Meet “DanielB” from Fiddlerman’s “Fiddle Talk” forum

DanielB playing his black violin

• Please begin by telling us anything you would like to about yourself. Age, place of birth, residence, etc. I turned 51 years old this year. I have an AA degree in music. Married, 4 kids, the youngest of them is autistic and taking care of him takes up a lot of my time. I was born in a hospital in western Pennsylvania. I have the somewhat dubious distinction of having spent the first year of my life in a barn. The house my father had just bought burned most of the way down just before I was born. So they temporarily moved into an old barn on my grandfather’s land. I was too young to remember it much, but when people ask something like “Where are your manners? Were you raised in a barn?” I can say “Well, yeah.. At least for a while when I was little. What’s your excuse?” I grew up in the country, moved to a small city in western NY state where I have spent most of my adult life so far. So I’m basically a hick from the sticks. LOL

• What made you decide to play the violin? I first thought I might like to play it back in about second grade when the teacher was trying to get us to be able to hear the different instruments and know them by their sound. For violin, she used Danse Macabre, probably because Halloween was coming up. I thought it was a really cool sounding instrument, and was told it was one of the hardest to learn. Then in the 70s, I’d see bands on TV like ELO using electric violins and I’d think “Someday I’m going to get me one of those..” At various points in life I thought about getting a violin/fiddle and learning to play it. Then one day I had a bit of spending budget on Amazon from a bit of work and was looking at musical gear and a violin showed up in the sidebar. I did a search and found out some of them were very cheap, down to 35$ or so at the time, so I thought I might get one of those. But I also looked at the electrics. Some of those weren’t expensive either, but ran more like 80$ or so. I asked my wife what she thought of one of the 35$ acoustic ones I was looking at. She said something like at that price it couldn’t even be quality cardboard, at least go for one that was definitely actually made of wood. She saw the electric off to the side on my desktop in another window and asked how much that one cost. She said to get that one, and if it was too expensive for me at the moment, she’d pay the difference. I had enough, but asked why. “It is an electric. Even if it is crap, you’ll get it to sound decent.” So I ordered it and at that moment decided that I was definitely going to learn how to play it. Been having great fun learning and playing ever since.

• How long have you been playing the violin? A little less than 3 months. I started playing violin about the third week of April, 2012.

• How often do you play? How long are your practice sessions? I consider practice and playing to be two different activities, and I do both every day. I practice basics for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. I will play at odd moments throughout the day and night, whenever I feel like picking up the instrument or if I hear an interesting bit of melody I want to try. I also try to spend at least a few minutes every day just jamming/improvising against backing tracks, which might be any genre from blues to techno.

DanielB enjoying playing outside on a beautiful summer day.

• In your opinion, what’s your proficiency on the violin? That is always hard for a self-taught individual to evaluate. Some days I feel it is poor for the amount of time I have put in, and other days, I feel it is quite good for that amount of time on the instrument. Trying to be objective about it, I would say I am doing reasonably well but I am certainly no prodigy.

• Your greatest personal experience with playing? Assuming you mean on the violin, I don’t think I have been playing long enough to have had enough experiences to have great ones just yet. But a couple days ago, I had just woke up and I had an old song stuck in my head. It was one that I had never actually played before on any instrument. I hadn’t gotten to even my first cup of coffee yet, and I was still half asleep, but I picked up the violin and played through a verse and chorus at tempo without botching anything. That was playing cold with no warm-up or even checking tuning or trying a few notes to decide on a key to try it from. I didn’t have to listen to the piece or look at a sheet of music. My fingers knew where the notes were without my having to think about it, and it just flowed without a single thought other than the lyrics and the emotions. Then I knew that if I keep at it, I can eventually learn how to play this instrument. LOL Of course, a little later after waking up the rest of the way, I warmed up and tried it again and didn’t play it as well. What I need to work towards eventually is getting the mind out of the way. The hands are developing the mechanical skills and they can already play at least to some degree. The mind tries to calculate, worries about messing something up, overcompensates when it does mess something up, forgets stuff.. It is just what minds do. When the mind gets out of the way, when you find the Zen for playing, then you are not a player who is playing a piece of music. There is no separation between you and the music. You are not playing the music, you just are the music. Those are the finest moments I know of, and they make up for all the rest of the effort required for everyday life. LOL

• What other instruments do you play? Guitar (acoustic/electric/12-string/slide), Bass Guitar, Piano/Keyboard/Synthesizer, Appalachian Dulcimer, Flute, Autoharp, Harp, Oud. There may be a few others that I can play a bit that I’m not thinking of right offhand, but those are the main ones.

• What does music mean to you? Music is something I’ve done most of my life. Being able to pick up an instrument and play is just kinda part of who I am. It also helps me hang onto what could laughingly be called my “sanity” some days.

• What or who has been your greatest influence? Well, at the risk of sounding like a suck-up, the people here at fiddlerman.com and you have been quite an influence on my violin playing so far. But if you mean like some recording artist or concert violinist, there are quite a few, but Regina Carter would at least be up there.

• What are your goals for playing violin? Short and long. Short term, I’m just trying to get the basics of the instrument down and learn it’s sounds. Long term, I want to be able to just pick it up and play anything that comes to my mind and sound like I at least pretty much know what I’m doing.

