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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

'The whole art of it is in the bowing.'

One of Magpie's earliest purchases when we started learning to play the fiddle was Matt Cranitch's The Irish Fiddle Book. It's one of the best tutors for playing Irish traditional music on the fiddle, and we refer to it frequently. A mighty fiddler, Cranitch has been a notable presence in Irish music for decades, having worked with the groups Na Filí and Any Old Time (the Irish one, not the US one). Currently he plays with Sliabh Notes (groan!).

The indispensable Fiddler Magazine has an interview with Matt Cranitch in its Winter 2003/04 issue. A good part of the interview is online here.

The more I learn about fiddle playing, the more I realize that the secret, the whole art of it is in the bowing. While it's the left hand that makes the notes, it's the bow hand that makes the music, and I don't mean something just as straightforward as the bowing directions. Bowing is so much more than that. The bow makes the sound -- the bow is the only contact that the player has with making the sound. You can argue that the left hand makes the notes and that there are rolls -- and so there are -- but how you articulate the rolls, how you articulate the trebles, where you put the stress, where you put the accent, how you attack the note, whether you play it softly and all the rest -- it's the bowing that does that. A lot of people nowadays learning traditional music grow up in a household where traditional music is not known, for instance people in cities where pop music is on the radio all day ­­ the children listen to pop music but the parents would like them to be traditional musicians. They go to fiddle class a half hour a week and for the rest of the week they don't hear a note of the music, so they have no reference. The only thing they have is the bow directions, but for the most part they would often interpret the bow directions like a classical player would interpret them. Now contrast that with, let's say, the time when Pádraig O'Keeffe was teaching: there weren't radios, the only music that a lot of people heard was fiddle players playing in houses, so there was a lot of unwritten and unspoken musical education imparted in the sense that you knew how the music should sound, you knew what the swing was, you had all that unwritten information and nobody needed to tell you about it. When I was doing the book, I felt that I wanted to be able to give sufficient directions that people got some sense of the swing of the music. If I were writing the fiddle book now, in the light of the additional knowledge I have, I would probably be even more overt in that sense. When I give workshops I tend to start from that viewpoint; at a lot of workshops people get taught tune after tune after tune but, in my opinion, very few tutors talk about the "how." Over the years, people have asked me, "How do you do it, how do you play that?" All of which has led me today to be very interested in trying to answer the question of what it is that the fiddle players are doing to make the music sound the way it does. When I talk about Pádraig O'Keeffe or Paddy Canny or Johnny Doherty or Jay Ungar or whoever, I'm interested in what they're doing, and in the power of the bow. The power of the bowhand is absolutely immense and greatly underrated.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:46 PM | Get permalink




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