Sunday, January 31st, 2010
I spent a lot of time practicing my fiddle tunes yesterday. These tunes -- generally Irish or Appalachian tunes, mostly in 4/4 time, mostly with two sections of 8 or 16 bars each -- I mostly play as a sort of étude, just getting used to playing the violin fast and clear and with a constant beat; something nice can happen when I have played a tune enough times, become familiar enough with it, that it will metamorphose from a practice tune into an actual song... when this happens it is as if I start hearing actual expressed meaning in the notes rather than just the bouncing melody. That transformation took place yesterday with the Irish song "The Boys of Blue Hill" -- suddenly that song is a part of my consciousness, not just a melody in my ear. Here are the fiddle tunes I feel familiar enough with that I think of them as songs:
The transition from étude to song seems to have a lot to do with rhythm -- when I am playing a tune for practice I am very focussed on playing it straight, with beats falling at the correct place and durations of notes accurate, etc. When I am playing a song there is more room for syncopation and swinging.
- Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine
- Bonaparte Crossing the Rocky Mountain
- Bonaparte's Retreat (almost -- I still don't totally understand the B section)
- Old Joe Clark
- The Irish Washerwoman (the odd man out -- this song is a jig, in 3/4 time)
- The Growling Old Man and the Carping Old Woman
- The Boys of Blue Hill
I am thinking I should try and build a songbook of fiddle tunes, similar to what John and I are doing with our songs. (I am wanting to do recordings of some of these, hopefully before to long I will upload some mp3's.) Below the fold, a list (in no particular order) of songs I am working on, that are getting close to inclusion in the songbook.
- Harvest Home (this works great as a medley with Boys of Blue Hill)
- Whisky Before Breakfast
- Bill Cheatham
- The Red-Haired Boy
- Devil's Dream
- The Girl I Left Behind Me
- Angelina Baker
- The Halting March (another odd man out -- this song is 4/4 but its structure is very different from all the rest of these.)
- Haste to the Wedding (jig)
(The fact that most of these titles are in the first half of the alphabet may give you an idea of how I approach my alphabetically-organized book of fiddle tunes -- generally to sort of let it fall open at random but biased toward the front of the book, and turn pages until I see something that catches my eye.)
Here is a recording I made of "The Boys of Blue Hill":
-- by way of comparison, a recording I found on YouTube. This is James Galway and Matt
Molloy, in 1977:
Update -- as long as I'm recording some fiddle tunes -- I added a take of "The Growling Old Man and the Carping Old Woman" to this post. And here is a tape of Graham Townsend playing the tune:
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