Fiddler's Fantasies

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In this section about Fiddler's fantasies, I'm that fiddler. It's another of my "stream of consciousness" writings about things to do with music, some conventional, some quite unusual. Stream of consciousness is a type of writing that originated with the works of the psychologist William James who was the brother of the novelist Henry James. Am afraid I can't claim such literary abilities, but I hope you find some of my fantasies and ramblings of interest.

As the senior partner of the Midsummer Music Agency I have an obvious interest in music of all kinds, as we cover everything from ceilidh bands to string quartets, from jazz bands to barn dance bands and even covers bands and the like. I do tend to view things from the viewpoint of a fiddle player (I lead a ceilidh band) and violinist (I play in a string quartet and orchestra's). So you will forgive me if my view is little biased, but it makes for interest. What's music about then? It is a good question to ask as that's our business, but it means different things to different people, and with such a range of music genres on our website, it's difficult to know where to start. I guess that music must have originated in some form or other in the days of early "homo sapiens", who have been around for some 200,000 years. How far back do we have to go to find the first musicians, hammering a stick rhythmically on stone or making grunting noises in some rhythmically meaning manner? Did homo Neanderthalensis, who overlapped homo sapiens rain by some hundred and 60 million years, have music that we know nothing about? They certainly had bigger brain cavity homo sapiens.

How music developed to the stage where there was archaeological evidence, no one will ever know, but it's the first recorded appearances in ancient Greece, the Egyptian Empire and some of the civilisations predating these, were all about ceremony and religion. There must have been the equivalent of folk music, the equivalent of the modern ceilidh dance, but none of this has been recorded. Archaeological artefacts have tended to be carvings, pottery, jewellery of the wealthy, the wealthy use ceremony and religion to control their empires. Depictions musical instruments come to us via these artefacts, and the occasional ancient instrument made of bone, metal or other durable material. From these beginnings music developed into classical music, jazz, the folk idiom and the pop idiom, so good course to go would be to look at the The Symphony Orchestra and the route by which this developed. Looking at the Instruments of the Orchestra let's ask glimpse their history as they developed from instruments used in ceremonies of various kinds, and trace further development from the String Quartet to the Symphony Orchestra and beyond.

The Woodwind of today possibly has the longest archaeological history, though when progressing from Woodwind to Brass instruments through toTrumpets and Trombones one finds that there is a similarly long history of use in ancient religious ceremonies and indeed in warfare (we all know that Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls became a tumbling down. Do bagpipes come under woodwind? I guess they should do really, as they are a reed instrument, and they certainly have been used in warfare as an offensive psychological weapon. If you've ever heard massed pipes playing in the open and marching towards you, you'll know that it can instill fear if they are playing the original pibroch rather than some tutorial or march that was originally invented for a completely different instrument.) These instruments have such a long history, and are so versatile, that this is really what the development of jazz was based on.

Writing about the  Percussion section makes me think that my statement was wrong. Surely drums were used long before flutes and trumpet type instruments, though the literature, as far as I can see, never seems to mention this. Is it because musicologists tend not to take percussion seriously? If so that's a bit of a mistake as its absolutely fundamental to music, forming its rhythmic base. Whether it's a jazz band, ceilidh band or pop band, there is often a percussion rhythm section. The string quartet is one of the few ensembles that never, as far as I'm aware, use percussion. It would be an interesting thing to try! I've also talked about 10i Harps and Harpsichords, pianos and ohter keyboard instruments, but in their use as an orchestral instrument, which comes under percussion, and not as the more commonly thought of use as a solo instrument being accompanied by an orchestra.

The Violin Family is of course the call of any Symphony Orchestra, if for no other reason by dint of numbers. In many ways is the most versatile of instruments, has spawned the smallest possible Orchestra, the string quartet, sometimes used in jazz, normally appears in a ceilidh or barn dance band, and sometimes (though very often rather ineffectually), appears in the functional covers band. Because I'm a fiddle player, I have perhaps gone into this in a bit too much detail, talking about Violin Bows which is the mechanical device that actually produces the vibrate rear excitations that make the sound, i.e. is the power source of the whole instrument, and then gone on to talking about Vibrato and String Tone,  Bouncing staccato and other ways to make noise on a violin. Thankfully I get off the subject and talk about bass stools, something that is of no interest to most people, only to double bass players I suppose, and probably to IKEA who sell some very good high stools that can be used when playing accordion or double bass.

Having talked about all the things that make noise in an orchestra, I go on to  The Conductor who isn't supposed to make any noise, except in rehearsals when they can get quite the sufferers, especially if they getting ratty about some section of the orchestra not following the directions properly. Thankfully, in the string quartet, there's never conductor so you can do your own thing (you only have to fight about it with the other three players). I then go on to talk about how music historically split into  Music for church and music for pleasure and  Music for Rituals and Celebrations.

But there I must end. Why? Because I've been scarifying the lawn and there are huge piles of moss and other rubbish that I've got to rake up and get down to the council tip. It rained overnight and I'm waiting for it to dry out, but the sun is beginning to shine, so I better get outside and expend some energy with a rake. It makes a change from fiddling!

