A Fiddler’s Fancy

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            Fiddle music, along with so many other important indigenous musical styles in this country, is an integral part of our cultural heritage.  And it comes in about as many distinct musical traditions as we have cultural and ethnic “folk.”   But, central to the style is the repertoire and playing techniques that date back to seventeenth century immigrants, and their later followers, from the British Isles.  Northern European immigrants brought their traditions, as well, but the core of “old time fiddle music” lies in the reels, jigs, and hornpipes of the Celtic tradition. Other dances and sub-styles were added as time went on.   Of course, there is no difference between a violin and fiddle, with both folk and classical musicians using the two terms interchangeably.  It must be said, however, that some traditional “fiddlers” do make minor changes to their instruments from time to time, notably to the bridge, string choices, and to tunings.  The basis of the repertoire is dance music, not songs, and thus, the tempos tend to be steady.  Everyone likes to kick up the heels after a long week of boring, hard work, so its not surprising that relatively fast tempos are common.  Another salient trait that almost everyone can identify is that of incorporating the “open” strings (ones not fingered) simultaneously with the strings playing the tune.  There’s nothing like it, and the infectious joy of the whole phenomenon is one of America’s fundamental musical pleasures.  

           A Fiddler’s Fancy is a delightful work, originally for young musicians, but enjoyed by diverse players and audiences.   Californian Meyer is an award-winning music educator, as well as a prolific composer of music for young musicians.  A “fancy” as a musical term goes back at least to the seventeenth century, used to refer to instrumental music that often included dance movements.   It long ago was picked up by folk musicians as well, and is now a part of the fiddle tradition.  While Central Coach Special hews closely to the traditional fiddle dance tune tradition, Meyer’s work takes a rather different approach to the many-faceted style.   It is comprised of two sections, a slow one, followed by a more spirited dance tune.  The first section is a well-crafted original tune by Meyer that uses the traditional melodic styles and harmonies of the great British folksong corpus.  The style is familiar in this country in the many Appalachian folk tunes that we all know.   The second half of A Fiddler’s Fancy, while obviously a dance tune, in this case picks up some of the elements of fiddle music from the American Southwest.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan