five string for a while. I could have been a debilitating while, but Dwight let me focus on what comes from not playing, from just listening. That really helped. Take care, David.

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