Fiddling for Your Own Self
Do you like to see movies? If you are a movie fan, even a little, you have seen the same scenes with fiddlers that I have. These scenes show the importance of fiddling in our culture.
Typical is the setting of a barn dance, or party, where the male lead and female lead have an important scene together. In the background, providing happy, toe-tapping music, you see the string band, a fiddler, a guitar player and a bass or banjo player. The fiddler is no more prominent than the guitar or bass player.
We’re background people. Our job is to supply music for the foreground people to live out their more prominent lives. I hope you’re okay with that.
Sometimes we get this ego about our role. We compare our place in the string band to the role of the guitar soloist in a rock band. We think that all the sustain effects created for the electric guitar simply mimic the natural sustain of the fiddle and the bow. We believe we can play just a s fast and as many notes, too. Shouldn’t we have the adulation, or at least, respect, reserved for the rock star guitar god?
Get over it. It ain’t gonna happen.
The good side of this near anonymity is the creative potential and freedom we have. We can do whatever we want.
When I go to a background fiddling gig, the people asking me to play know what they are getting. “Don’t expect New York, New York! I’m just a fiddler.”
Creative Freedom for the Fiddler
A better example of the freedom and creativity is Eileen Ivers. When I went to her concert I expected excellent Irish fiddling. What I was blown away by was the bluesy, improvisational approach to some tunes, especially Rights of Man. I’ve never played it the same way since.
The performance principle she embodied at that concert is one I have embraced for my own outings. Do whatever you love to do and it will be right. (Don’t be concerned with proper style. Just play what you love to play, the way you love to play it.) Clearly, the ultimate value of love is raising the bar for all of us.
It use to bother me a little that my approach to fiddle tunes was dismissed as “uptown” by some very good fiddlers. The term suggests city folk attempting to imitate the real thing, but sadly falling back into their dissolute habits, because of uncontrollable self-indulgence.
I’ve gotten over that.
Fiddling as Healing Therapy
Now when I go to play the typical gig of background fiddling, as discussed in my blog, The A 432 Fiddle Blog , I have few restrictions–just the intention of being a fiddler and playing fiddle music.
First, I tune down to A-432, the Mozart A, or Verdi A. (Actually I keep a violin in that tuning.) Then I start off with some old-timey tunes: Down Yonder or Rag Time Annie, for example. Soon, I’ll play some Irish jigs and reels, then an O’Carolan tune.
After I’m well warmed up I’ll play a Texas style breakdown and a swing tune, maybe even a jazz standard like Take the A Train. (Fiddlers play train tunes, don’t they?)
Finally, I’ll play some of my original tunes, and even a blues number.
Then, I pack up my fiddle and leave, never to be invited back again. (Just kidding ;-))
At the end of the performance, I have raised some spirits. Fiddle tunes do that. I’ve provided the harmonious tonality that balances the chakras and raises the etheric frequency. I’ve maintained an attitude of friendly, helpful service. These are all very good things.
What I have not done is astonish my audience with my fiddle virtuosity and transported them to the limits of esthetic experience with my profound musicianship. And I don’t get the ego validation that goes with that. Tough.
I guess I’ll have to leave that job to the guitar gods of rock.