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.