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CA at a Bluegrass Jam?

Posted by bj on Sunday, December 14, 2008

Today was the Big Monthly Hellertown Bluegrass Jam. I met Dee (fiddlecat) there and we played most of the afternoon. What fun!

Got to see my friends that I played with up in Quiet Valley, which was nice. They're really great guys, and it's a shame they had to head out early for a gig.

Now, I've mentioned that I'm not much of a bluegrass person, I do prefer the roughness and gutsiness of oldtime, but since BG has roots in OT, there are times when I can enjoy it. And there are some FINE musicians who show up at these jams, so I always learn something. And I manage to avoid most of the breaks. I don't think that even when I get decent at this that I'll like that whole breaks thing. I'm just not of a mind anymore to be the front person. Been there, done that. Never liked it much.

Now, Dee has talked about this hotshot fiddler who shows up at the Hilltown Jam, which I haven't been to yet. Well, he showed up in Hellertown today, and he is indeed a very fine fiddler, if a little . . . um . . . cranky at times. He's the one who told her she was chopping wrong at the Hilltown jam. So anyway, we proceeded to play a bunch of songs, and he was stellar. Really fun to listen to, if a little overzealous with the vibrato. But he did give us some direction, or rather, he barked it out like a drill seargeant.  And I realized that in his curmudgeonly way, he was actually trying to be helpful, though he could be a bit harsh about it. Well, then I sang a song, and I think he realized he could distract me, and only have to help out Dee, if he could only keep me singing. But since I know so little bluegrass, it didn't quite work out that way, especially since he'd ask which songs I knew, then he'd ask me the dang KEY. Hell, I've never known which key I could sing anything in, and my range is good enough so I can hit most of it, even without worrying about it. Well, that frustrated him more.

About that time some of the folks had to leave, and he sat with Dee and me and one other fiddler, and, as he said himself, he pontificated for awhile. He told us how to chop. Then it got funny as hell.

He told us we had to start playing waltzes since they'd firm up our tone and intonation, and that the best teachers for that are  . . . {drumroll please!} . . . CLASSICAL. And that it would behoove us to learn music theory at the feet of a classical master, and learn chording and  proper bow hold and . . .

About this time I let out a groan and told him hell with all that, I was gonna crosstune and play Oldtime. He looked me in the eye and said "I hate Oldtime, Oldtime is boring."

Well, I did it. I kept my mouth shut. It was one of the harder things I've ever done, but keep it shut I did. I know this guy does sound damned good and I have realized I may learn a thing or two from him, and I'll be damned if I want him to dispense his pearls of wisdom in any more grumpy a manner than he already does. Though I have a feeling the gathering of those pearls just might eventually kill one of us. Who would have thought I'd run into Classical Attitude at a BLUEGRASS jam?

24 comments on “CA at a Bluegrass Jam?”

FiddleCat Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @3:18:26 AM

It was a very good time. Actually it was much more relaxed then the Jam I go to on Wed nights.
And Yes HotShot was there. He totally earned that name. He is exceptional in his playing ability. He didn't give me any feedback about my playing untill this Jam. Actually the Jam before I only got word about another girl he said about her playing ability, and was quite forward from what I understand. But he told me last night that I need to work on my chopping, make it more of a chop, get more wrist action involved, I guess I'm draging the bow too much. So because he was across the room and I didn't want to disturb the circle another guy fiddler helped explain what I was doing wrong. Something I can work on today. I asked HotShot if he teaches..not fiddle he says. That's when he mentioned about learning Waltzes. He said it would help with intonation and tone ability alot. As for the Classical teacher. I did tell him I took lessons from a classical teacher now, but I was looking to pick up more fiddle attitude, that's when he mentioned about music theory. So I'm going to see what I can find today to help me along with this as well. I took everyhting he said in a good way. He is a bit harsh, scares alot of people away, but I'm starting to think it's just the way he is and he doesn't mean any harm by it. Just very observant and verbal to others playing abilitys wether his comment are welcome or not.
And can bj ever belt out a song. If your ever at a Jam Fest and your mic breaks grab bj. Very good singing ability and not afraid to be heard. It was nice having a female singer in a circle for once. Not very common around here I guess.
Oh...I got your picture in one of the circles to bj. I added it to my blog, not a very good angle, but I was kinda blocked in the corner so to say.

