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violinist... a bad rap?

Posted by HawksEye on Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I just waded through half of a 13+ page discussion topic that said a bunch of stuff regarding classically trained violinists.I think I understand the pet-peeve that was raised, but it made me want to state a few things.

First- out of the closet I come: I was trained by a classical teacher.  I didn't start with the Suzuki method, but I switched into it my 3rd year when my family moved and I got a 'real' violin teacher- one who specialized in violin, as opposed to the school teachers and the band instructor who had been helping me learn.

I worked fairly hard, developed fairly far.  Got to the point where I probably could audition for a symphony in a small city, with a slim shot of landing a seat. But, I don't care to.  I have a critical ear, strive for perfection, and thus, I always fall a bit short. 

I came here figuring that playing fiddle music would be a far more enjoyable hobby than playing in an orchestra. I read about jam sessions and discovered one in my area.

It took me nearly 6 months to work up the courage to attend my first jam session.  Had I read that 13 page discussion back then, I'm pretty sure I would have never gone.  However, I did go.  There was one fiddler in the group- he had only been playing for a few years, learned all his music by ear and was the leader. I could certainly tell that his 'accent' while playing was different than mine.  The music was easy.  I had the skills to play it and I could sight-read almost all of it at their speed. I am sure I played with a classical "accent", but I was ALWAYS made to feel welcome.  

After a few months, another fiddler told me of an Irish session and we went, full of enthusiasm.  The group seemed very close-knit, but was welcoming. The sole fiddler was amazing.  She had technical talent and an "accent" like I had never before heard.  I listened, fascinated, and attempted to sight read the music at speed while making an attempt to imitate her "accent". Occasionally they would slow the tune down the first time through so the new folks could join in.  That was an incredible way of saying "Welcome to our group, we are happy to have you here."

After the session, in conversation with my friend, I realized she had either failed to hear the Irish accent or failed to realize that it was a necessary ingredient in Irish music.

My point?  I was a talented,  classically trained violinist, but I was a beginner in their circles.  I knew neither their repertoire nor their "accent".   But no one expected me to have the correct "accent".   After all, I was just a 'beginner.'



5 comments on “violinist... a bad rap?”

mudbug Says:
Thursday, December 8, 2011 @2:30:22 AM

Helen, you hit the nail on the head when you said how you "heard" what was needed while your friend didn't. You were lucky to meet and play with "nice" musicians. Some are and some aren't.....on BOTH sides of the fence. Glad you're enjoying and growing.

boxbow Says:
Thursday, December 8, 2011 @8:45:24 AM

The argument is an old, comfortable one, like griping about the weather, like one of my old, rank wool sweaters. While you were playing violin, I was playing cello in Mason City, IA, and developing a pretty solid set of resentments about it. Kid stuff. I wasn't necessarily wrong to dislike the classical training I was exposed to. I would be wrong to carry it on some 4 decades later. It was just a bad fit as far as the rigors of the discipline go. I believe that the musical program was somebody's best shot at introducing kids to "important" music. When I started playing music much, much later in life, the open, acoustic, non-genre specific jams were a much better fit. I learned from people who just wanted a playing partner, not an automaton cellist, which is about all I was good for at my very best. Around here we don't do so much with jams oriented around specific genres. They happen, but with less frequency than I'd like. Instead, I've had to figure out fiddle parts to swing and pop tunes, blues, country, both modern and otherwise, and OT. I used to waste an awful lot of my time griping about the sorry state of modern music, much like griping about the wind and rain. I got sick of hearing myself complain, long after everybody else was sick of my complaining. Turns out, it's not so bad if you can participate. I haven't made any breakthroughs with rap or hip-hop yet, and classical is unlikely to ever utilize my skills. The other players may or may not be comfortable playing Irish Trad or Canadian fiddle tunes or Scandinavian, but when it's my call, they stretch. Or complain. If I have an "accent," so be it. We aren't musical archivists here. I think the complaining may be an essential part of human existence, but that's a subject for another website. All I know is, I've had good reason to complain about good weather as well as bad, and the results were identical. I may just do it some more, this afternoon. It's a perfect day. None better.

