Fiddler's Fantasies

é     Back to previous page  

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.

10j 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!