Friday, 11 October 2013

Fear and Loathing.

Meet Nemesis, my fiddle. Look at it lying there silent and smugly polished.



If only I could make it sing. I had violin lessons in school but it was never something that I took to my heart. Later, I went to Galway and fell in love with the musicians who played in the many traditional sessions found in the pubs all over the city. Later still, I happened to see an advert in the local paper for adult fiddle lessons so of-course I went to sign up. Almost a year later I can barely squeak a tune out of the blasted object. The very patient Music Teacher M says that adults always assume that they will be able to play almost immediately.

My problem is that I gain some confidence in the actual lesson but as the week and the practice progresses the sound emerging from my fiddle gets steadily worse! Lessons are on Friday night, so by the time Friday afternoon comes round, I am ready to stamp on Nemesis. I also feel rather queasy as this is the only time I play in front of other people. Well, apart from the family but then the kids rather endearingly and naively think I am fantastic at the old fiddle! Last  lesson, M dropped the bombshell that eventually -and 'by Christmas' was mentioned - she wants us to learn the tunes by ear. What!! In the words of Father Jack, Feck...

Here is one of my favourite tunes played sweetly by the multi-instrumental M. (Of whom I am extremely envious as she also teaches guitar, violin, mandolin, Bodhran and sings in her own band.)

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Isn't that nice?

At the risk of public humiliation, here is my interpretation of the same tune.

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Not nice. My eardrums gently weep...

Written down on paper, in stark black-and-white, traditional Irish tunes look deceptively simple. For this tune, three strings, seven notes, and much repetition but the rhythm can remain all too elusive. The correct speed and balance can be lost in trying to concentrate on relaxed smooth bowing, accurate tuning and  remembering to hold the instrument correctly to prevent a cricked neck and finger cramp!

One of the most vital aspects of this living cultural tradition is the shared experience of The Session, where the fluidity of style, energy and expression of the songs and tunes becomes a communal dance between  musicians and audience. The necessity of performance becomes gradually more urgent, as the sharing of old and new material prevents the music from becoming staid and antiquated. It is also a brilliant social occasion.

The organisation that runs my (relatively inexpensive) music lessons is our local branch of Comhaltas and they are greatly involved in all manner of local, national and international events and of-course running weekly sessions. So, eventually I will have to venture out of my cosy isolation. It will be good for me and my technique. Character building. Want to hold my trembling hand? Maybe some more additional practise or a mute?

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