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Exploring the Non-objectivity of How My Experience Made Me a Downbower.

Posted by fiddlepogo on Sunday, March 21, 2010

In a current thread, I made the statement that experience in a particular area DOES NOT necessarily make you more objective.  That got me to thinking about factors in my own experience that may have made me a pattern downbower.

1. In my early fiddling years, three different fiddlers were kind enough to show me a specific pattern.  The first was Nashville, and I was shown it starting on a downstroke.  The second was Georgia Shuffle, and I was only shown the way that puts the accent on the downstroke.  The third was what I call Syncoshuffle, and I was only shown the form that starts on a downstroke. Since Tom Sauber was the one who showed me the third one, and he had worked extensively with Earl Collins, I tended to assume the bowing was from Earl, but that was an assumption.  I probably should ask him!!!!  In addition, I could see that several older fiddlers (Earl Collins, Mel Durham) used sawstroke, but they used it only in the down-up version, as far as I could see and hear.

2. It has occurred to me that I actually played in a string band with a fiddler who was probably either an upbower or anywhichway.  Well, why didn't HE influence me to adopt that bowing style???  Because his bowing motions were SO tight and small, that it was too hard for me to read what he was doing direction-wise!!!  And either his fiddle or his playing was softer than mine, so when we played together, I tended to drown him out!!!  I also went to the J.P. Fraley festival.  I'm not sure, but I think he may have been either an upbower or anywhichway.  But whichever it was, his bowing was so smooth, and really not very rhythmic, that it also was very hard for me to "read" what he was doing. And the videos I've seen of him since are STILL hard for me to "read". And since he was not very rhythmic, and I like strong rhythms, I think I was biased AGAINST actually learning his style... if it had grabbed me, maybe I would have paid better attention, or asked J.P. some questions at the festival... who knows????

3. Tommy Jarrell had been recorded by the time I started, and I happened to buy some of his albums with Fred Cockerham.  That inspired me to go to the Galax festival, and I was lucky enough to see Tommy in action... and while much of his bowing was too hard for me to read at the time, there was one sweeping motion he made that started on a long downstroke, followed by a long upstroke.  I attempted to imitate that motion, and came up with "Smoothshuffle". I have no idea if Tommy actually used that pattern, but Alan Jabbour that Henry Reed did!!!  (There's a video in the Library of Congress website where he talks about it)

4. I met a younger fiddler named Hawk Hubbard.  I'm not sure what bowing style he's using now, but at the time, his bowing looked very downbow oriented- sawstroke was all down-up, and he deemphasized some note with mostly upbow slurs.  When I finally figured out "Sawshuffle" it reminded me enough of what I saw Hawk Hubbard doing to make me think that was characteristic of his playing at the time.

Anyway, if I had run into just one or two strong, convinced upbowers or anywhichwaybowers who had been able to explain to me what they were doing, perhaps my fiddling career and my bowing would have taken a different turn.

As it was, what I saw from 3 older fiddlers, 3 younger fiddlers who showed me patterns, and one younger fiddler I only watched all tended to point me to patterns and/or downbowing.

Another couple of factors. 

1. I've come to realize I'm  a very visual learner.

2. I think pattern downbowers tend to have a visually more dramatic style- Tommy Jarrell certainly did.  And if a visual learner like me sees a visually more dramatic style, it's more likely to make a strong impression- That's why seeing Tommy Jarrell only a couple of times made more of an impression on my bowing than seeing my bandmate bow dozens of times.

3. It works for me.  At least it works, but that's not exactly objective, is it???  Is there something about how I'm wired that makes pattern downbowing easier for me???

Now I'm not a folklorist or a collector.  I didn't spend years at the feet of any specific fiddlers absorbing their bowing style.  So I certain can't claim any authority that way.

I basically got lucky, and was shown or saw things that somehow, someway, I managed to cobble together into a system.

Now, as it turns out, my bowing system is a LOT like what I see in videos of Melvin Wine, and very similar to what people say Brad Leftwich's DVDs are presenting.

Now when I look around (mostly on YouTube videos) I see LOTs of upbowing and anywhichway bowing.  If I had seen as much back in the '70s, MAYBE I might have chosen one of those bowing paths.

And I actually see relatively few downbowers on YouTube videos.

Has pattern downbowing gone out of style???  Or was my selection of old traditional fiddlers that I actually saw (only four!) up close too small??

Anyway, I guess I'm a Serendipitous Downbower.  I just happened to be in the right places at the right times, got lucky by either having people show me stuff, or stumbled across stuff in practice (Sawshuffle) that clicked.  And somehow all the downbowing pattern ducks lined up.  Which makes me think that there is something gravitational or mathematical that favors it, but I can't measure or quantify that, so it's just a hunch.  But it's also nothing I figured out with sheer brainpower... way too many lucky breaks were involved.  But at the same time, it's clear that the patterns I'm using with one notable exception (Georgia Shuffle, my turnaround pattern) all start on a downbow, and end on an upbow. So there is definitely something systematic about it.

Not sure how to conclude this- I came down with another flu Friday night, and my brain is very tired now, I think I'll take some more Vitamin C and go to bed.


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