Q&A: Conny Ottway, Civil War Musician

What makes you a Civil War musician?

I’ve studied the music in a huge way to prepare, and know the history of all the pieces. Being able to play a lyrical instrument—the violin—I can pull the emotion out of the piece, and I love it. Those songs, a lot of them were silly, but a lot were so sad. If I were playing them on the clarinet, I don’t think they would sound as emotional.

You teach Civil War music, too?

I incorporate it. I teach every style—bluegrass, Celtic, a lot of Scottish music. A lot of Scottish and Irish music went along well with the Civil War, so there’s a lot of crossover.

How’d you get hooked on Civil War music?

By being asked to perform it. I earned a bachelor of music performance in violin from Murray State in Murray, Ky. and had a student there whose mother worked at Fort Donelson, a big Civil War fort. She asked for some performances, and I did those for a few years—big events. I do have some Civil War family members myself, and it became really important to me to keep the music alive.

You perform music from both sides; what’s your favorite Yankee tune?

It’s actually a slave song. I love “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” it’s about the underground railroad. The Drifters did that years ago, too. Talk about mournful.

How about for the Confederates?

“Lorena” is really beautiful. This is kind of silly, but I love that song “Blue Tail Fly” even more than “Lorena,” with the “Jimmy crack corn.”

Is “Lorena” sad?

Sort of, because they were going to be true to the end, but right after the war she marries someone else. They wouldn’t let soldiers sing the sad songs, because they’d start getting homesick and going AWOL. They forbid them to sing “Home Sweet Home.”

Ottway will perform in full attire at the NHC Retirement Center on Kingston Pike on Fri., Feb. 18, at 3 p.m.; the public is invited. E-mail her at connyottway@charter.net or call 288-3634

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Comments » 1

lovethesouth writes:

Knoxville: If you have not seen Conny Ottway play please go to the next event where she will be performing as she is one huge talent and you will enjoy the show and with the spring in the air feeling, it will be fun to get out so don't miss seeing Conny Ottway play, as Knoxville is lucky to have her in the area. My family has a Civil War veteran buried in the National cemetery in Knoxville so this is a very special place for me. Conny can bring tears to my eyes just listening to her play so I know you will enjoy it. Go see her. lovethesouth

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