fiddlepogo Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @3:21:49 AM

I would have thought it- a substantial percentage of the fiddlers I've met at local bluegrass jams have actually been violinists or at least had a substantial classical background.
Most of what fiddle does in Bluegrass is apply this smooth buttery frosting
over all the picky plucky sounds- and violinists can do smooth harmonies and fills.
They usually don't do fiddle tunes that well, but if they can find a song-oriented
bluegrass jam, they will seldom get asked to play a fiddle tune.

You've really come quite a ways considering that Grapelli, Venuti, and
other smooth fiddlers are on your favorites list.
Are you sure it's not time to change it?
Because it sure doesn't match what you say in your posts much of the time!

fiddlepogo Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @3:29:16 AM

I would have thought it- a substantial percentage of the fiddlers I've met at local bluegrass jams have actually been violinists or at least had a substantial classical background.
Most of what fiddle does in Bluegrass is apply this smooth buttery frosting
over all the picky plucky sounds- and violinists can do smooth harmonies and fills.
They usually don't do fiddle tunes that well, but if they can find a song-oriented
bluegrass jam, they will seldom get asked to play a fiddle tune.

You've really come quite a ways considering that Grapelli, Venuti, and
other smooth fiddlers are on your favorites list.
Are you sure it's not time to change it?
Because it sure doesn't match what you say in your posts much of the time!

Actually, he is right about the waltzes, but I totally used to feel like you do,
and still do to some degree. I limit myself either to waltzes that I really like
that are also popular with my audiences.
If waltzes are too saccharine, I just about gag and I just can't motivate myself to learn them.
Also, slow airs will do much the same thing as far as bow control.

FiddleCat Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @3:32:48 AM

I up-loaded that picture of bj to my blog. It's not a good photo and small but it's still FHO member. I think I will start a photo album of members I actually get to meet outside of FHO.

janepaints Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @4:42:40 AM

Perhaps, due to specifics of personal experiences, you identified (and named) 'Classical Attitude', when CA mighta just been Plain Ol' Attitude.
This said because I too have encountered folks with attitudes like that fiddler's, but in jazz & OT--and even in rock. Attitude in OT seems all-the-more puzzling/annoying because of OT's home-made/non-fancy/'aw shucks, we're just having fun'/down-home/DIY aspects etc. But OT can spawn cultlish 'scenes' and mindset, complete with Attitude. And music can produce 'gunslinger' mentalities. Who's the fastest Guitar Hero in this here two-bit town? I wanna challenge 'em to a showdown! High Noon! Jazz is full of 'cutting session' traditions. Have 50-lb. banjo, can out-Scruggs Earl Scruggs or die trying. What's that old maxim? "Don't let the bastards git ya down"? Brings to mind this: A tourist visited hoity-toity Princeton, NJ. Lost, he sought directions of a passerby. "Excuse me, can you tell me where Witherspoon Street is at"? The passerby raised an eyebrow and said "We Princetonians NEVER end sentences with a subjective clause." The tourist replied "Okay--can you please tell me where Witherspoon Street is at, as*hole?
(I forget if 'subjective clause' is the proper grammatical term, but hope the joke worked anyhow.)

bj Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @5:01:37 AM

Michael, Grappelli will always be my first fiddle love, that'll never change, but to aspire to play like him is most likely out of my reach in the time I've got left, geez! It would take two lifetimes and starting as a child to even have a hope. I don't think anyone else has ever achieved that, though a couple have tried and come close. I do come out of a jazz world (and even got to sing some jazz yesterday! Along with some Grateful Dead. The last jam circle yesterday was very "cross-polinated" as Jane would say.)

Dee, thanks for the kudos on my singing, though I still say he wanted me to sing so I couldn't fiddle.

