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fiddlers with classical training


caleb

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23 hours ago, The Violin Beautiful said:

Mark O’Connor did learn some from Grappelli, but his teacher was Benny Thomasson, a renowned competition fiddler.

That being said, there are a lot of fiddlers who started by playing classical music, and as time goes on, that number is growing. It’s very interesting to watch the evolution, as more and more techniques are finding their way into the best fiddlers’ toolboxes. It wasn’t long ago that fiddlers never did any playing off the string, but now I see it occasionally.

I think there’s some truth to the comment that old fiddlers of a bygone era were not concerned with the tone of their instruments, instead focusing on bowing patterns and rhythms. As recording equipment has gotten better and players have felt the need to develop their technique and tone quality, more of them have sought to learn more about playing the instrument to improve their playing overall.

Because much of the style of fiddling has been passed down aurally, it does take some immersion in it to play like a fiddler. Reading a transcribed tune exactly as written tends to make a very flat rendition. In that sense it’s a little closer to the baroque or jazz styles. However, old time fiddle tunes are more firmly rooted in their skeletal framework. 

Thank you for the additional insight.  I did not know some of that!

The facts, and reasonable inferences remain, as they relate to the question of whether any fiddlers have had "classical training," that both O'Connor and Grappelli had some classical training.  

My understanding is the Grappelli went to a music conservatory in Paris.  He had classical training.  

O'Connor composes for orchestras, learned a bit with Grappelli, and also he stated in a recent NPR interview that he had classical and flamenco guitar training before picking up the violin.  

Not saying that all fiddlers have classical training.  Just answering the OP from 2 decades ago. LOL!

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3 hours ago, violinnewb said:

Thank you for the additional insight.  I did not know some of that!

The facts, and reasonable inferences remain, as they relate to the question of whether any fiddlers have had "classical training," that both O'Connor and Grappelli had some classical training.  

My understanding is the Grappelli went to a music conservatory in Paris.  He had classical training.  

 ( ... )

Perhaps not the Paris Conservatory, but at a school of music in Paris. I keep hearing interesting stories from happenings at the Paris Conservatory, but as one of the oldest music schools, that would make sense. I doubt ( though could be completely wrong ) he was able to get anything resembling lessons there.

A pianist, yes.

Met him, recognized his abilities, but was too young and immature to pay attention to any real details. Sort of actually felt bad at the time, that so many musicians had do to a "meet and greet" backstage. Now, I think that more artists, even when not promoting material, have a bit of access to the public.

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On 11/2/2023 at 11:59 AM, palousian said:

 ( ... )

The only truth here is that fiddlers were generally from the working class and couldn't afford fancy instruments.  There is no evidence whatsoever that a focus on bowing and rhythm was somehow compensating for a lack of skills or problematic instruments; obviously it was an aesthetic preference, and in American fiddling it represents the influence of West African music.  African-American fiddlers were in demand in the colonies from the 17th century.  It would seem that the focus on bowing patterns and rhythms has been a desirable feature of fiddling because people liked it.  I think that we should be careful not to project our aesthetic agenda on other traditions--this is the sort of obstacle that classical European training can throw in your way.

If you want to play fiddle music, my advice is to pretend that you are learning to play for the first time and respect the tradition enough to learn it.  You won't find it in a book.

With great respect, I might disagree to the statement. Not about the academic evidence as much as the need and purpose for music.

If there is a bit of a "chicken or the egg" situation here, I do not think of most music as being an inert art and it might have served in various capacities. My interest in acoustic was sort of seeded in hearing public performances outdoors. From solo blues players to traditional dances, the instruments had to be heard. Might argue that hooks/ licks and cadences are involved to square the passing of time when performing as a singer and certainly in dance.

Specific to instruments, my thoughts always go to Professor Lomax and the significance of his early recordings. I must plead ignorance as I own books that reference the sessions but have never read through the books with any sense of finality. My presumption is that these were the most appropriate musicians of the time. But I can not imagine that they were singular innovators of the styles. There are the esoteric unique performances that make some experiences iconic, but unlike the easier to comprehend and the individual qualities of the voice, regional and necessary mannerisms were not copied from others?