• What type of violin training? Mostly just what you have here on Fiddlerman.com and to a lesser degree some other bits from out on the Internet. I haven’t used any books or methods or taken any actual lessons for violin at this point.

• How do you warm up?  I start with some scales, then some simple melodies that can be played on individual strings, then melodies that use all the strings, then I’ll try running a scale up an octave or more on each individual string. That is usually enough to shake the dust and cobwebs off the fingers for the day.

• What is your favorite type of music? I would have a hard time thinking of even one genre of music where I can’t find something I like in it. So I would say I actually have no favorite type of music, it depends entirely on what I’m in the mood to listen to. In a “typical” half hour, I might listen to anything from classical to baroque to metal to punk to rap to pop to oldies to techno to seriously weird stuff. Then back through some blues, bluegrass, jazz or Celtic. I can’t say that I like everything, but I can definitely say that I have yet to find a type of music where I couldn’t find at least a few song to like. Oh, and I do also like some of the assorted “rock style stage show” stuff that some people seem to worry will be the ruination of classical music or something. Vanessa Mae and Bond (to name a couple of examples) don’t actually dress all that scanty and their versions of classics are pretty cool, though definitely “versions”. Personally I think that if Mozart and Paganini were alive today, they’d likely be writing “Concerto for wild looking people with big stage show #4 in E minor” or something. Well, that’s assuming they weren’t too busy doing duets with Lady Gaga. A lot of the composers that some people seem to feel that a light show or some electric instruments are somehow disrespectful to were the wild and crazy musicians of their day. I’ve seen some authorities claim that Paganini was the first “Superstar’ in music and I’d be inclined to agree. And if Paganini would have had KISS’s stage show? I think he very likely would have used it, right down to the hydraulic risers, explosions, lasers and stacks of amps. LOL Bach, maybe not. But I think Bach would have given his eye teeth for a modern synth and a rack of effects, even if it was just to play around with it when nobody was looking.

• What is your favorite piece of music? Why? I don’t know as I actually have a favorite piece of music either. For violin, I like Danse Macabre and The Devil’s Trill, but probably most people do. I find some of Milsteins’ versions of Bach impressive to the point where it is hard to understand how it was even humanly possible. For fiddle, the Orange Blossom Special is one of my all time faves. I’m not good enough to effectively tackle any of those yet, but someday. If I can keep at it and the universe is kind, anyway.

• What are your 2 favorite things to do other than playing violin? Hmm. Other than the obvious one that we can’t say because there might be underage folks reading this? LOL Probably cooking and making things with my hands. I like making stuff, whether jewelry, electronics, or whatever.

• Do you come from a musical family? If so please tell us about them. Actually, growing up I was told more than once that there was no musical talent in my family, and that I’d be better off putting my efforts into about anything else. I just wasn’t willing to accept that. I had a grandma who played the harmonica and could play almost anything she heard, but she was considered an exception. Until I was in my teens there wasn’t really anyone who played music in my family at all. Then I got given a small chord organ and I played it a lot, and eventually got a guitar and really set my mind on the idea of being a musician. My aunt ended up marrying a guitar player around then and that helped. My own household, well, I married my vocalist. LOL Hey, if you find a vocalist you can actually work with, it is at least worth thinking about it. Almost everyone in my own household can play at least one instrument. I didn’t grow up with music being encouraged or instruments being around from early childhood, but we decided to do better for our own kids.

• Are you a member of any orchestra? No. While I enjoy listening to recordings of orchestral music, it is not what I usually think of as being my style for performance. I tend to prefer informal attire, a relaxed atmosphere and styles of music with more improvisation.

• Do you ever perform publicly? Used to. Not for the past decade or so, though. My son is autistic and I’m the main person he looks for and will listen to, so I just don’t have the luxury these days of being able to go off for a few hours for rehearsal or gigs. Prior to that, though, I and/or my wife were almost always in some band or other, and there was always a gig or project coming up.

• What do you work with? Do you mean what do I do to pay the bills these days? I have to work from home, so mostly I write. I ghostwrite articles, web pages, blog entries, term papers, music, whatever. Sometimes I make a few bucks doing things like repairing instruments or amps.

• Would you please share with us information about your violin and bow and if you have several please tell us about them as well. Well, let’s start with the bow. I have an A Breton bow that wasn’t expensive, but when I picked it up at the music store just felt much lighter and livelier in my hand than the “freebie” bow that came with my electric. My electric violin is a cheapie. Enough so that it didn’t come with a brand name or model name. LOL But it holds tune well and plays good. Very comfy action, and I just like how it feel and sounds. I replaced the pre-amp circuitry with one I built and fine-tuned myself. Other than that, the mods on it were a set of fine tuners and a set of knobs I like better. It is my favorite, even though it is a bit heavier than my acoustic and as such a little harder to shift positions on. But the action and neck are so easy that I think a baby could probably play it. My acoustic violin is a Mendini MV300 that my family bought for me as a treat. It has needed some work, but it is getting to where I like the sound and how it plays. It looks a bit different than most since I took the “ebony” paint off the fingerboard, so it has a blonde fingerboard and I prefer to play it without a chin rest or shoulder rest because it just fits right into my collarbone and shoulder bare like that.

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