And Jane, the Attitude in any form is a big part of why I didn't head more deeply into the whole music thing early on, despite some opportunities that a lot of folks would kill for, and that I chose to walk away from instead, and with no regrets. But this guy yesterday definitely mentioned CLASSICAL so many times that it was very evident where he was coming from. He even, at one point, said he wished he had started playing much more early in life and taken classical lessons from a virtuoso, and when he said it he had that faraway misty look in his eyes. Can we say Classical Wannabe?

ChickenMan Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @8:41:46 AM

Good for you for keeping your lips zipped. Nothing you say would change his tune and would only lower his opinion of you (as if that really matters,er?).
bj, you know music. You know far more than your fiddling may convey and that is your secret weapon. I am in the same boat. I could play guitar and out "sling" a fair amount of players, but I totally hate that sort of ego driven attitude in music. And yet I play bluegrass which, as a genre, seems to be filled with the "how-fast-can-you-play-this" competitiveness.
Jane, the grammar you are referring to is a preposition. A classic joke. The non funny correction would be "...where Witherspoon Street is?"

ChickenMan Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @8:53:27 AM

Oh, I left that secret weapon thought unfinished. When Attitude comes in assuming you are a novice and you show your talents, you get the satisfaction of confounding them by CHOOSING to be a novice (or however you may measure your fiddle abilities). We fiddle because we love it - the expressive voice-like qualities it can convey (sometimes), the challenge it presents to the musical self - the magical sound that comes from a the fascinating little box of wood.

bj Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @8:56:47 AM

LOL! as if that really matters indeed! If you only KNEW how funny that is! I've been the odd gal out my whole life, and decided to embrace it rather than fight it, way early in the game, which put me in the unlikely and totally bizarre position of being a trendsetter, without me giving a flying fart what the hell a trend is! Fancy that! Besides, I don't think there are very many people who come up to HotShot's High Standards, so it seems kind of silly to even try, especially since they're grounded in a reality I don't share. ;-)

And thank you for the compliment re knowing music, though the reality is I know just enough to know how much I don't know! Someday hopefully I can make the breakthrough and get my fiddling to sound like what I hear in my head.

FiddleJammer Says:
Monday, December 15, 2008 @10:39:46 AM

Bluegrass is all about accuracy, and often speed. They love their vibrato now and then, And, sometimes over-use it (in my opinion). They value their good tone. That's just the way the BG style is.

And, the advice to play waltzes is right on. It's an excellent way to really learn where the notes are. As opposed to approximating and sliding around, as I can pull off in an old time jam. And, if the time and motivation are right, some classical training is not necessarily a bad thing. There's quality to be gained by some exposure, if that's the path that the learner wants to explore. Folks who give that advice believe it and how should they know who to give it to and who not to give it to. That's what they believe. I've had 2 rounds of lessons with classical teachers, one earlier on and the other quite recently. It helped me a lot.

There's folks who like structure and rules and there's folks who hate structure and rules. Makes the world go round. And, allows for the type of old time jam that you yearn for BJ. It's apples and oranges in my experience. Both full of vitamins, but different species.

I say let the Bluegrass jams alone. They're doing what they do. Now you know better that they'll try to recruit everyone and anyone. In my experience, they'll always try to get you to play BG style and they assume that you want to. It's what they do. There's lot's of folks who can do both, matter of fact. Not me, though.

And, I don't mean to paint everyone with the broad brush. It's just a way to differentiate the styles.

bj Says:
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 @5:35:34 AM

"I say let the bluegrass jams alone." LOL! I wish I could just go to oldtime jams, but that would mean just jamming once a month, OR travelling all over the map. There are folks who seem to at least have an interest in OT at this jam, but the December jam was light on people. There were only two circles playing, instead of the six or seven that we had going in November. Easier for an OT flavored circle to slip into the mix when there are lots of jams to choose from. And though I found ALL of the folks to be welcoming to this n00b, some of the circles are less musically tolerant than others. If HotShot is in the circle you're guaranteed it's the least tolerant of anyone who strays from "Bluegrass" music and etiquette (and the BG etiquette is so freaking rigid!)

