Please begin by telling us anything you would like to about yourself. Age, place of birth, residence, etc. Hi, Bill Gunn, a.k.a BillyG here. I am Scottish, born and bred, and currently reside in a small village called Scourie on the far north west coast. A pleasant enough place to live, but occasionally subject to very strong westerly winds – I sometimes swear I can smell the coffee brewing in the New York Hilton. I have miraculously survived all that life has thrown at me, and have so far somehow made it into my 62nd year – so I really need to push on with the violin – so many tunes, so little time!
What made you decide to play the violin? I have had a relationship with music all my life. From my earliest days my parents and I used to listen to Scottish dance band (accordion, fiddle etc) and bagpipe music on an old Bush (AC1) radio – which having mentioned I must talk about.
The radio was bought by my parents in 1951 with cash they were given as a wedding presents – I still have that radio and have restored it to working order. I power it up from time to time, wait for the 30 to 40 seconds for the valves to warm up, listen to it for five minutes then switch it off!
Back to the question – I must have been 6 or 7, when one day my father gave me a second-hand piano accordion. It was a total surprise, I had never suggested I wanted one or anything like that – I guess he had seen me tapping my feet to the music on the radio.With the help of a book borrowed from the library,
I figured out basic major and minor scales and developed the “feeling” for chord types and musical intervals.
Over the years I progressed onto acoustic and electric guitar, keyboards and low-whistle. Music has always been a friend, and in early retirement, it has become a passion. I am not known for taking the path most easily walked, and I love a challenge – having recently completed a couple of really intensive and technically involved on-line courses, I thought I needed something easier (ha-ha) and the challenge of playing violin – which I had been considering for a few years – came to mind!
How long have you been playing the violin? There’s no straight answer to that – about 5 years ago I had been gifted an old (fabricated in 1968) Chinese violin. Unfortunately it was made before the time of the great Chinese workshops and luthiers of today, and it was a horrid instrument and would drift with the slightest change in environmental conditions. At that time, I did “mess with it” and figured out the basic fingering and would pick out a few tunes by ear. I “played” it off-and-on for 3 months, but finally got so annoyed with it I just put it to one side, and left it untouched for about 4 years. About a year ago, I got “serious” again, purchased an electric violin, and joined the FiddlerMan community. So, it’s a year, and a “bit” I guess.
How often do you play? How long are your practice sessions? I rarely miss a day. And if I do, I feel that something is missing! My practice sessions are usually split into a number of separate sessions each day. Any one session will never be less than 20 minutes, and rarely exceeds 30 – but I usually get three or four such sessions fitted into a day. The days I miss, sometimes are days when “things have been bad” so to speak, and I have maybe not had a chance to practice until evening – and I have the self-imposed pressure of wanting to get at least an hour practice, and I’ll pick up the fiddle and nothing goes right – I’m stressed, I’m tense, the bow is bouncing, intonation’s all over the place, I have a death-grip on the neck and the bow – I give up immediately, and promise myself an early morning practice the next day. Easy!
In your opinion, what’s your proficiency on the violin? As a beginner, that is difficult to answer. Although I largely understand musical notation on sheet, I cannot yet sight read at speed, and I play largely by ear. After a year’s playing, I have a repertoire of around 30 completed tunes, with oh – around 15 or so fragments of other pieces. When I play now, I would say that after practice, one out of every three attempts at a piece is “worthy”. The other two attempts will have had something “wrong” with them, be it intonation, a fluffed note, an adjacent string touch etc… I’m always happy to hear a new tune, or simply have an old one come into my head and have a shot at playing it. Nothing stops me. My “strangest” piece to date was an attempt at the melody line from “Over at the Frankenstein Place” from the Rocky Horror Show for the FiddlerMan member’s Halloween Party… I had to drop the G by a semitone to get the necessary F# for Riff-Raf’s voice ( so, as Galamian rightly points out, you should be able to play in-tune on a violin that is out-of-tune. Proof of the pudding as they say. LOL )
To sum it up, all the pieces I play appear to be recognizable to others – so – I suppose my proficiency is around that of “a reasonable beginner, a year in to playing”, but certainly nothing spectacular.
Your greatest personal experience with playing? Ahh! Now we are talking! Without a shadow of a doubt it is the collaborative work I have done with members of this forum, not just the two FiddlerMan projects I have managed to contribute to over the last year, but also taking part in members’ own projects – such as the International Talk Like A Pirate Day 2014, suggested by “Ferret” (John Luck).
I also play accompaniment or improvisation to other members’ work – Barry’s Can-Can, Panda’s Red River Valley, Daniel’s own MP3 compositions, Toni’s Ashokan and on a different forum, both Kora and Lyd’s harp music. All such collaborative efforts have been shared back to the community, and it pleases me beyond words to feel that I can in some way “give something back” – even if it is of limited value and no more than a measure of “where I am” in my own journey.
What other instruments do you play? I have a small selection of songs I have written, and composed music for over the years – so the instruments I have used for those are electric (Fender Strat) and acoustic guitar, small amount of keyboard (right hand only, for melody or harmony lines – although nowadays if I want that I’ll use a MIDI editor and my synth), low-whistle, synth drum-sets, and I have also been known to sing.
I have a fiddle tune “in progress” of being written – but I cannot yet play it the way I hear it in my head!
