A Florida Fiddler: The Life and Times of Richard Seaman

By Gregory Hansen | Go to book overview

6
Richard's Fiddle

And so I pat her neck, and plink

Her strings with loving hands,

And listening close, I sometimes think

She kind of understands.

—James Whitcomb Riley*

Hearing a fiddle tune for the first time, a novice listener hears rhythmic bow strokes that make it easy to find the beat. But a blustery flurry of notes may force the novitiate to strain to recognize the tune's melody. After initially marveling at hearing a virtuoso fiddler play, those who are unfamiliar with oldtime fiddling tend to lose interest. Without knowing how to listen for each tune's uniqueness, tyro listeners are apt to remark that all fiddle tunes sound the same and move to another stage at a folklife festival. Live fiddle tunes are usually played for dances, and the concentration that a musician needs to maintain the patterns for hoedowns is often at odds with the listener's ability to listen to intricate fiddling. With practice and familiarity an aficionado of old-time fiddling learns to recognize the unique qualities of individual tunes. Eventually the listener develops an ear for appreciating intricate variations on established melodies. With time, some listeners decide to learn to play the instrument. While Richard believes that anyone can learn to play, he regards the instrument as difficult to master. He also believes that it is too easy to become intimidated by the idea of learning to play, for listeners sometimes overly mystify how a fiddler works out a tune. Richard uses concrete techniques that demystify the process, and an analysis of Richard's playing introduces one to ways to listen to a fiddle tune.

-105-

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