I have been working on slower pieces, but not waltzes, per se. I'm just not much of a waltz person and, as I've found out, it's really hard to play something you're not crazy to play. But the advice has been considered and I'm trying to work in the good of it, while avoiding that which I will always be looking to avoid anyway.

brya31 Says:
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 @11:34:14 AM

I didnt read all the above comments, so I hope I am not reiterating, but I had an older gentleman train me on my current job. I thought he was a real a hole. He seamed grumpy and held nothing in. He said what he thought and that was that. I eventually realized this was just the way he was. He became a mentor and inspiration to me. I finally realized for the most part he wasnt a bad person, he just could not express himself in a nicer manner. Everything I know today in regards to my job I learned from him and I still look forward to seeing him when he comes back to his old job and visits. So, maybe this fiddler yall hang out with, just doesnt see how he appears to others, I guess maybe he also could just be a jerk too. I was tryin to give some light on this dark cloud.

bj Says:
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 @11:46:09 AM

Rob, you're right, and I did realize it. Doesn't necessarily make this guy easier to deal with though. Actually Dee is heading more in the BG direction, or at least that's the read I'm getting, and grumpy as this guy is, I think he's trying to help her. For me, I just have to take in the pieces that are relevant and skim by the pieces that . . . aren't, given our difference in outlook.

fiddlepogo Says:
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 @9:27:45 PM

The thing about those odd types of tunes is that there's
nothing that says you have to like or learn of them.
I'm picky about waltzes AND jigs... and actually hornpipes as well.
If I'm going to bother learning them, they had better be something really stunning.
Or go in the other direction, and make it easy on yourself- you probably KNOW Rosin the Beau,
Betsy from Pike, and Clementine, and those are waltzes sort of kind of.
And Daisy Daisy, and Take Me Out to the Ballgame!
Home On The Range!
How Much is That Doggy In the Window! Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?
See waltzes as something light and humorous!
DON'T take them seriously.
They'll STILL do your bowing good, though.

bj Says:
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 @9:44:43 PM

Well, I know Clementine! Heard it sung all my life since it was my Great Grandmother's name (Clementina, actually) and everyone in the family used to tease her with that song. And actually, Jehile uses that as a lead in to the tune named "Clementine's Barrel", LOL!

Yeah, I'll work on a few, though I'm also finding that just playing EVERYTHING way slowed down at the beginning of the practice session does much the same thing, and in a time signature that suits me better.

ChickenMan Says:
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 @10:19:01 AM

Rob said what I was gonna. My experience is that artist, in general, are socially awkward. Maybe this guy is truly ignorant to how he comes across. I am not, however, suggesting you be the one to reach out to build a bridge of communication.
Old time is boring??? I can't think of anything less boring. At least you get to play the melody more than once! As a fiddler, I find bluegrass instrumentals to be boring (I love the singing). My experience with my BG band is a great illustration. When I first started practicing with them, they would practice as if it were a round robin jam, each calling out a song or tune and we would run through it. When a BG "fiddle" tune that I didn't know came up (and there are plenty I don't know) I would get to listen to banjo, dobro, mandolin play their version of the melody, then I would stumble through it ONCE and on to the next person until it came around to me again. With 4 melody instruments, I get to actually PLAY the tune 2 out of 8 repetitions. After a month of that, I said "hey, how about we just play this tune 5 times together, like and old timey jam, and then I could learn it a little quicker." Well, the dobro player was WAY into that idea and now we do two tunes totally together "old time style' as he would say.
Maybe I should try to start an old time 'jug band'...

bj Says:
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 @10:38:51 AM

Yes, maybe you SHOULD try to start an oldtime jug band! Your dobro, a guitar or banjo, you, and a jug player! Once I get good enough for people to WANT me to play with them, it's gonna happen here. Probably at least another year or so before that happens though.