For guitar and now with the EV, I also use an effects box, if that qualifies as an instrument. I rather feel that the EV in itself is not an instrument unless you can add FX – although on its own it (to my mind) is a good way to get intonation sorted (there are no body resonances to speak of, and only a very small amount of inter-string resonances – so – with no FX you should “hear what you intended” although it may not sound particularly interesting (lacking depth, overtones, body resonances etc – i.e. really missing ALL the things that make the violin what it is). But I found it to be a great “baseline” to work from, on what is a really stable instrument.
What does music mean to you? To me, music is something that transcends the moment. I believe it can reach and touch us all – regardless of race, colour or creed. It can make me happy or sad, it can make me laugh and on occasion has been known to bring shivers to my spine and a tear to my eye. It is truly magical and is like some kind of universal language. I’ve tried to answer your question, words do not normally escape me, but that’s the best I can say.
What or who has been your greatest influence? Everything – rock, pop, classical – I just soak up ideas and think “I like that” and will pick out variations. Although imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, unless it is something truly unique I rarely directly copy existing work – there will, by intent, always be something of “me” in what I play. The only artist I have intentionally studied (and copied to some extent) would be Eric Clapton, although these days I do keep a close watch on videos of the great violinists of the past and present – and basically wonder “wow – just how exactly did they do that?”
What are your goals for playing violin? Short and long. Right now – get to grips with double-stops and to better my bowing. Longer term, to master shifting, to play tunes in other keys (I largely stick to the “easy” set of C, G, D and A (E creeps in occasionally thanks to rock music, and Bb thanks to Thaxted! although I do walk through other scales during practice), and to gain an improved range of style and technique. I would like to break the beginners-chains-that-bind-me and be able to get into blues and rock on the EV.
What type of violin training? Self taught, but with immense input from on-line resources, and in particular this very site. I also use resources such as the Essential Elements and of course Ivan Galamian’s fine treatise on The Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching – which I find to be an absolutely extraordinary work.
How do you warm up? Scales, arpeggios, well known go-to tunes. Occasional use of etudes, but my sight reading is “slow”. Towards the end of a warm-up I will often use some faster piece with (for me) still difficult fingering and bowing (like jigs, reels, hornpipes) to get the left hand really loosened up and the right arm working! I have a slightly damaged right-hand pinkie which is not conducive to the conventional grip so I also spend time with bow pressure and speed control/practice.
What is your favorite type of music? Hard rock!
What is your favorite piece of music? Why? That’s not a fair question!
What are your 2 favorite things to do other than playing violin? Physical work (house restoration projects), language studies and anything related to science, physics in particular.
Do you come from a musical family? If so please tell us about them. Not in the sense it might normally be understood – but my father who had never played an instrument in his life (and I don’t recall him ever attempting to play the accordion he got for me), always used to whistle tunes while he worked. Occasionally I would hear one that I didn’t recognise, and I would ask what it was – the answer would be “Oh, it hasn’t got a name son, it’s just something I made up”. So…… the answer is “perhaps”. Is there a “music gene” – is it nature or nurture – to this day I don’t really know.
Are you a member of any orchestra? No, but I have played (guitar) to small audiences in the past.
Do you ever perform publicly? Yes, with guitar in the past. I currently play fiddle on StreetJelly which I guess is live public performance, and come the warmer weather I intend to go busking with fiddle on our local pier, and any tips received will go to local charities ( Lifeboat Service, Mountain Rescue ). Out of interest, our house is the second from the left, right on the sky-line.
What do you work with? I’m largely retired, but my degree subject was electronics, although the bulk of my working life has been involved with all types of software development from microcode,, to bespoke firmware to high level languages and web-site development. Name a programming language, I have most likely programmed in it.
Would you please share with us information about your violin and bow and if you have several please tell us about them as well. I currently have three instruments. In the picture, left to right are the “old” Chinese fiddle which I referred to earlier as drifting uncontrollably. Next is the Harley Benton EV which I purchased just over a year ago when I joined this community, and finally, the FiddlerMan Concert violin, bought in June last year.
Out of interest, the old Chinese fiddle has been given a new lease of life. I finally became aware that the tail-gut was actual gut (really) and was simply tied in a knot to keep it tight. I took a flier on this and thought that the tail-gut might just be part of the problem. On disassembling the tailpiece assembly, the gut actually shattered, like dry spaghetti might do when flexed. I got a new tailpiece with modern material tail-gut and the problem was gone. It still wanted to hoot at me (well, unusually strong resonance at certain frequencies), and a day or so repositioning the sound-post has improved it greatly. It still never sang properly on the higher notes, so I removed the E, shifted G, D and A up, and installed a low-C string (intended for a 5-string EV). It now has the range of a viola, if not the depth and timbre, but it is playable now. And yes, sadly enough, they have names – left to right – Herman (hermano del diablo), Luci, and Connie.
I have three bows – two are the FiddlerMan CF bow, the other is a “composite” thing that came with the EV. It is about the same weight, but it just does not feel the same – I cannot yet explain why – it may be the hair ( which is not synthetic ). I don’t know why yet. Oddly enough – on the EV once it is amped up – the sound is fine – but on the acoustic – that bow just behaves differently…. It may also have something to do with the strings fitted…. I should try to find more time to experiment with these things – but – I just want to play music…..
I would dearly love to get the opportunity to play on other violins, and try other bows – but unfortunately, given my geographic location, that is far from easy without a serious multi-day-trip down to Edinburgh, or possibly further afield.