Friday, April 15, 2005


The Face of the Virginia Scottish Games? and... Giving in to the Shoulder Rest

The fiddle chair for most of the DC-area Highland games approached me at fiddle club, and asked my permission to use pictures taken of me last year's games on the Virginia Scottish Games brochure and website. The pictures are of me at the fiddle contest, competing in ~1715 Highland garb, which I wore to hang out with the Appins. The pictures are great, and I'm going to try to get a friend to get a really good scan of one photo, which we'll use Photoshop to brighten (it's a dark image), and I'll probably give Martha to use, if her own negatives don't come out well. Does this mean I'll be the "face" of this year's games? Does this mean more exposure for me, and for the fiddle tent? I can only hope so!

In other news, I finally gave in this week and began to use a shoulder rest again, for the first time since I started noodling around on the instrument again in fall of 2001. The main reason for this is that in practicing The Sadness of Life, I was finding changing from 1st to 3rd to 5th position and back difficult to do consistently with my baroque violin, and doing "real" vibrato (as opposed to the "fake" vibrato I had been using) almost impossible. I was relying too much on my hand to hold the violin, because it's impossible to hold it in a vice-grip between the chin and shoulder without either a chin rest or a shoulder rest. The addition of a shoulder rest made a huge difference, and I will continue to use it for all tunes that require vibrato and position changes in the future.

I've always understood that in the classical world (and classically-influenced folk music) that style of technique and style of composition were a feedback loop, but this really drove it home. In the baroque, changing position was rare, and vibrato only an occasional ornament. At some point, though, to make these and other tasks easier, the way the violin was held changed, from pointed downwards to one's front to horizontal to one's left. Once this change evolved, and things like vibrato and position change became easier, composers started using them more, and it was then almost impossible to play any other way. This also would mark the permanent break between folk fiddle and classical/romantic violin. The most erudite of Scotland's folk music, which was more urbane, kept using the classical techniques, and some composers, like J. Scott Skinner, wrote specifically for these techniques.

But in that case, is it even Scottish fiddle anymore? Obviously the wild Highland style is fiddle, but what about Grand Northeast and Skinner's own style? Perhaps this sort of player really is a "Scottish Violinist".

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