© 2020 Donna Hébert. All rights reserved.
This is a peaceful place 96% of the time. The other four percent can be noisy what with cars, motorcyles, and the occasional grumbling semi hauling stripped logs. Doesn’t bother me much, though. It seems a small caveat to the relative peace and quiet here. Also, in the winter, when that quiet seems to last forever, it’s good to be on the main road and only a mile from the power station!
Speaking of peace and quiet, I refer only to man-made noises. It’s a blessing to hear no leaf blowers, lawn mowers, or loud music. That’s a heavenly absence, but the roar of the wind, which we get two days out of seven on average, is another matter. Inland, it gets to 50 kph regularly, rushing through all the trees. Last year one of the derelict spruces toppled, luckily falling uphill away from the house. Along the coast, in Chéticamp, le bon vent gets up to 90 kph, with little or no tree cover for a mile or more inland. Sometimes the wind wins.
On mild days, when the breeze is still strong enough to foil the bugs, we’ve been making music on the back deck. The front porch is screened and we often eat there but the back deck is for sunny mornings and coffee and for music after the sun is over the roof when the bugs aren’t too ferocious.
Bob set up the video camera to catch me playing a few tunes this week. I’ve been teaching these in my weekly Fiddling Demystified classes for the Philadelphia Folksong Society’s Folkschool and I told the class I’d post some tunes here for them. The class has run from April 15 and I’ll continue as long as people keep showing up, since all I need is bandwidth and a reason to talk about fiddling! We meet Wednesdays at 5 pm EDT for an hour and we welcome new class members. It’s not expensive and since each class is separate, you can take just one or as many as you wish. The signup form is online at https://folksongsociety.wufoo.com/forms/virtual-fiddling-demystified/. If our class time is inconvenient, all the classes were recorded and archived and you can order them for streaming on the same signup form.
I’m always looking for new perspectives in fiddling, so last April, I started an ‘upside down’ fiddle class, looking first at theory. Most players have some reading skills and as fiddlers, we focus primarily on melodies. Instead of doing that, I started off with the most common minor chord progression in fiddling, E Dorian, with an Em and a D chord. You already know a dozen tunes in this pattern if you play fiddle. We progressed to other common chord patterns in different regional styles, learning to follow the chords and try out harmony under these patterns rather than learning the tunes themselves.
After several months in the harmony sandbox (Dorian, Mixolydian, Diatonic, and Pentatonic), we moved on to creating rhythm with bowing patterns in jigs, reels, marches and waltzes. Then, we began looking at tone production – the art of sounding the way you want to sound. At this point, I still wasn’t really teaching tunes and I was amazed that folks stayed with me. These fiddlers are as obsessed as I am! Some of the melodies I used were familiar to class members and others were new but all were chosen to illustrate the techniques being examined rather than being taught as melodies themselves.
I don’t know about other fiddlers but tone production wasn’t something I even thought about until I was in my thirties. A series of lessons with Boston Symphony violinist Mary Lou Speaker in the 1970s taught me bow techniques for enabling expression and emotion but, to this day, I continue to chase my ability to express what I feel in the music. Some days what I play is sublime, others, it’s just a bunch of notes. The elusive perfect tune always beckons. It’s what keeps us playing!
These are not perfect tunes I’m playing here but they are tunes that I love to play. When we got around to learning melodies in class, I started with (big surprise!) the music of my French-Canadian ancestors. While recording one of these on the deck, my loud feet also made the camera wiggle a bit, so I’ll put a pillow under my feet next time. C’est la vie!
Four of these tunes are from Louis Beaudoin, one of my mentors in the 1970s. He taught me my first crooked tune, Isidore’s Reel in G.
Here are two other crooked tunes from Mr. Beaudoin, both in D: La Grondeuse/La Grande Gigue Simple. The bottom (G) string is tuned up one step to A. Remember to compensate – for an open (tempered) tuning, I tune the E string down a smidge and raise the D about the same amount. The fiddle should ring when any pair of strings is bowed.
Here’s another of his: Fireside Reel in G.
Here’s a march, L’air Mignon, by Simon Riopel, in G.
The last piece is one of my favorites, La Valse des Jouets in D, by Québecois composer, singer, and songwriter Michel Faubert.
Video links are from my new YouTube playlist for the Fiddling Demystified Class. Enjoy!