Your statement might be correct, but I try so much to adhere to possibilities. The possible adaption of American music into Dvorak's late work is not disputed, but the origins, approach, analysis has been changing. Does not matter to 99% of us, if the music is played well. But the discussion is relevant and eats up time during coaching sessions. It does both. For kids trying to feel the groove of the slow mvmt, storytelling however accurate ( more or less? ) helps.

Though my arguments might support the specific statement, tradition and needs occur and change. I do see adaptations and also the need to outperform/ cut other players. So the need for better equipment. There might be a lot to unpack given your insights.

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On 11/3/2023 at 12:09 PM, GoPractice said:

Perhaps not the Paris Conservatory, but at a school of music in Paris.

I don't know the names of any conservatories in Paris.  That is why I stated "a" "conservatory in Paris."  I do know from my research and knowledge passed on to me from past teachers that Grappelli was classically trained. 

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On 11/3/2023 at 3:09 PM, GoPractice said:

Perhaps not the Paris Conservatory, but at a school of music in Paris.

He attended the Conservatoire age 12-15 earning the equivalent of an Artist Diploma with so-so grades.  He started working professionally in a theater orchestra almost immediately after graduating.  He was exposed to jazz on a jukebox and then eventually heard Venuti live which inspired him to develop his own style.

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Jan Purat is a 30-something "fiddler" who got his music degree on violin at UC Santa Cruz: https://bluegrasstoday.com/california-report-fiddler-jan-purat-of-aj-lee-blue-summit/

Jan was the "fiddler" with Steep Ravine Band for 5 years (with my grandson, Simon Linsteadt as "front man" (lead singer)). Two notable differences with such classically trained "fiddlers" are their tone quality and the fact that they play in tune (when they want to). Their early shows often featured their performances of "Dark Eyes" and "After You've Gone" that rivaled earlier performances by Grappelli and Reinhardt. They never recorded these but some "backstage" renditions have appeared on youtube.

 

Another very fine classical violinist who went "off track" and became a famous rock violinist was the late Bobby Nottkoff.

https://banjomanjimbowie.bandcamp.com/track/farouka-by-jim-bowie-5-string-banjo-bobby-notkoff-violin

He performed a rendition of Beethoven's Op. 50 Romance with my community orchestra around 1965 (that fortunately was recorded) and it is now the most moving performance of it in all the numerous recordings of it in my collection. One night following our orchestra rehearsal I attended a session with Bobby, Michael Zerott (our orchestra conductor that season), a cellist and violist and we played some piano quartets and then Bobby played a Mozart Concerto and Michael (with no musical score) accompanied him on piano.

https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/santafenewmexican/name/bobby-notkoff-obituary?id=8504590

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3 hours ago, Andrew Victor said:

Two notable differences with such classically trained "fiddlers" are their tone quality and the fact that they play in tune (when they want to). 

 

"in tune" is a very provocative concept ... :D

Applying classical intonation and tone production to traditional fiddle styles is the kiss of death, rather like a slavish obedience to rhythms that can easily be notated. 

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On 11/2/2023 at 2:59 PM, palousian said:

Though I have classical training as a composer, and in piano and harpsichord, I got it in my head when I was a teenager and got a hold of a violin that I wanted to play just fiddle music (though fortunately I had reading skills).  I had extremely good fortune in finding wonderful authentic fiddle teachers in both American styles and Irish traditional fiddling, and in teaching students off-and-on for decades, I have found that classical training is as much an obstacle as it is an advantage for learning fiddling.  Classical training gives players a sense that they "know how to play the violin," and if they just get some fiddle music to read or memorize, they've learned fiddling.  Nope.  Just because you can speak French doesn't mean you can speak Arabic.

