At the Rockbridge Festival, I had an opportunity to play banjo with some really fantastic fiddle players. They make that instrument seem so easy – but upon my return, when I picked up my fiddle again, I was quickly reminded how difficult it really is. I’m working on improving and I know it will take time and lots of work – it took time to develop some chops and confidence on banjo and on button accordion before that too.
I recall to this day my first attempt to squeeze out a tune on my button accordion. It was that very well-known Newfoundland tune, Squid Jiggin’, and I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out when to be pulling and when to be pushing air through the bellows.
Fiddle has some additional challenges. There are no frets so one challenge is getting the intonation right. Then there is bowing. I think that’s the most difficult part, and I suppose one develops a feel for it over time. On an instrument like button accordion, when you depress a button and air passes through the bellows you get a nice tone. It’s true that the feeling in the music comes from the bellows, but even before you develop that, is sounds like music. When I first picked up the fiddle, it sounded like a macabre industrial accident. It’s getting better, but slowly.
The first time I played banjo with a really good fiddler was at Midwest Banjo Camp. I confess to being in awe. I thought perhaps humans just can’t actually do that. Maybe the really good fiddlers have done the deal with the devil, that’s what I thought.