I know what you’re thinking…
The only thing better than 1 beginner fiddle player is 2 beginner fiddle players.
My friend, Brenda, first picked up fiddle 10 years ago and bought a beautiful instrument, but then I think immediately put it down. I’ve nudged her into spending more time with it this year, getting more serious about lessons. But with her in Canada and me in California, we haven’t had a chance to play together. But this weekend was a round number birthday for our friend Janis, so we ended up in the same place with our fiddles.
(I should also mention that Brenda hasn’t changed her strings in 10 years and that was driving me nuts. I kept grabbing the fiddle from her and retuning it because it won’t hold the tuning. Note to self, buy Brenda new strings.)
And the first thing we tripped over was the different styles / emphasis of our separate instructors. My instructor is all about playing the song — getting the right notes at the right time with a sufficient amount of tempo. It’s not like we don’t talk about mechanics and I have plenty of bowing exercises to work on, but the goal is to play, the goal is the music. Brenda’s instructor focuses on the mechanics — how she holds the bow, her wrist position, the bow stroke. With the idea that the right notes at the right time at speed are something that will just come naturally as she gets better. What this translated to when we were both in the same room was that I could not play slow enough and she had a delicate, warm playing style that I could not hear her over my own playing. It’s true that a friend here that plays viola that I talk with has noted that my bow position is surprisingly flat across the strings. That he plays more with the bow at an angle. And Brenda did this as well.
I will tell you what I told the audience as I stepped out on the dock over the river at sunset — I picked up the fiddle with the same romantic glow that the typical 5 year old uses to explain what Disney princess they’re going to be when they grow up. I envisioned playing on the beach under a full moon, at the lake at sunrise. I envisioned playing for the sea and sky and there would be this beautiful music. Yes, exactly, this will be represented by a slow motion montage scene in the movie about my life.
I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.
But, seriously, I’m playing for the back of the room.
This meant that Brenda and I would start at a nice slow tempo that she was comfortable with and then I’d be like the horse headed for the barn. The first repeat of section A would be a little faster, section B would be a little faster again, and second time through section B, I was getting closer to the tempo that I was used to practicing at. But I couldn’t hear Brenda, so I didn’t know when I lost her. She made it quite clear that next time, she’s bringing a metronome.
The only song that we ended up playing for the entire crowd was “Happy Birthday”. We went with a crowd pleaser, that everyone would sing along loudly to, 30 seconds in and out.
We did play for a couple hours in the back bedroom with 20 or 30 people running around, so people did keep popping in and out to listen to us. One of the kids who played clarinet wanted a lesson, expecting that they could fiddle in 10 minutes or so. (If I knew that trick, don’t you think I’d sound better?) So, it was all very low key and no one was forced to sit still and listen to us.