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02/21/2013 09:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Wes Merchant Plays Fiddle Songs Of The Civil War Era

If you sit at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Saturday, listening to the fiddle tunes of Wes Merchant, it will sound a lot like it did for soldiers at Civil War camps.

"Accompaniment is something that came later. Usually it was just one to two fiddlers," Merchant said last week at Boe's Strings in downtown Frederick. "Guitar didn't really come until the turn of the century."

In an 1860s book for dancers, for instance, Merchant said it stated that one violin is sufficient for a small group of people.

Merchant will give a fiddle concert for Civil War music from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday as the last installment of the music series "Marching to the Beat." A donation of $3 is suggested when visiting the museum.

Past performers in the series were Cory Rosenberg playing minstrel songs, the duo Evergreen Shade paying homage to Abraham Lincoln, and George Wunderlich playing banjo. All the songs chosen by Merchant are ones that were played during Civil War times.

Merchant will play reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, waltzes and contra.

"People didn't think about genres back then," he said. "I like to poke around on some of the online libraries to find music."

He finds instruction books and tune books of that era through the Library of Congress and Internet archives -- a lot of 18th century Scot-Irish tunes, into the 19th century.

"Sometimes the titles change from book to book or generation to generation."

Although Civil War soldiers would have been playing violins made with gut strings, the modern-day Merchant uses steel -- and a chinrest, which wasn't invented until the 1830s.

"I'm not a re-enactor; I'm a musician," Merchant said. ___

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