Fiddle Nuance Tells the Story

There are a lot of people who play fiddle music on Fiddlerman’s Forum. I always
thought that fiddle music was the same, no matter what country you lived in. It was
fiddle music. Fiddle music is fiddle music, right? Until recently, I just watched and
listened to the videos posted. For some reason a watch and listen of two videos
changed that.
In a topic in Fiddlerman’s Forum’s Party Room, a party was started where I became
aware of the differences in fiddle music locality. There was a fiddle piece submitted
from England. There was a fiddle piece submitted from the Appalachian area of the
United States. The English piece was submitted first. It was lovely. A few days later
there was an Appalachian area video submitted. It was also lovely.
It was after listening to the second entry that I became aware of the difference. The
English fiddle piece has a slight lilting sound to it. I get the feeling of running through
the fields in the open air in a field of wild flowers. That is what I pictured when I listened
to and watched the video the very first time. I really enjoyed it. It made me happy, and
feel free.
When I listed to the piece from the Appalachian area of the United States, it was
different. I liked it a lot, just like the English fiddle piece, but it made me feel and picture
something completely different. I felt like I was with a bunch of hard working farm
hands or coal miners who were enjoying a hard earned evening off, a release. It did not
have a lilting free spirit sound to it. It had a sound of work. A release from work and
being together with friends. I saw the same themed picture in my mind as when I hear
Dolly Parton early songs. It specifically reminded me of, “In My Tennessee Mountain
Home”. It does make sense because the Blue Ridge Mountains where she grew up are
the front end of the Appalachian chain. I did not get the same free spirit feeling as I did
with the English fiddle piece I listened to first. The Appalachian fiddle music was more
serious and seemed to have more of a purpose. It had nothing to do with the piece,
which was a waltz, it was the general sound.
After noticing this, I realized that the Irish fiddle music actually sounds different. I
listened to my Irish Fiddle music CD on my CD player today. I do think that the Irish
fiddle tunes do have the lilting sound, but I hear a slightly different lilt than the English
fiddle piece earlier. I still sense the hills of wildflowers, but I sensed a mystery and
distance. To me, both the English and Irish are similar to each other, and both are
completely different from Appalachian area fiddle music.
You need to listen to the fiddle music and you can pick up the nuances of the different
areas. I suspect the nuances are different for each listener. I am specific about
Appalachian area fiddle music because I suspect that if I listened to fiddle music from
other areas of the States, it would be different from the Appalachian area.

Did knowing the first one came from England and the second one from the
Appalachian area of the States play a part in my noticing? Probably, but it was mostly
due to the knowing causing me to actually listen. I listened to the two videos over and
over a few times.
These thoughts are my thoughts, not through reading up on the history of fiddle music.
This is what I got out of listening to fiddle music a few days ago. After experiencing
this, I understand more about fiddle music. To me, and this is not through any research,
it is purely my opinion, fiddle music is home grown. It is representative of the people of
the area and their life. I could read up on it, but I think, as an art form, it is what the
listener, viewer or reader makes, appreciates and takes from it. Listening to it gives me
that belief, where listening to classical, jazz, pop, etc, does not give me that thought.

Cynthia Quill – aka “Mouse”

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One Response to Fiddle Nuance Tells the Story

  1. Kaleun says:

    This is an interesting story. I took classical violin lessons from age 8 to 16. I also played in many school and off-campus orchestras. When I was 15 I picked up the guitar. I have been blessed with a good ear, especially for fiddle tunes. By the time I was performing with an old-time southern mountain string band (2 fiddles) in college, I had a list of 300 tunes I could play by name. I learned them all from other fiddlers, or direct from LP records, some of which are out of print.

    In those days, I was always looking beyond the quality of the instrument I had at hand.
    After several years performing profesionally, I found my masterpiece, a violin made in Europe in 1806. Since then I have added to my collection (all European). I have discovered that the most versatile strings across different quality instruments are Pirastro Tonicas. Good for classical, good for Bluegrass and Old-Time fiddle as well as Irish/British Isles tunes. In my opinion, whether it is Appalachian in origin, or Dave Swarbrick or Peter Knight (Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention) or Kevin Burke, you can get complicated or keep it rural-sounding. Peter Knight, from whom I learned a great deal, has a new band, Gigspanner. Really great music, but I had to get it from Britain. Electric or acoustic, the Tonicas seem to do the job better at a reasonable price–and I played Eudoxa gut strings for 8 years, Jargar, Prim, Dominants, $100 sets, you name it, I probably have tried a set!

    The real key to enjoying playing this miraculous instrument is developing your own style, that pleases you when you play, because you’ll practice more and more.
    A-440 is a rather new convention. I’ve recorded at the older A-432 which is more in harmony with human body frequencies. Well, I wish you a great journey with this instrument, it will always love you back.

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