Fiddling Again

When I was in my 20s I took up the fiddle, playing mostly Irish tunes I picked up here and there. I had only been playing for a short time when money ran low in Berkeley and I started playing in the streets. I found the fiddle an excellent instrument for busking as it is loud, and less tiring than singing in a noisy environment. Also, everyone loves a fiddle tune, at least in passing. But as I busked my way around North America and Europe I did not progress in my playing much because I was spending more time performing than practising. Over time it got boring playing the same tunes over and over, and when the fiddle was damaged in flight on the way home, I stopped playing.

This past summer I went to two weekend fiddle festivals in Prince Edward Island, and came away with a burning desire to take up the fiddle again. Luckily, my partner plays, so there is a fiddle in the house for me to try. I thought it might be too painful due to my carpal tunnel syndrome, but to my delight I found it did not hurt! I was thrilled and began playing again. I don’t have time to practise every day but I am slowly improving. I am still miles away from performance, but it gives me pleasure and I know that I will be able to perform with it eventually.

The fiddle is easier for me than the piano, because it is one melodic line, like the voice. It doesn’t demand simultaneous complexity; rather, the complexity derives from faster and more intricate linear playing.

As well, the fiddle gives me scope for improvisation. I love improv singing, but there are few opportunities outside the avant garde jazz world to do the kind of creative singing that I love almost as much as I love singing the old ballads. It just isn’t part of folk tradition to sing without words in a creative manner along with the chords of folk songs. There is, however, license to improvise to some extent with instruments. I am hoping to eventually contribute to jam sessions with both tune playing and creative improvisation on the tunes.

In the meantime, I am working on it at home, and sometimes, in between the squeaks and squawks, it sounds pretty sweet.


About Maura Volante

Maura Volante is a talented and experienced performer. Although she has written many songs over the years, her main focus these days is traditional folk songs. These are songs that have stood the test of time and have an enduring quality that speaks directly and clearly to the human experience. They also tell us about our history. Because these songs are not commonly sung in these post-folk-revival times in which folk music generally means singer-songwriter material, Maura has taken on the project of helping to keep this valuable material alive. Her specialty is Canadian folk songs, but she knows many songs from the British Isles and the USA as well. All her concerts and other programs are designed with group singing in mind. Whether in a concert, a tour, a social gathering, a classroom, a festival or a conference hall, Maura creates an encouraging atmosphere, relaxed and inclusive. She uses her strong voice and facilitation techniques to bring out the best possible music with these voices in this moment. Maura firmly believes that everyone can sing and, moreover, that everyone has a right to sing and be part of group singing activities, without judgement or criticism. No matter what the various skill levels of participants may be in any group singing activity, it always sounds good in a group, because the voices naturally attune with each other. Maura also teaches and calls contra dancing and simpler forms of traditional dancing suitable for all ages, often incorporating group singing into the dancing through the use of play party songs, which are sung by the whole group as they dance.
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