FiddleJammer Says:
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 @4:21:26 PM

If a person thinks that there is one right way to play a tune, then old time might be boring. If they have practiced a certain way to play that tune, even with a finite array of variations, then old time might be boring. I think old time is more like jazz than bluegrass. There are an infinite number of experiments that a play can tweak on each rep through. That is not boring, seems to me. But, that's me. And, with a loose OT format, there is much room for screwing things up. Even more interesting. And, there's all that cover of other players to cover up my screw ups. Not so when a BG jammer looks at me and says "Take it, fiddler!" and everyone else cuts back and the spotlight's on me. Now some folks might hear me take that break and come to the conclusion that I'm not accurate, or my tone is not great, or some other negative impression. I don't feel that sort of constriction in an OT jam. It really is a great alternative for older learners who don't have the time or motivation to play like kenny baker or mozart.

ChickenMan Says:
Thursday, December 18, 2008 @8:12:36 AM

"I think old time is more like jazz than bluegrass"
You are definitely on to something there. In my mind, bluegrass has a pretty well defined set of 'rules' governing the performance. If you stray from those rules, it ceases to be bluegrass and becomes, for lack of another term, newgrass or "new acoustic" music. Nickle Creek in NOT a bluegrass band. Sure they can play bluegrass, but they are not a bluegrass band. Old time has some guidelines depending on the occasion for the music - dance music has tempo and structure requirements - but my understanding of what it means to play an old time tune involves playing a melody (in jazz, the header) and then playing subtle variations of said tune (similar to the jazz jam), staying within a recognizable melodic framework. It is the last part of that formula that is what makes or breaks the old time feel. If it strays too far from the melody, you actually ARE playing jazz ;-), and for most, saying something within the context of melodic structure is waaay harder than just riffing over chord changes (jazz).
We vary the fiddle tune to keep the dancers interested and focused on the music, and to keep it interesting for our creative selves.
(Not that I have more than one creative self, that sentence was just started in the plural "we"). In old time there is a communal feel with the sharing of the melody amongst everyone instead of the individual feel of passing it around in bluegrass. "Take it!" seems so demanding.

bj Says:
Thursday, December 18, 2008 @4:45:41 PM

I think you're both right with the comparison with jazz HOWEVER . . . jazz jams have "breaks" and a very similar etiquette to bluegrass. You are permitted a bit more freedom though. As long as you keep it low and backgroundish when it isn't your break you don't have to "chop" and can have a bit of fun, just not so that it'll overpower the person whose break it is. Not quite as many rules. And not the whole piece is done like that. There's also a component of "everybody plays at once" similar to OT, usually at the beginning (header) and end of the tune.

And yes, "Take it!" is way more than I ever wanna handle!

I really love the feel I got participating in all the OT jams. No hotdogging, no ego crap. So much more relaxed. And though I can't stress enough how welcoming everyone is at this BG jam (they really ARE wonderful people) it's . . . different. It doesn't give me quite the same warm fuzzies.

FiddleJammer Says:
Thursday, December 18, 2008 @8:25:56 PM

I don't know nuthin about birthin' jazz tunes in a jazz jam. :-) I was just talking about tune structure.

ChickenMan Says:
Friday, December 19, 2008 @6:47:21 PM

FJ - LOL I was showing just how right you were about structure.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 @3:30:45 PM

No one has pontificated, even a little, around me at the bluegrass jams. Why's that? Am I not worthy of being pontificated to? I want to hear some fine pontification, then some fiddle tunes, then some more pontification, more bluegrassy breaks played pontificatingly perfect, albeit in a perfunctory way...yet I shant propound persiflage unless I am peremptorily prompted into making a pusillanimously perfunctory pontification--oh man one can have fun with the p's (and probably shouldn't)! And I shall guess that my comments, as usual, will enable all to play, and understand, their instruments better. Humbly,

bj Says:
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 @3:47:55 PM

Oh Humbled, if I had the money and the brass ones, I'd sedate Hotshot and ship him out to you in a crate! Then you could perfect the practice of prompting pontification from one whose pontification is probably perfect.

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