We are talking about Fiddler's fantasies, and folk music and dance is a large genre where the fiddle was okay. There are various names for folk dances, and folk dance and music comes from every country of the world, naturally. Let's start with one of the most common, the ceilidh:

What is a Ceilidh? Clearly it's something that is difficult to pronounce, obviously, is quite interesting to hear the range of pronunciations of the word Ceilidh the people come up with when you're talking to them fan. So goodness knows what people type into the Google search engine when they're looking for a ceilidh, a number of spellings that phonetically produce the sound of the dance name are considerable. This is the Celtic version of a country folk arts, but when you get over to America, or indeed the term used for English country dancing, is the barn dance. The American Barn Dance is something quite special to the fiddler, but this is where double stopping reigns supreme, and the musician can go is way out is takes their fancy, or their performing technique permits.

Another form of ceilidh that is very dear to the hearts of many people, particularly since the advent and sad demise of Riverdance, is the Irish Ceilidh Being Celtic in origin, and considering that there was huge population transfer between eastern island and western Scotland, you would think that I Irish ceilidh in the Scottish ceilidh would be very similar, this is a long way from reality, the whole concept of the Scottish ceilidh in the music has been shaped by dynasty use of musical families who composed, made instruments, and performed Scottish ceilidh music. So we can take a look at Scottish Ceilidh Music and the Dynasties of Fiddle Families that have shaped the genre, and see how it differs from other forms of the genre.


Populations aren't static, and never have been through history in large part of the world, and of course musicians in particular were itinerant, so there's been varying influence of Eastern European and klezmer music on the folk music of other countries, in part because the wandering gypsies, and in part because of the Jewish population who moved from country to country. So Eastern European and Klezmer violin have often been integrated into what is considered to be the pure folk music of a particular country or region. Nowhere has this been stronger than in the USA, where Eastern European met Scots and English and Irish, and a large and important Jewish population integrated into the whole malting pot, so that American barn dance music is often a mixture of all influences, and you can hear the Irish, the Jewish, the Scots, and Eastern European coming out in different tunes or indeed within a particular tune. Quite fascinating.

While I'm on the subject dance music with the barn dance and ceilidhs, but have a look at the tango, another dance form which has this time become a favourite of the string quartet. The Tango & String Quartet is now an important part of the repertoire for wedding receptions, wedding anniversaries and military banquet.

The tango originated in Argentina and Uruguay and became popular in the early 1900s, where between 1903 and 1910, when gramophone records were in the infancy, some 350 tango recordings were released and between 1910 and 1920 tangos comprise half of the 5 1/2 thousand records released in that period. Interestingly, this is the same period that jazz started to take off in the USA there is another parallel in that although everyone knows that jazz came from the black American slave community in the southern states, it's less well-known that some of the elements of the tango are thought to have come from the African community in Buenos Aires, Inc African rhythms into the dance music. There's even a theory that supports the idea that the very name comes from the Niger Congo languages off Africa.

Let's, as we are on the theme of African influences, turn again to jazz as it relates to music for weddings and parties. The bride or groom of thinking of sort of jazz bands to hire, with the parents are being persuaded to book a jazz band and pay for it, sorts of jazz bands can be booked are sometimes difficult to decide on. It's great kind of music for the sort of personalised entertainment for people are looking for for important occasions in their lives, as jazz spans every social class being a music that spans from the working class to highbrow music.

Thus it goes down just as well in the working man's club as it does in some grand stately home wedding venue, being played by jazz musicians stressed in dinner jackets. Unlike some other kinds of music that is booked for birthday parties and weddings, such as ceilidhs and string quartets, which have histories going back many hundreds of years, Jazz has a relatively short history. Though nowhere near's short history has pop music, a lot of jazz is intertwined into many other pop genres. Booking a jazz band for a wedding reception

can be very confusing, as well as reading about the jazz idiom, the sensible thing is to go to the website and listen to lots of different jazz bands to decide what style of music you like. One of the more popular styles of jazz is swing. Swing goes back to the 1920s and 1930s, but grew to popularity through the years the Second World War. After something a lull, the style has come back into vogue in what we can call Swing Jazz phase 2. At one time jazz was played live everywhere. Jazz was heard in bars, at the weekly dancers in the public ballrooms, and restaurants, because although records were available a relatively poor quality, the cinema was once a week event if that, there was no television, so live music lived everywhere. There is much less public live music now, although people probably listen to more hours of music than they once did through downloads, television and the cinema. I guess the new live wedding venue has become Wedding Venues & Village Halls, where people are wanting something that is more special than the ordinary offering of a CD, and although they can go for a disco it has nothing like the impact, both visual and emotional, of a live band. Jazz is a genre that spans amateur and professional players, and though it is difficult to define what is an amateur or a professional in the music business, where it can be difficult to turn professional as it is such a poorly paid job with limited earning opportunities, so that many what might be called, 'amateur' players, are of professional standard, it is important to hear recordings of any bands you may consider booking so that you can judge the quality for yourself. That is why all our band entries have music samples. It is the demise of public live performances, and in particular the demise of public jazz performances with the closing of so many jazz clubs and dance halls, that has led to this grey area between professional and amateur. In reality, the kinds of jazz bands who play regularly for weddings and birthday parties are professional in effect, even if the musicians earn the largest part of their earnings to pay the mortgage in some unralated field, so this professional / amateur is to an extent semantics.