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McCann's Gift is Music Through the Years

For nearly 40 years, Gordon McCann has travelled across the region recording traditional Ozarks music. His audio and written account of these sessions, recorded in a variety of venues, was recently digitized and presented to Missouri State University for public access at Meyer Library. The collection includes nearly 4000 hours of traditional tunes. Mike Smith has this profile of Gordon McCann for the KSMU Sense of Community series.

Program begins with fiddle tune “Dixie Blossoms” as played by the late Art Galbraith and our Sense of Community profile subject Gordon McCann.

Viewers of Ozarks Public Television will recognize Dixie Blossoms as theme music for the series Ozarks Watch Video Magazine which explores the areas rich cultural history, past and present. Gordon McCann’s long time multi layered contribution to the production of the program is but one example of his seemingly tireless efforts in preserving and promoting Ozarks Culture. Gordon McCann: “I’m a cultural preservationist, is what they now call me. And I’m not a folklorist. Everybody calls me a folklorist but I’m not a folklorist. I’m really a pack rat, because I save everything.” For the most part, what Gordon McCann has “saved” is traditional music of the Ozarks, and what started out as a way for McCann to learn how to be a better guitarist, has turned into the public having access to a nearly 40 year audio and written record of Old Time Music performed live in a variety of venues across the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks.McCann: “I started out doing interviews in 1971 or so and then (in the mid 70’s) as far as the music is concerned, I took my guitar and tape recorder to Emanuel Woods Ozark Opry on the square in Ozark. That’s where I met (fiddler) Art Galbraith. He and I would be (musical) partners for 17 years. That’s also where I met Lonnie Robertson and Raymond Campbell, these were really tremendous fiddlers. I had my son’s little GE tape recorder and I would take the tape the sessions to take home and learn the tunes.”With tape recorder in one hand and guitar in the other, McCann would travel across the region recording traditional fiddle music and singing. He’d show up at jam sessions in private homes; the Johnson School House near Gainesville; square dances in Douglas and Texas Counties; seasonal sessions in the old school house near McDowell in Barry County; the Saturday night Oldfield Opry; and the pot luck traditional sessions every Monday night in McClurg in eastern Taney county. McCann: “I’ve gone there (McClurg) scores of times, but always record it because somebody will always play something new. Good thing about these tapes I have, at first I would forget to turn off the recording between tunes by accident. But then I would leave the tape running by design, because that’s when all the talking would take place.”Gordon McCann not only preserves the past when it comes to traditional Ozarks fiddle music, he fosters the future. For many years he’s worked with young fiddlers like Rachel Hoagland, Ashley Hull, David Scrivner and others with presentations and performances at area libraries, fiddle camps and the annual Ozarks Celebration Festival at Missouri State University. David Scrivner, who just completed his comprehensive exams and is now working on his dissertation to earn a PhD in Literature from the University of Dallas, teaches Literature part time at College of the Ozarks. Scrivner is a regular at the Monday sessions in McClurg and has been mentored by McCann since high school. These learning sessions often take place in McCann’s Springfield home. Scrivner: “We never have a set plan, we just sit down and start playing music. But he (McCann) will invariably start telling stories about the history of the tunes. He’s helped me learn about the culture and history of the Ozarks, which is MY culture and MY history. And so he’s helped me understand more about what my heritage is, and a greater sense of my own identity as an Ozarker.” Tom Carter, Programming and Production Manage at Ozarks Public Television, says “Gordon McCann is synonymous with the Ozarks”. Since 1999, Carter has worked with McCann on the production of OPT’s Ozarks Watch Video Magazine. Carter says “Right away Gordon became instrumental to the success of the show. From the beginning he shared his expertise with us lining up guests, suggesting topics and often appearing on the program himself. His passion and knowledge about the Ozarks is legendary. He’s just this well of information.”Gordon McCann: “Like I said we’re changing so fast in the Ozarks, and it’s going to get lost if we don’t hang on to it. And not just pure history, but the social and musical history of this region.”In September 2007, Gordon McCann announced the donation of his collection of recorded music and folk life material to Missouri State University’s Special Collections Department at Meyer Library. A grant received by the College of Arts and Letters allows for McCann’s tape recordings and written notes from each session to be digitized and made available to the public in the Meyer Library Reading Room. McCann: “What I have here is a history record really. There’s around 4000 hours of this. My index is a File Maker Pro program, and it shows the name of each tune, the name of the fiddler and the other musicians, where and when the session took place, and any situations that may have taken place like if so and so came in too inebriated to play. That didn’t happen too often, but it did happen a few times. There are over 68,000 entries in that index.” Gordon McCann graduated from Southwest Missouri State Teachers College in 1954 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Missouri State University in May 2010. He served as music consultant to Director Debra Granik for the film “Winters Bone”, and on may occasions with the Library of Congress, the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institute, The National Endowment for the Arts and The Missouri Arts Council on stories and events related to traditional Ozarks music and culture. With friend and fellow musician Drew Beisswenger, McCann literally wrote the book on the rich tradition of fiddle tunes in the region, “Ozarks Fiddle Music”, published by Mel Bay.McCann has produced and performed on at least 5 Rounder Records LP’s and CD’s including the 3 volume series “Traditional Fiddle Music of the Ozarks”, and has recently re-released “Dixie Blossoms” on the Musical Traditions label. McCann will serve as Grand Marshall for the 2011 Springfield St. Patrick’s Day Parade March 19th, and…is married to Mona. For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, I’m Mike Smith.