2020 Folklife Apprenticeship Feature: Joe Herrmann & Dakota Karper, Old-time Fiddle

The West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program offers up to a $3,000 stipend to West Virginia master traditional artists or tradition bearers working with qualified apprentices on a year-long in-depth apprenticeship in their cultural expression or traditional art form. These apprenticeships aim to facilitate the transmission of techniques and artistry of the forms, as well as their histories and traditions.

Joe Herrmann and Dakota Karper. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Joe Herrman of Hampshire County is leading an apprenticeship in old-time fiddle with Dakota Karper of Capon Bridge. Herrmann is a founding member of the Critton Hollow String Band and has taught old-time fiddle to many private students and at the Augusta Heritage Center. Dakota Karper, a Hampshire County native, has been playing old-time fiddle for 20 years and runs The Cat and the Fiddle Music School. Herrmann and Karper apprenticed together previously in 2004 (when Karper was 11) through Augusta Heritage Center’s former Apprenticeship Program.

Fiddler Joe Herrmann. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Joe Herrmann – Master Fiddler

Bio:

I was born February 21, 1949 in Baltimore, MD and have lived in Hampshire County, West Virginia since 1973. I first started playing banjo at the age of 12 and started playing fiddle in 1974 when I moved to Critton Hollow outside of Paw Paw, West Virginia where I continue to reside. I discovered a wealth of older musicians in the area who encouraged my pursuit and were generous in their willingness to share their knowledge and expertise. To this day music continues to be an inspiration and a motivation in my day to day life. I am fortunate to live in a community that shares my enthusiasm. It has also been my good fortune to have imparted much of what I have learned with many local musicians.

Description of Art Form:

Old-time fiddle is a genre of American folk music. Old-time fiddle tunes derived from European folk dance tunes such as jig, reel, breakdown, schottische, waltz, two step and polka. The fiddle may be accompanied by banjo or other instruments but are nevertheless called “fiddle tunes”.

Joe Herrmann and Dakota Karper play together on Herrmann’s porch. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Artist Statement:

I first discovered old time fiddle music at the age of 23, having played banjo and guitar since the age of 12, prior to that. I was initially influenced by contemporary musicians of the time. I learned from field recordings that I would make whenever I was at places where fiddle players would gather and I sought older fiddle players in my local area and learned from them. I practiced many hours daily and would say that I was absorbed by the pursuit.

Dakota Karper. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Dakota Karper – Apprentice

Dakota Karper was born May 20, 1992, and raised in rural West Virginia where she grew up surrounded by old-time Appalachian string band music. From a young age she took to this music with great abandon. Absorbing as much as possible, she apprenticed under fiddler Joe Herrmann, spent weeks at Augusta Heritage Center, and various music festivals in and around West Virginia as well as studying classical violin at the Shenandoah Arts Academy in Winchester, VA. After living in Baltimore, MD for 7 years, Dakota moved back to her roots in Capon Bridge, WV where she is now teaching Appalachian fiddle, as well as performing in the surrounding areas. In 2019 Dakota opened her own traditional roots music school called The Cat and The Fiddle. Whether performing, teaching, or jamming, Dakota is always looking for a way to share her passion for mountain music.

Description of Art Form:

Old-time music is a form of traditional roots music that has been passed down from mountain folk through many generations. Much of the music was carried over from other countries and adapted throughout the United States’ history. Old-time music and string band music serves as a core piece, bringing communities together in many parts of rural West Virginia as both a form of entertainment for those playing and listening and as music to dance by. The fiddle is a key instrument in this style of music and is often the leader wherever people gather to play together.

2020 Folklife Apprenticeship participants Joe Herrmann and Dakota Karper play together during an apprenticeship session. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Artist Statement:

I grew up surrounded by music. My father played guitar and later banjo so music always filled our house. It captured me, and even as a young child I would go through the house singing, dancing out beats, creating rhythms and making melodies on any instruments or even household objects that could be made to make sound. When I was 7 my parents got me my first fiddle and signed me up for some classes. That ignited the fire that has continued to burn to this day. Throughout my childhood, teens and now 20s I have sought out every opportunity to continue learning, playing and sharing fiddle music. Though I have been influenced by the lives of many fiddlers both well known and not as well know (Joe Herrmann, Rachel Eddy, Israel Welch, and Paul Roomsburg to name a few), one of the most impactful parts of my musical life has been a musical jam gathering simply called “The Cabin.” The Cabin is an old log cabin that was built in the 1800s and still stands (without any running water or electricity). A few times a month people from all around gather, light kerosene lanterns and start up the wood cook stove, then sit around playing old-time music into the wee hours of the morning there in that old cabin. That is where I fell in love with old-time music.

Dakota Karper and Joe Herrmann play “Rocky Mountain Goat.”

The apprenticeship program grants are administered by the West Virginia Folklife Program at the West Virginia Humanities Council in Charleston and are supported in part by an Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. West Virginia Folklife is dedicated to the documentation, preservation, presentation, and support of West Virginia’s vibrant cultural heritage and living traditions.