When I was in graduate school in composition I decided to test a theory, and spent a fair amount of time creating very precise notation of Irish fiddle bowing/ornamentation/phrasing for a string quintet.  We had lots of very skilled classical players used to playing incredibly difficult new music, so I wanted to see if precise instructions could create an authentic sound.  They couldn't play this stuff to save their lives.  I had the first violin part, so I was there to coach them when someone complained that something I wrote was impossible, but they just couldn't do it.  For example, many Irish ornaments involve just touching the string with the left hand finger, not pressing it down--that was a real struggle.  One thing that drove them nuts was the "Sligo crossbow"--

IMG_1976.thumb.jpeg.23cb6ff9dfb448cb38d8350a843e2261.jpeg

Now, there is no doubt that any of these great classical players could have played this music eventually, had they humbled themselves to learn it, but the obstacle wasn't in their skills, it was in their attitude.  They ended up ignoring the instructions and just played the notes, and it was a bit of a mess. 

Several great fiddlers have made use of classical training, it's true, but they mastered the oral tradition first.  I know that when Kevin Burke was growing up, he had a teacher who was interested in his love of Irish music, and helped him apply classical skills to the tradition--and you can hear it in his playing, but his foundation is clearly in the Irish tradition.  There's now a fair amount of that going on in Ireland.  But to be a good fiddler, you have to be willing to shed the hubris and learn a new language.  The measure of excellence in fiddle music is not in the application of classical technique but in the mastery of the fiddle tradition in question--

Fiddlers demonstrating classical techniques is not an evolution so much as it is a shtick.  Players such as J. Scott Skinner and Sean McGuire were famous for performing classical-sounding versions of traditional fiddling, but I am not alone in thinking this didn't really "legitimize" fiddling--it wasn't very good fiddle music, and as classical music it was certainly dubious, though impressive (I saw Sean McGuire once in Ireland in the late 70s).  Both artists were "violinists" first, and you can tell.  Vibrato is an occasional ornament in some fiddling traditions--continuous vibrato will always sound awful in this music.  And fiddlers have played off the string for as long as fiddle music has been recorded.  It's not new. 

The only truth here is that fiddlers were generally from the working class and couldn't afford fancy instruments.  There is no evidence whatsoever that a focus on bowing and rhythm was somehow compensating for a lack of skills or problematic instruments; obviously it was an aesthetic preference, and in American fiddling it represents the influence of West African music.  African-American fiddlers were in demand in the colonies from the 17th century.  It would seem that the focus on bowing patterns and rhythms has been a desirable feature of fiddling because people liked it.  I think that we should be careful not to project our aesthetic agenda on other traditions--this is the sort of obstacle that classical European training can throw in your way.

If you want to play fiddle music, my advice is to pretend that you are learning to play for the first time and respect the tradition enough to learn it.  You won't find it in a book.

I’m struggling to make sense of this post. You begin by saying that you have an extensive background in classical music, both from the playing side and from that of composition, but then you say that the same classical training is an obstacle to learning fiddle. I’m assuming you believe you have had some success in adopting fiddling after a classical start, but by your argument, shouldn’t fiddlers be leery of you because of your training and downright dismissive due to your scholarly approach? As a player who has played Old Time music since beginning violin instruction, should I not be concerned that you’ve only attempted to play like a fiddler without  having that subtle spark of fiddling personality that can only come from a “proper” immersion in the style and tradition? 
 

As should be clear by now, it very quickly becomes silly to try to defend an argument for avoidance of classical training. There are countless professional musicians who have successfully learned to play in multiple styles. Many of them are vocal about having benefited.

The reference to Skinner is also confusing. He was known as the “King of the Strathspey,” and while his ego was said to be the equal of his playing abilities, there is little doubt that he won many awards and made an indelible mark on the tradition, not as an imitator, but as a true player of the style. Interestingly, he believed that much of his success came because of learning to play Beethoven when in Manchester.

I would agree with the idea that one ought to approach any style of music with open ears and mind, but to suggest that one’s previous experiences and learning should be ignored or forgotten seems to me to be contrary to the very nature of making music, especially in the fiddling tradition; Old Time music exists because the styles of different regions were blended. You might say that first there was a mixture of the Irish, Scottish, and English fiddle styles, and that as enslaved West Africans began to learn the tunes, they brought their own musical influences and traditions into the fold to continue the morphology of the style into what we now call Old Time. 

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