Friday, November 03, 2006

Music for all

Blazin' Fiddles are five Scottish fiddlers,* a guitarist and a mad piano player. They all have independent, solo careers, but occasionally get together to play. Last night's gig was the first in their annual pre-Christmas tour and it was quite fun, really.

They started off all together, playing some reels and jigs that had the audience toe-tapping away. Despite our tickets being for row H, the Horse Doctor and I found ourselves right at the front and right in the middle - pole position. This meant that for us at least there was no need for amplification - the fiddles were loud enough on their own. But the keyboard sounded rather strange, as the speakers for it were at the corners of the stage, about fifteen feet away to the left and right of us, projecting the sound into the audience behind us.

I was worried about the possible screech factor of multiple fiddles - anyone who's heard the theme tune to the BBC programme Ski Sunday will know what I'm talking about. Five is, I think, just about enough fiddles, even when the players are as skilled as these ones. Some of the group numbers grated just a little on my ears.

Fortunately, as well as playing together, the musicians took turns to play alone, or in duets, and these were the more memorable parts of the concert. There's something very magical about a slow song speeding up as it morphs into a faster reel or jig. All in all it was a good evening.

Back when I was in short trousers, my mother insisted I learn the violin. I was given a half-size model and sent once a week to be tortured by Mrs Johnson. Mrs Johnson may once have been a great music teacher, but by the time she got to me, old age had begun to take its toll. Either that or sherry. I spent five years at that school, and once a week during all fifteen of those terms, I trudged along to the music room and played scales, finger exercises or whatever it is that you do. I hated it with a passion usually reserved for mortal enemies, and if I could get away with not practising in between lessons, then not practise is what I would do. I never took any exams, never really progressed at all. If you handed me a violin today I couldn't even tell you what the open strings were.**

Looking back on this musical waste of time, I realise that the reason for my reluctance to learn was that the music bored me to death. My father never listens to music,*** and my mother listens exclusively to classical and choral works. Back then, if we tuned the radio to anything else, we'd get a bollocking. I can remember my sister listening to the New Seekers and other worthy bands, but it wasn't until my older brother got hold of some Beatles and Johnny Cash tapes that I realised music could be interesting.

I just wish that at the same time I could have discovered fiddle music. And that Mrs Johnson might have been a bit more caring in her work, rather than just taking the money and letting me get away with doing nothing. I would dearly love to be able to play fiddle, but I fear my violin is too small, and my fingers too old to master the moves. I've taught myself to play the guitar badly, and I can hammer out a couple of tunes on the penny whistle, so that will have to do.

Unless I can get my hands on a squeezebox - that would teach the girls next door to play random notes on their electric organ at all hours.

* a distinction needs to be made between violin and fiddle. Violin is played in posh concert halls and cathedrals, usually with a whole orchestra to back it up. Fiddle is played in smoky pubs and ceilidhs.

** though I do recall my mother going on about Curried Gumboots Deter Acne, so it could be C G D A - though which is high and which is low I've no idea.

*** actually, he went through a Gregorian Chant phase a few years back, which was excruciating as he's quite deaf and so plays things loud. I can't sit in the same room as my father these days when he's watching the television - it's too painful.


Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Music bored you?

Wow. Virtually everyone I know loves music. I couldn't go to sleep without music on for years, because we were so conditioned to falling asleep with records on.

That's just so intriguing. You're an anomaly!

November 03, 2006 7:00 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

You misunderstand me, Sandra. Music for me was Dr Feelgood, Genesis, The Who, The Doors, The Beatles, Thin Lizzy, the Boomtown Rats and any number of other bands who came across my radar in the seventies and eighties. I remember to this day listening on a tinny little battery-powered radio, through one of those old white plastic single earpieces, to Radio Luxembourg late at night in the school dormitory, hiding under the covers to avoid detection. They played Peter Gabriel's single 'Biko', announcing to the world that it was the first ever broadcast of the song, and it sent shivers up and down my spine.

What bored me to tears was the music my mother loved, and forced us to listen to. Eight years old is not a good age to sit in the Albert Hall for an hour and half of plainsong, even if I did get pizza afterwards. Worse still was the music old Mrs Johnson made me play on the violin. I couldn't see a reason to learn an instrument that was used to play music I hated. A good teacher would have found violin (or fiddle) tunes that interested me.

I still love music to this day, and if you love music, you'll get yourself and your niece tickets to see the Arrogant Worms - they're playing the Calgary Folk Club on November 24, and the Chinook Music Society on the 25th.
see here for more details

November 03, 2006 7:39 pm  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Ah, okay. But I found even what I didn't like particularly was familiar in a comfortable way. You know how Data used to say that his processors had become accustomed to X's input ( or whatever - if you watched tng you know what I'm referring to ) - it's the same kind of thing. Not my music but still familiar. Annoyingly, disturbingly comfortable, although I'd choose to listen to just about anything else myself.

Maybe I'm the anomaly.

November 04, 2006 2:49 am  

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