The fiddling tradition: general truths
I hope that this may become one of the most challenging threads of discussion to appear on fiddle discussion groups. It may also be the easiest.
One of the things I like to do is fiddle for senior citizens in nursing homes and retirement homes. One of the unexpected benefits of this, is that countless numbers of the residents of these homes have shared their understanding of traditional music with me, and have changed my understanding of it. As a result, they have given me a ‘global view’ of our tradition. People from almost every area of the world seem to share the same tradition, although there are local differences everywhere. It is these universal similarities that I think define the fiddling tradition. I trust the seniors’ experiences, because they have been the ‘keepers of the tradition’, and represent a link to the past.
Occasionally, I encounter comments on these lists which run counter to this global view. I couldn’t understand the foundation for these viewpoints, until I did some research and found out about a number of movements to revive traditional music. There seems to be pressures within these movements to recreate the tradition, rather than to revive the tradition. It is those beliefs that would recreate the tradition, that disagree with the larger global view. Further, it is my view that the tradition has always been alive and active, and doesn’t need to be revived. This is evidenced by the large number of tunes which continue to exist today, in spite of the passage of dozens of generations of fiddlers.
It seems to me that there may be great value in identifying the aspects of the tradition which have been passed from generation to generation, and identifying the inner workings of the tradition. Doing so, would be a great help to the large numbers of people who have become interested in the tradition in recent years.
So with the above comments in mind, what is this tradition?
In a general sense, the music has been passed from fiddler to fiddler, piper to piper, harpist to fiddler, whistle player to box player, etc. by an aural tradition. That is, one must hear the music to develop a sense of how it sounds.
Collections of tunes have been in print for centuries, to facilitate the preservation of the music, and the passage of tunes to additional players.
People have acquired tunes from other musicians, adapting the tune to fit personal skill levels and their instrument of choice. While doing this, tunes are usually learned phrase by phrase, rather than as an entire piece in ‘one bite’.
The music is often performed for dance, in private parties, and at public events.
This has not even begun to ‘scratch the surface’. There are countless aspects of the tradition which are universal among every culture which enjoys traditional music. The purpose, here, is to create a guide to the universal aspects of the tradition for every players’ benefit. Your input?