HawksEye Says:
Thursday, December 8, 2011 @8:58:06 AM

[edit-deleted intolerance] ... yes, I was fortunate to experience two nice groups, but then I moved. I'm trying to connect at my new location, but I haven't found a group.... bummer!

I enjoy growing- above the waist, not below. ;-)

HawksEye Says:
Saturday, December 10, 2011 @7:52:15 AM

Interesting perspective on 'complaining'. :-) I also appreciate the "We aren't musical archivists here." When I read about people being loyal to regional styles, I have to chuckle a little and think that they are imitating one particular fiddler's style. I see the analogy with 'accents' that develop in spoken language. Shakespeare is still Shakespeare, when recited with a British, Texas or southern US accent.

I don't speak the same english that was spoken in the 1800s, and music, too, is a living language.

fiddlepogo Says:
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 @2:40:22 PM

Well, I think you have a pretty balanced view... for one thing... you admit that there IS such a thing as a classical accent!!!
That particular thread might have been a whole lot shorter if the protagonists on the other side had been able to admit that there IS such a thing. Trying to debate someone who is in denial about something tends to make you very forceful in your arguments... and that forcefulness doesn't always reflect your actual ATTITUDE towards real people who play music and show up at jams.
(I treat them with respect regardless of accent!)
Similar things happened in bowing threads... I use a pattern approach and a downbowing approach for Old Time, and I find it very effective, very useful for getting the Old Time sound... but I don't try to use it for waltzes, song airs, or Irish tunes, especially jigs... for all of these I use what I call "anywhichway" bowing. But if (as so often seems to happen) someone in the bowing threads pooh-poohs the pattern approach or the downbowing approach, I feel compelled to advocate it... even though I can use the other approach too. And THOSE threads got rather passionate, and rather long, and I probably sounded more narrow in my approach than I actually am.

And you admit that one can "hear" the accent ... or NOT.
You also are willing to SEE yourself as a beginner when you experiment with a new idiom.
I don't know if you've noticed, but I occasionally participate in Irish Trad threads... but I tend not to post much, and mostly ask questions, because I'm NO expert at Irish Trad.... and I usually get into trouble if I forget that!!!
BTW, I LIKE to listen to classical violin on occasion... there are a few soloists I don't like, but many, many more that I do, and their playing absolutely AMAZES me.
If I EVER made a serious attempt to learn to play violin (which is unlikely at my age because of the amount of work involved) I KNOW I would have to work on MY accent and would have to get the Old Time accent OUT of my phrasing.

There are actually a couple people with accounts here who ARE "musical archivists" or close to it- they've done tune collecting and have degrees in Folklore or Ethnomusicology. But they don't post much, if at all. Oh yeah.... the thread in question is probably the one about classical and Old Time... and Old Time players DO tend to be oriented more to the traditional playing that's in the "archives" of the Library of Congress. There are definitely other fiddling idioms where a classical accent isn't as noticeable because the whole idiom is more classically influenced. If it had been
"Classical and Western Swing" or "Classical and Jazz fiddling" it would have been very different because those idioms DO imitate a violin approach much more than Old Time players do.

I guess you could say that Old Time players sometimes have some of the attitude of historical re-enactors, but without the period clothing... and in fact some of them ARE historical re-enactors!

Being loyal to a regional style MIGHT involved imitating one particular fiddlers style... if that fiddler is the only living person playing that style. However, in some areas, there is more to choose from, especially if you make use of what's in the folklore archives (Library of Congress and the Digital Library of the Appalachians being the two most common). And of course, it depends on how narrow the region IS... if it's just the music of one valley or county, that's pretty narrow, and is going to limit your sources. I never wanted to limit myself that severely. I think the center of my focus has been Virginia fiddling in the area around Galax, but parts of North Carolina and West Virginia are quite close too.... but really, if it sounds right, I'll probably play it... actually more now than ever!
My fiddling is based on my previous very narrow interest, but I'm probably a lot more open minded now than I was when I was in my 20's.

It's a good idea, when you read someone's posts, to look at their homepage, see what they have listed as their influences, to see where they are coming from. If they are all in one genre, or a lot of them are in one genre, they are coming from a different mindset than someone who isn't passionate enough about a particular approach or style to list influences, or whose influences are from a bunch of different genres.

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