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Ramblings on Style, Technique and Fiddling

Posted by cornfed on Tuesday, November 16, 2010

There is an ongoing discussion in the Forums about "Rough Tone" and its esthetic value. For some it typifies "Old Time Style" and for some it seems to indicate a lack of mechanical "technique". Anyway, suffice it to say, the discussion has evolved over time. I decided to put my take on the discussion here, because it is more personal than theoretical.

I was a military brat as a child, When I was about 3-4 years old, My Dad was stationed in Newfoundland (Early 50's) He later told me that the ONLY music on the radio was local fiddlers and bands playing, and that I was enthralled by the music. Later, stationed in Michigan, A  local fiddler came to my school to play. I was hooked. I began Violin lessons in the public schools in the late 50's when I was in the 4th grade. I apparenly showed enough aptitude that Dad gat me private lessons.I was partially "classically" trained. I say partially because I never really aspired to vituosity, or even to orchestral participation. I discovered early on that Chamber music and quartets were much more to my taste. Not  because of the reportoire itself, but because of the feeling of give and take, and communication between the musicians. My Dad used to tell me that I should get as much as I could from my teachers and experience as I could, because once I had it no one could take it from me.

Parallel to all this, my grand mother gave me a turn of the 19th century collection of "fiddle tunes." I loved the tunes and played them frequently. When I tried to introduce them to the informal quartet I was playing in, the other players didn't want to have anything to do with it...too rustic. Up to this time I had never consciously listened to another fiddler, although I considered myself to be one.My academic career faltered, then failed, andf I found myself ,without an instrument ,in SE Asia. A couple of my buddies who were guitarists turned me on to Bluegrass. I continue to enjoy the idiom, but never did participate. When I returned to the US, I became involved in Luthierie. One day a 1st time customer listened to me "road test" a fiddle. He made a disparaging comment about "irish" style fiddling. I was intrigued, I had never heard of such a thing. When I investigated I discovered Irish style, Scots style, Cajun style, French Canadian Style, and Cape Breton style. There was a local Irish session so I sat in, and enjoyed it immensely. Another customer, who also played clawhammer banjo introduced me to old time. Several of us formed a band and we played for contra dances and performed as "Snakeroot" I was exposed to the work of Gary Harrison in the midwest. Now I participate in a weekly "Irish" Jam that isn't  really Irish, and jam with a good versatile, musician a clawhammer player.

When I first met the banjo player, he identified me as an "Old time Fiddler".I guess that the style that I play could be loosely defined as old time. I don't try to produce a clean, big tone, It's just the way that I play now. I never cross tune. Am I an old time fiddler? Probably not, in the sense that most people define that by the benchmark of the Appalachain SouthEast. Am I a Violinist? I don't think that many objective people would say that I am. I am a fiddler, My style is my own, that I have developed through exposure to multiple regional styles, and formal training.

What I think I am getting around to is that a Fiddlers style of playing is a product of a LOT of influences. I don't think that it is useful to put a value on various regional styles. I have a lot of respect for people on this site, and others that I have met that are basically teaching themselves to play. It's a hard row to hoe. The instrument is difficult, and can be madening.

It took a long time to get here, but I think I agree with Pogo, although I respect OTJs position.


4 comments on “Ramblings on Style, Technique and Fiddling”

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 @10:08:08 AM

Awesome insights, Wayne. "My style is my own." That's it. And another forum member, (Swing?) always tells us to "play happy." There it is. Thanks.

BC Says:
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 @4:22:13 PM

Wayne, I think you said it all and well. And I agree 100% with what Humbled said. Thanks

fiddlepogo Says:
Thursday, November 18, 2010 @8:32:11 PM

Wow, that's quite a long and interesting journey into fiddling!!!
Thanks for sharing it!!!
Glad you got some good out of that thread!
It's been interesting because my thinking has been adjusting and changing
somewhat as the thread goes along. That happens to me fairly often on the Fiddle Hangout.

bj Says:
Sunday, November 21, 2010 @8:13:15 AM

Glenn has a blog about the Newfoundland and Gaspe style of fiddling and has been posting field recordings. You might want to revisit that time of your life. There is a wealth of experience there to be mined, and the sound is like no other.


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